Implications of Labeling GMO Foods for Food Producers
By Steve Jackson
The Washington state initiative that calls for labeling genetically modified foods will impact food producers in the state and those that sell here. Some feel it will cost them more, others see it as a chance to expand their market.
I-522 would require genetically modified foods sold in Washington to carry a label stating that they contain GMO’s, or Genetically Modified Organisms. Such foods, like GMO Corn, contain genes from another plant or animal in order to make them grow better or resist pests like insects.
Some food producers say that is going to be a tough requirement to meet. Michal Gilmartin is president of Commercial Creamery, based out of Spokane. The company specializes in making specialty dairy, cheese or yogurt powers, the kind found in package foods, like mac and cheese or au gratin potatoes.
The company sells those powders to the Mac and cheese producers. But if the GMO labeling rule is approved, Gilmartin says it will likely end up being a complicated and costly process when it comes to dealing with his customers.
Gilmartin: "Our sales people and food scientists will be working with their food scientists trying to deicide if there is a simple organic version of this cornstarch that will work or do we replace it with something else. Once we have a reformulation that is acceptable, their question is going to be what will it cost me?”
Gilmartin wonders if some of his food marketing customers might decide to stop sales to Washington state if they have to reformulate at extra cost just to meet GMO requirements.
Supporters of I-522 say it’s not about changing any formulas, but merely gives consumers the right to know if a food product contains GMO’s. Even so, Gilmartin worries what that would mean for sales.
Gilmartin: “I think that is the intention of this bill, is to put a label on the front of the food package, and the implication is there is something wrong with this , you’d better be careful.”
In contrast, Matt Davidson runs Davidson Commodities, which markets lentils, garbanzo beans and split peas sold under the name PNW Coop Specialty foods. The produce is grown by a farm cooperative on the Palouse. None of those crops are GMO, and Davidson wants customers to know that. His company has been certified by an independent organization , called the Non-GMO project, as being GMO free.
Davidson: “They are a third party verification company and they go through our plant and all or goods, and certify there are no GMO’s there.”
Davidson says he believes being labeled non-GMO has been a good move, marketwise:
Davidson: “Our non GMO verification status has allowed us to compete in the marketplace with organic varieties. The organic food market can be pretty pricey. A lot of our customers have chosen our product over an organic brand because of that non GMO verification.”
But there is an odd twist to the story. Currently organic foods seem to be a big draw for folks that want to avoid GMO’s. But that doesn’t mean that will always be the case.
Davidson: “You know the biotech companies want to get into the organic market as well, so whose to say down the road, there’s not GMO organic seed available.”
Washington Voters will decide the fate of Initiative 522 in November.