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US election impact on GM food

By Sarah Hills , 31-Oct-2008
Last updated on 31-Oct-2008 at 17:42 GMT

Genetically modified food companies should be paying particular attention to the results of next week’s presidential election as they could face tough times ahead, according to a Soil Association report.

Consumers, food manufacturers and farmers are increasingly moving away from GM products, the new study called Land of the GM-Free? How the American public are starting to turn against GM food, claimed.

At the same time the UK environmental charity said 87 percent of Americans want labels on food telling them whether Genetically Modified (GM) products have been used or not.

The SA added: “These developments, combined with the possibility of Democrat Presidential Candidate Barack Obama’s pledge to support legislation to label GM food if he should get elected, suggest that GM companies are in for a difficult few years in the USA.”

In September the environmental media company, Plenty, published its Election Issues Index outlining the Democrat and Republican presidential candidates’ stand on issues including food, ahead of the vote on Tuesday.

Its says Obama:

  • Believes GM plants are beneficial with tests for environmental and health effects and regulatory oversight.
  • Supports law requiring meat product labels to indicate country of origin.
  • Wants to increase funding for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program to help farmers afford compliance.

Meanwhile Republican presidential candidate John McCain wants to:

  • End all farm subsidies “not based on clear need” and cap subsidies to farmers with an adjusted gross yearly income of $250,000.
  • Direct US Department of Agriculture to develop more drought-resistant higher-yield crops.

GM debate

The anti-GM lobby is concerned about possible contamination of non-GM crops and argues that the long-term safety of GM crops has not been established.

Experts say GM crops have passed the most rigorous tests and there is no one scientifically documented case of it causing problems for health, safety or the environment.

Similarly, research has shown that GM can help boost food supply with, for example, drought resistant traits at a time of food insecurity.

GM developments

The SA report highlighted moves towards GM labeling such as the ‘Non‑GMO Project’. This is backed by 400 natural and organic industry companies in the US and Canada, including Whole Foods and Nature’s Way. It offers a Non‑GMO verification scheme and the Non‑GMO seal will be launched on labels in October 2009.

Also, since 1994 Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) has been used widely in the US dairy industry to increase the yield of milk.

However in response to consumer demands, manufacturers and retailers such as Starbucks have removed all rBGH from its products or stores.

In August Elanco acquired the worldwide distribution and US production facilities of Monsanto’s rBGH brand Posliac. Monsanto did not mention the controversy over rBGHs as a reason for divesting the business.

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