Preventing GMO Presence in Organic Products

In an environment where Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and their derivatives are widely distributed throughout the food chain, it is imperative that organic producers and handlers have strategies and plans to keep them out. A key tenet of "coexistence" is shared responsibility for the exclusion of the methods and products of genetic engineering. The organic part of this shared responsibility is extensive already, but specific new guidance from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) adopted by the National Organic Program (NOP) would make these practices more transparent to others and could assist future efforts to reduce the threats of GMO contamination.

Therefore CCOF proposed that the NOSB work on strengthening the existing guidance on this subject. The NOP approved this request in a memo issued April 24, 2014, and so this issue will be on the NOSB agenda for the fall meeting in October. There will be a comment period for the proposal during the latter part of September and early October. CCOF will let all members know about the comment opportunity at that time.

While NOP Policy Memo 11-13 describes some preventative practices, the new guidance will present a comprehensive approach to best management practices for preventing unintended GMO presence in seed, in crops, in livestock production, and in handling. Some of the subject areas that might be covered include:

  • Assessing a site or product for possible sources of contamination
  • Verification for at-risk seeds and ingredients
  • Managing buffers and isolation strategies
  • Traceability
  • Cleanout and segregation
  • Role of testing and thresholds

CCOF already addresses many of these points in the certification process through the Organic System Plan and inspections, so we don't anticipate additional regulation or paperwork for certified members. We support the additional guidance because this is an important step in continuing to protect organic integrity from GMOs. Growers and food processors alike want to be able to truthfully say that they are doing everything possible to keep GMOs out of their products. To back that up with a specific set of guidance steps would be really worthwhile.

This type of effort will also provide a cornerstone to the future ability of the organic community to comment on further GMO deregulation efforts. Guidance coming from NOSB and/or NOP can carry more weight than the independent efforts that some organizations have worked on.

This will help the organic community reassure consumers who are confused about the difference between organic and non-GMO claims and will provide strong ammunition for organic proponents to keep organic products as the gold standard of non-GMO products. By clearly communicating the organic part of the shared responsibility for prevention, the organic industry can then call upon the conventional GMO producers to do their part as well.