On July 1, 2012 it became mandatory for certified organic packaged food produced in the EU to bear the EU organic logo, while last week a study from Stanford University claimed that organic foods are no different from other foods because their nutritional value is no greater.
This is the mirror image of the biotech industry’s claim (some might call it the dark side) that foods containing genetically modified organisms need no labeling because they are nutritionally the same as non-gmo food. California voters will soon show who they believe by passing or rejecting Proposition 37.
If the ballot doesn’t pass consumers will suffer by being denied the power to choose whether they wish to eat genetically modified food, and organic growers will face the consequences as the biotech companies are given freedom to further infiltrate the food supply undetected. Even the most basic standards of organic certification prohibit more than a trace of GMOs.
Given the tendency of plants to spread their genes, many organic growers are justifiably worried about any expansion of GM food (recently Italy was finally forced to destroy a 30-year old stand of genetically modified olive trees for just this reason). It bears mention that if California does not adopt labeling requirements, it is unlikely that any state in the US, or the Federal Government, will do so either.
Given the proximity of elections and the amount of money that has poured into California from companies like Monsanto and Cargill (who is a major contributor to the institute at Stanford that produced the above mentioned report) to defeat this measure, it is not surprising that this report has come out now.
Nutritional value, however, has never been the central argument in favor of organic food or against GM food (though studies have shown that industrial farming of all kinds has in fact reduced the nutritional content of American food over the past half century). People who choose to eat organic food and eschew GMOs do so to avoid pesticides (such as those showered on Monsanto’s Round-up Ready crops), insecticides (such as those contained in every part of Bt plants) hormones and other additives. A report like this, from a reputable university at such a crucial time can be confusing to voters at best.
Across the pond, the EU has regulated food labeling (as mentioned in my last report on olive oil labeling) and organic food for more than a decade. With the turnabout in recent years over the place of fats and oils in a healthy diet, olive oil has become a key ingredient in maintaining health and in some cases curing the ills caused by an increasingly industrial diet. It is no surprise that organic olive oil, which combines the benefit of olive oil and the benefit of organics (i.e. pesticide and insecticide-free, and avoidance of allergies which many believe are caused by BM food), has ridden the tide of this trend.
Over the last few years, EU regulations pertaining to organics have become even more stringent. New standards and labeling requirements have been set out in several new Regulations enacted between 2007 and 2012. The labeling requirement of organic food mentioned above is another step in “Europeanizing” specialty foods. Imported organic foods (the subject of Regulation 1235/2008) are not affected as long as they originate in countries with equivalent standards, and an organic equivalence agreement was signed between the US and the EU in February, 2012. Although an agreement regarding organic wine came into effect on August 1, 2012, it is not known whether such an agreement is in the works for olive oil.
California is the primary olive oil producing state in the US and possibly the most ‘organic-aware’ as well. A search of the United States Patent Office using the terms ‘genetic modification’ and ‘olives’ turns up over 200 patents, and the same search of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s data base turns up ten times that amount, with the vast majority of applicants being multi-national biotechnology companies. GMOs and organics have a very uneasy relationship. Where GMOs are enabled to expand further without being required to inform the public of their existence in foods, organics are threatened. If consumer protection has any meaning at all, labeling would seem to be a no-brainer.