GMOs get second look as food prices soar
Committee gathers info on recalls
Potentially harmful additive raises action
Consumers choose convenience over cost
Kraft puts pudding in stick pack
Packaging lengthens mushroom shelf life


GMOs get second look as food prices soar

by Pan Demetrakakes
Executive Editor


As food prices continue to rise, countries around the world are rethinking their opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Many farmers and consumers outside the United States, especially in Europe, have been resistant to the use of GMO crops, which are genetically engineered for traits like insect and herbicide resistance. These engineered improvements produce higher yields with higher quality. However, with prices for rice and wheat doubling in the last few months, some countries are moving to loosen anti-GMO restrictions:

• Processors of cornstarch and corn syrup in Japan and South Korea have started using GM corn for the first time.

• In Britain, the National Beef Association issued a statement calling for opposition to GM crops be “abandoned immediately in response to…the growing danger of world food shortages.”

• The European Food Safety Authority has recommended allowing the use of two insecticide-resistant varieties of corn and an antibiotic-resistant potato. The European Commission (EC) was unable to make a decision, however, and sent the issue back to the Food Safety Authority for further review.

The EC has been a major obstacle to the expansion of GMOs. Currently, the only GM crop grown in EC countries is a variety of corn, used strictly for cattle feed, containing a gene that defends against the European corn borer. Approval for that corn came in 1998, and no new GM varieties have been allowed in the EC since then.

GM crops have long been a bone of contention between U.S. and EC agricultural forces, with the U.S. claiming that EC foot-dragging amounts to a trade barrier. The World Trade Organisation agreed with that stance in a 2003 ruling.

Ever-rising prices and a long-term increase in demand for grain may cause a slackening in the EC’s opposition. Neil Parish, chairman of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, told The New York Times he anticipates a shift in attitudes: “Their hearts may be on the left, but their pockets are on the right.”

But there’s still a lot of hard-core opposition to GMOs, in Europe and elsewhere. One thing agribusiness doesn’t want to see happen is a labeling system, such as Germany enacted, allowing for foods to be labeled “GM free.” That would not only be a logistical nightmare, it would cater to the belief that GMOs are suspect.

Top Developments

Committee gathers info on recalls
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce asked 47 food companies to list all of their food recalls and safety alerts issued since Jan. 1, 2000. The companies must also report all instances where contaminations exceeding Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or state regulatory limits were found. The committee released a list of 313 food recalls that happened over the last 16 months, and asked for a list of all times where the FDA or state regulators were denied entrance to any facility or product testing records.

Potentially harmful additive raises action
Over 20,000 parents and consumers petitioned baby bottle manufacturing companies Avent, Disney/First Years, Dr. Brown’s, Evenflo and Gerber to stop using bisphenol A (BPA), an additive used to make baby bottles and beverage and food containers heat resistant, which may be harmful to babies and children. Though can makers say there is insufficient evidence of risk, the U.S. National Toxicology Program said there was “concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures” to the additive. Companies including Playtex Infant Care, Wal-Mart, CVS and Nalgene will stop selling products made with BPA.

Consumers choose convenience over cost
While price is the biggest issue to consumers, most consumers will pay more for convenience, according to a Hartman Group study. Sixty-six percent of consumers say convenience is very important, and though one in every five consumers would not pay extra for convenience food, just as many would pay up to 5% extra, and 30% of consumers would pay as much as 10% more. Fifty percent would not pay more than 10%, however.

New Packages

Kraft puts pudding in stick pack
Stick packs form the basis for a new single-serve version of powdered instant pudding from Kraft Foods. Jell-O Singles Instant Pudding Mix comes in six packets to a box, available in chocolate and vanilla, in regular and sugar-free varieties. The product has a suggested retail price of $1.99 and was introduced at the recent Food Marketing Institute trade show in Las Vegas.


















Packaging lengthens mushroom shelf life
Organic mushrooms grown in Japan have packaging that confers a shelf life of several weeks. The mushrooms, marketed by Golden Gourmet Mushrooms, San Marcos, Calif., are grown on a substrate consisting mostly of hardwood sawdust sterilized in an autoclave. Because the mushrooms have no traces of soil or manure, they can be completely sealed without fear of contamination through microbes in an anaerobic environment. The Maitake mushroom package has two layers of oriented polypropylene, the inner one with micro-pores. This wicks moisture away from the product and traps it between the film layers.