Friday, February 05, 2016

Food News: Campbell's Labels GMOs, USDA Drops Grass-Fed Standards, EPA Indicts Neonicotinoids

In what might be considered a tipping point in the battle over labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products, Reuters reported that the Campbell's Soup Company "will label all its U.S. products for the presence of ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms." The company went a step further, announcing that it will break ranks with its peers and withdraw from any efforts to prevent such labeling.

In a press release on the company's website, Campbell's states that "it is necessary for the federal government to provide a national standard for labeling requirements to better inform consumers about this issue. The company will advocate for federal legislation that would require all foods and beverages regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be clearly and simply labeled for GMOs. Campbell is also supportive of a national standard for non-GMO claims made on food packaging."

While a timeline to begin labeling its products has not been announced, it has prepared labels that will be used to comply with Vermont's recent passage of a GMO labeling law that will take effect in July 2016. The company said that if a national standard for labeling is not enacted quickly, "it was prepared to label all its U.S. products for the presence of ingredients that were derived from GMOs and would seek guidance from the FDA and approval by the USDA."

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If you find yourself standing in front of your market's butcher case trying to decide between a grass fed steak and one from a cow that was raised conventionally, your decision has just become much more fraught.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reported that a battle between two federal agencies has led to the revocation of the standard for labeling grass fed meat. The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) "rescinded the labeling standard for grass fed meat, which was developed over the course of four years and finalized in 2006 with the support of national farm and consumer organizations."

This is a result of an internal turf battle that erupted between the AMS and the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) over an internal legal decision that the AMS did not have the legal authority to establish the standard in the first place, instead declaring that the authority to make the decision rested solely with the FSIS.

This leaves farmers and meat producers to either revert to a previous, less rigorous grass fed meat standard or to develop one on their own, which could lead to a mish-mash of competing standards and claims, leaving the consumer to have to figure out which producer is telling the real story.

"Meat labeling just became even more confusing for farmers and consumers," Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the NSAC, is quoted as saying. "USDA is revoking a label standard that had widespread farm and consumer support. Actions such as this take us into a Wild West situation, where anything goes and both farmers and consumers lose."

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The Xerces Society reports that an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report has found that one widely used neonicotinoid insecticide, imidacloprid, is a threat to pollinators. A preliminary risk assessment states that this neonicotinoid "potentially poses risk to hives when the pesticide comes in contact with certain crops that attract pollinators" even when used in legal applications.

Neonicotinoid insecticides affect the central nervous systems of insects, causing paralysis and death, and have been linked to colony collapse disorder in bees. The insecticides were at the center of the deaths of 50,000 bees in Oregon when blooming linden trees were sprayed with the insecticide, and have been implicated in subsequent large bee kills.

Addressing the effect of neonicotinoids on bees, Lori Ann Bund of the Center for Biological Diversity said in an article in the Oregonian that "bees who are exposed to even tiny levels experience hits to their neurological function. They can't find they way back to the hive, they have less foraging success, they can't communicate effectively, and they can't fight off wasps. Those are the impacts that are really significant on the population scale."

The Xerces Society, while noting some significant problems with parts of the EPA assessment, said that "the EPA’s preliminary assessment recognizes significant risks from the legal use of imidacloprid. If these risks are to be reversed, the EPA must suspend the use of imidacloprid until we know if and how it can be used without threatening bees and other pollinators."

Campbell's photos from Reuters and Campbell's Soup Co. Photo of cattle from USDA.

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