The last year has been an active one for organic and GMO legislation around the globe. Here are some of the top stories I’ve been watching:
Following the U.K.’s June 2016 vote to withdraw from the European Union (“Brexit”), the Soil Association (the U.K.’s leading food and farming charity and organic certification body) said it was “very disappointed” by the Brexit vote, which it believes could weaken environment regulation and open the door to widescale GM crop cultivation in the U.K. In February 2017 Dr. Tom MacMillan, the Soil Association’s Director of Innovation, testified that 83% of the population wants the U.K. to sustain or even strengthen environmental protection standards if the withdrawal takes place, and stressed that a strong commitment to organic farming is also critical as the U.K. develops its new policies.
In GMO news, the U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has given the go-ahead for a new open air trial of GMO wheat, part of a larger push to put GMO foods onto the table in the U.K.
Tokushima Prefecture, Japan, which implemented an ordinance banning GMOs in 2016, sees the non-GMO rule as part of its “farm brand strategy,” designed to help its farmers compete with other production centers. Japan allows local governments to legislate on the growing and use of GMO crops, and 10 of the nation’s 47 prefectures had regulations governing the outdoor production of GMO crops.
On July 1, 2016, Vermont USA’s regulations requiring the labeling of certain products containing genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) went into effect. A mere month later it was canceled out at the national level by a much less rigorous federal law which will require food producers to communicate the GMO status of their products to consumers. While the final details have yet to be hammered out, and under the current administration may never be, options will probably allow simply putting an 800 number or QR code on the label so consumers can contact the company for information. Even worse, in May 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have allocated $3 million to promote “the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic and humanitarian impacts” of GMO ingredients in food.
In January 2017 the U.S. launched a new transitional certification program for products from farmers who are in the process of transitioning from conventional to organic farming. Developed in partnership by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is designed to provide a specific label so that farmers can market their products as “transitional” during 2 of the 3 years it takes to qualify for full organic certification, and increase consumers’ access to cleaner food.
In October 2016, the state department of agriculture of the Indian state of Goa, announced an ambitious program to pay up to 50% of the cost for organic inputs including organic fertilizers, bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides, and bio-control agents to help farmers transition to organic. This is the latest Indian State to roll out a program to aggressively promote and support organic farming.
In December 2016, Christopher Stopes, president of IFOAM EU (Europe’s umbrella organization for organic food and farming) reported that the EU agriculture ministers failed again to find agreement on the proposal for a new set of organic regulations, which have been under discussion for years. Evidently it is too flawed to ever pass, so new proposed regulations must be developed that will deliver on the environmental and social goals the EU has set for itself concerning agriculture, while also taking into account the day-to-day reality of organic farmers. Consumers aren’t waiting for new regulations, however: according to data released in February 2017, overall sales of organic products in the EU grew 13% in 2015, reaching a total of 27.1 billion Euros, with almost all member countries seeing double-digit increases . You can read more about what’s going on with Organics and GMOs in the EU in IFOAM EU’s March 2017 newsletter.
In January 2017, the European Commission’s proposal to authorize the first new GM crops for cultivation since 1998 failed to gain enough member votes to pass…but neither did the enough members disapprove to shelve the proposal, so it is still in play.
Early in 2017 Oikos (Norway’s lead organic body) reported that the Norwegian Government is proposing to abandon the country’s goal of making 15% of all food production and consumption organic by 2020. Oikos is against the move, but since sales of organic food were up 22% during the first half of 2016, consumers may simply take matters into their own hands, regardless of governmental actions.
In early 2017 Brazil joined the dozens of countries that are refusing to buy GMO commodities from the US. Farmers in Brazil can and do grow GMOs but their production and use is tightly controlled and monitored by the nation’s National Biosafety Technical Commission.
Do you want to go non-GMO? Here’s a handy guide.