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Food producers 'little understanding' of non-GM process

18-Apr-2005

About half of US food producers that specify the use of non-genetically modified ingredients in their products have little understanding of the process involved, according to a recent survey, writes Philippa Nuttall.

The study showed that around fifty percent of US food producers could not accurately describe the specialized production techniques or estimate the high costs involved in producing non-GM, identity-preserved corn, according to National Starch who published the results.

The survey - carried out by the market research firm Penn and Associates in the fall of 2004 - revealed that nearly half (44 percent) of the respondents thought there were no additional labor costs associated with producing non-GM/IP corn.

"The study reveals a surprising lack of knowledge among the people whom you might expect to be familiar with these details regarding non-GM/IP ingredients," said Michael Klacik, senior director of Bioscience at National Starch. "If this study accurately reflects the state of understanding in the U.S. food industry, there clearly is a great opportunity for education, especially among professionals who should know the ins and outs of non-GM/IP."

Moreover, only one-third indicated they would pay more for non-GM/IP corn, while a significant 60 percent said they would switch to GM corn if it cost less than non-GM-IP - bad news for National Starch, which prides itself on the traceability and quality of its non-GM ingredients.

The company, along with other industry experts, believe that food producers need to become more familiar with the intricacies of identity preservation (traceability) as the US agricultural supply chain becomes increasingly complex.

The need to ensure non-GM ingredients will remain particularly important for those producers wanting to export to Europe and other regions where controls on GM ingredients are stricter than in the US, and for those wanting to supply health food manufacturers, whose customers are more likely to demand GM free alternatives.

National Starch ensures its GM-free status through its Truetrace program, which received official recognition at the beginning of the month from Inspection company SGS.

The food ingredients company began placing its emphasis on the importance of traceability in 2003, when Joe Emling was appointed manager of grain quality and traceability, a post that had previously not existed.

Emling told FoodNavigatorUSA.com that since then the company had also put further resources into its growers - though he declined to estimate how much this might be - increasing training sessions and auditing for farmers, for example.

However, Emiling admitted that the traceability program comes at a price for National Starch, adding five to 15 percent to the cost of the production of corn, and that as more GM crops are planted in the US, it will become more difficult and expensive to ensure that there is no contamination.

Nonetheless, he believes it is necessary to continue to provide a sure supply of non-GM corn because of market demand. It is for this reason also that he does not think that all farmers will decide to plant GM crops even with the higher yields that they are assured.

"We are fully committed to our non-GM position - even though we know it will become more costly to deliver - because our customers are demanding this," said Emling.

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