‘No such thing as zero’ | Expert says honest conversation needed with consumers about what organic means — and doesn’t
GUELPH, Ont. — Leaders in North America’s organic movement say it’s time to tell consumers that organic food does contain genetically modified organisms.
Speaking at the Guelph Organic Conference in early February, Dag Falck, organic program manager with Nature’s Path, one of the largest manufacturers of organic breakfast cereals and snack bars in North America, said the organic movement has to have an honest conversation with the public about GMOs.
Despite public perceptions that organic products are GM free, Falck said organic food made from corn, soybeans, canola and sugar definitely contain GMOs.
“If you are going to stop eating all those things, you will be able to be GMO free,” Falck told the organic conference at the University of Guelph.
“But if you eat any of those products, and all of us do, you cannot. It doesn’t matter how philosophically pure you want to be, it isn’t going to happen…. There is no such thing as zero percent of anything.”
He said organic cereals and other foods contain GMOs because of cross-pollination between conventional and organic fields. As well, most organic farmers don’t test their seed for GMO before planting, despite the reality that certified organic seed probably contains traces of GMOs.
Maureen Fitzpatrick, a member of Big Carrot, an organic food market in Toronto, said the basic problem in Canada and the United States is that organic farmers grow crops on a landscape saturated with GM plants.
“We live in a polluted world, and unfortunately genetic contamination is part of that picture,” said Fitzpatrick, who also spoke at the conference.
Falck said no one knows the level of contamination in organic crops because testing for GMOs after harvest isn’t a requirement for organic certification.
As a result, an organic cereal bar might contain 0.5 percent or five percent GM grain, even though many consumers assume organic certification means no GMOs.
Fitzpatrick said consumer surveys indicate that 79 percent of organic consumers would stop buying organic food if it contained GMOs, which is why the organic industry must come clean with consumers before it’s too late.
“We must acknowledge as a sector that there is a gap between what the consumer expects and what our standard requires,” she said.
“If we are seen to be looking away from these potentially difficult questions and allowing the perception of zero tolerance (of GMOs) to flourish… we will not regain that consumer confidence.”
Falck said not everyone in the organic industry is convinced that honesty is the best policy.
“There is a lot of fear of broaching that conversation,” he said.
“If we burst their (the public) bubble and we say that’s not true, some people are afraid that this will cause a backlash.”
However, the billion dollar question is how to begin the conversation with consumers so that they understand organic food isn’t 100 percent free of GMOs.
Falck admitted it will be a difficult task, but organic growers, processors and retailers can’t bury their heads in the sand.
“If you don’t speak about it, the problem doesn’t go away.”