Organic label based on method, not purity

Based on ‘best practices model’ | Official wants organic system to test for GM content, develop threshold

GUELPH, Ont. — Why don’t organic growers test their crops for GMOs, considering the proliferation of genetically modified crops in North America and the fact that many consumers assume organic food is GM free?

Dag Falck, organic program manager with Nature’s Path, said it’s because organic certification isn’t based on purity standards.

Unlike a claim on a jar of honey that states it contains 100 percent honey and nothing else, organic farmers adhere to certain practices to earn certification.

“Organic is about doing the best we can in the world we’re living in. That’s what organic is all about…. It’s a best practices model,” he said in an interview during the Guelph Organic Conference at the University of Guelph.

“The organic standard is not a purity guarantee. So nobody should be under the illusion that … if I tested this product I would find it within this parameter.”

He said leaders of the organic movement decided early on to follow a best practices model rather than a purity standard, in part because contaminant levels vary by region.

As an example, the amount of pesticides in organic food from California might be higher than that found in organic food from Western Canada because of the difference in background pesticides in the two regions.

Maureen Fitzpatrick, a member of the Big Carrot grocery store co-op in Toronto, said there may be no guarantees of zero pesticides or zero GMOs in organic food, but the model does offer the healthiest option.

“It is the best choice to avoid GMOs … but we don’t have a zero tolerance policy currently in the standard.”

In an effort to address the reality that organic food isn’t GM free, Fitzpatrick and others in the industry are backing an initiative called the non-GMO project.

It’s a certification program and label for farmers who satisfy a thres-hold of 0.9 percent GMO in their crops.

“The project is North America’s only independent, third-party verification for non-GMO labeling,” Fitzpatrick said.

“Since it first appeared on product labels in 2010, the non-GMO project seal has become one of the fastest growing labels in the natural and organic food market.”

Falck wants the organic system to adopt testing for GMO content, particularly in crops such as organic corn and soybeans.

“Right now, our standards could be strengthened, particularly on the point of incorporating a (GMO) threshold and a requirement for testing for the high risk ingredients,” said Falck, a director of the non-GMO project.

“That’s a housecleaning we need to do so that we’re living up to the expectation that is out there.”

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