What's wrong with the anti-GMO label

Organic food without genetic engineering

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Dipl.-Ing.Gerald Wehde

They still exist: Organic foodthat are 100 percent free of genetic contamination. But organic farmers and producers have to go to great lengths to ensure clean produce. The organic customers have to bear the costs.

Investigation offices or the ├ľko-Test magazine regularly discover traces of GM maize or GM soy in German foods. In 2009, around every fourth sample tested positive for soy foods. With the spread of gene plants in Europe, the exposure to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) would increase significantly. Organic farmers would be particularly affected, as they would no longer be able to harvest GMO-free harvests due to possible contamination in the fields and their seeds.

By law, organic food must be produced without genetic engineering ...

... that's what the EU organic regulation says, and that's what consumers expect when they shop in health food stores. That is why the industry has been making a lot of effort for years to prevent contamination from occurring - largely successfully so far.

Organic food: extensive controls required

By using genetic engineering in the food industry, producers and producers must take quality assurance measures in order to rule out contamination as far as possible. The measures have been necessary for many years, particularly when importing products and raw materials that contain corn and soy. These are not only processed into food, but mainly used for animal feeding. As a consequence of the nitrofen crisis, Bioland has been implementing an improved quality assurance system for feed mills since the beginning of 2003. According to this, only concentrated feed plants that have completely converted to organic are allowed to mix Bioland feed. This eliminates contamination with genetically modified soy or other conventional components that can occur in compound feed plants. In general, organic soy for Bioland feed production is only grown in Europe on specially controlled farms. Goods from overseas are excluded from Bioland. This organic soy may only be traded to the Bioland feed factories by selected Bioland producer groups. They are subject to increased requirements and have to carry out special control analyzes. The storage and processing of the raw material may only take place in EU organic certified facilities in which only organic goods are stored.

Closed production chain for organic feed

The example of the company Meika ├ľkologische Tierernahrung near Augsburg shows the effort that manufacturers of organic feed have to put in to avoid contamination with GMOs or other harmful substances. The animal feed manufacturer has been a Bioland partner since 1993 and, in 2003, switched its production completely to organic in accordance with Bioland's requirements following the nitrofen scandal. The company processes raw materials from Bioland, Naturland, Demeter and Biokreis, a total of around 35,000 tons of grain and legumes per year. Only feed certified by the associations is sold; the feed plant does not offer its own track according to the EU organic standard. Company boss Siegfried Meitinger reports that he had to spend 33,000 euros on GMO analyzes in the past financial year: "Costs that we are not responsible for, but have to pay."

Further investments have an impact. In 2010, Meika put a new soy steaming system and a press into operation and invested around 800,000 euros in this. It is the first in Germany to exclusively toast organic soy. Above all, Meitinger expects "more security" from its own system. Not only in terms of nutrient quality, but also, for example, in the case of technical contamination with GMOs: "This way I can examine the raw bean directly." In addition to processing it for its own needs, Meitinger also wants to sell the processed soy to other organic feed factories.

Domestic cultivation in demand for organic feed

The Bavarian food chain Fenneberg has also decided to make the feed for its organic meat products safer. For its brand from here, and thus also for the organic chickens, the company only wants to use domestic feed. In conjunction with the new processing capacities at Meika, the region now has the opportunity to expand the domestic production of organic soy. This gives the cultivation of Bioland soy in southern Germany a real boost, says Dirk Vollertsen, Director Product and Market at Bioland and responsible for raw material management: "And we show that 100 percent organic is possible!" The alliance between regional organic farmers, an innovative manufacturer of organic feed and a trading company makes it possible to ensure the production of GMO-free food.

There is great growth potential for the domestic cultivation of organic soy. Because in addition to feed production, organic tofu production also requires GMO-free raw materials. Small businesses such as the Bioland tofu manufacturer Lord of Tofu rely on organic soy from local farmers, as do larger companies such as the tofu manufacturer Taifun. Because of the rapidly growing demand, tofu producers are looking for more organic soy producers in Germany. "Unfortunately there is a lack of converters," regrets Martin Miersch, head of Typhoon soy cultivation. The company is already fully utilizing the existing capacities at suitable organic farmers in the region.

Organic food: ensure freedom of choice

Consumers must continue to be able to consume genetically unaffected food. So far, ensuring food production without genetic engineering has focused in particular on securing imported goods and keeping transports and processing clean. After the cultivation of genetically modified maize MON810 was banned in 2009, the commercial cultivation of genetically modified plants in Germany was limited in 2010 to the genetically modified potato Amflora, on a mere 15 hectares. However, around 20 more genetic plants are waiting for cultivation permits in the EU.

If approval and commercial cultivation are granted in 2011 or in the following years, it will become more and more difficult for organic farming. Because an organic farmer cannot protect his field against pollen in the wind. The so-called coexistence, which describes the coexistence of agriculture with and without genetic engineering, does not work. So far there is no EU legislation on this, but the possibility for member states to enact national regulations. But even in Germany, genetic engineering law does not adequately protect organic farming, including beekeeping, from contamination with GMOs. For example, German genetic engineering law only provides insufficient minimum distances between organic and GM fields. There are completely no regulations to protect beekeepers. The unsolved question of how the organic industry can ensure consumer demand for GMO-free food in the future without suffering economic damage remains.

Even today, organic products are becoming more expensive when they have to be extensively protected from GMO contamination. According to the polluter pays principle, such costs would have to hang on those who make money from the genetic plants, i.e. the large seed companies. In fact, the organic sector has so far paid for everything itself. Companies that process maize and soy speak of eight to ten percent additional costs on the product price that have to be raised by genetic engineering quality assurance. The reason for this injustice is an inadequate liability regulation in the German Genetic Engineering Act.

Genetically modified food: adhesion still completely inadequate

Products that contain less than 0.9 percent genetically modified components are exempt from the EU labeling requirement if the contamination was "accidental or technically unavoidable". That means two things: Anyone who consciously uses genetic engineering must also label below the threshold value; Anyone who wants to make use of the threshold value has to prove to the competent authorities that he has taken "appropriate steps" against the genetic contamination. An organic farmer can only claim liability for the loss of crop and consequential damage from the polluter if his goods are contaminated with more than 0.9 percent GMO. However, the trade requires organic producers to produce products that are free from contamination. The organic farmers are left with the much more frequent damage that can be expected with contamination below 0.9 percent.

Loosening of the protection regime for organic food threatens

Anyone who wants domestic food without genetic engineering should fight to ensure that there is no cultivation of GMOs in Germany and Europe in the future either. In addition to giving preference to GM-free organic products, consumers can, for example, participate in one of the many anti-genetic engineering campaigns (see box). The protection of the seeds against any kind of GMO contamination is of great importance. A purity law applies to seeds in the EU. Any contamination with GM seeds is prohibited. At EU level, however, a softening of this strict protective regulation is being discussed. However, from the point of view of organic farming, tolerating the contamination of seeds with GMOs is completely unacceptable.

Source: Wehde G .: UGB-FORUM 1/11 p.13-15
Photo: Bioland e. V.