Can GM and Non-GM products Coexist?

New Book on GM, Organic and Conventional Crops and Foods

Food, its ingredients and production have captured the publics’ attention in a dramatic fashion over the past few years. Both conventional and social media overwhelming present both information and misinformation on these topics; resulting in a plethora of factual stories, outright lies and everything in between. I frequently hear from friends and neighbours that food debates are a common occurrence around dinner tables with much confusion surrounding what is true. One topic, in particular, has grabbed peoples’ attention in a way that few other issues have done, GM versus organic.

In collaboration with my colleagues Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes (University of Missouri), Peter Phillips (University of Saskatchewan) and Justus Wesseler (Wageningen University, The Netherlands), I’m proud to announce the release of our newest academic publication, The Coexistence of Genetically Modified, Organic and Conventional Foods. Although many still debate over which is better, organic versus GM, our volume of chapters present a wide variety of insights, evidence and prospects about coexistence. Over the next few months, I will be selecting interesting chapters and presenting a review of them as blogs.

Our book discusses present situations in countries like the United States, Brazil, Canada, Germany, South Korea and China. Other contributions discuss the role of government regulators and industry, offering suggestions and insights as to who should bear responsibility for coexistence. Discussion of the legal implications of coexistence and low-level presence are included as are trade implications. The compendium of information and evidence illustrates that non-GM food products can be provided to consumers separate from GM-based products.

While coexistence amongst food production, GM, organic, and conventional, exists, it’s not uncommon for a traded food product to be rejected due to the means of production. The grain trading industry reports weekly occurrence of GM or conventional foods being rejected. The economic cost of this runs into the billions annually. As consumers, these costs are passed onto us through higher food prices, due to the inability to ship food products internationally without coexistence issues causing problems.

How does the international trade of food products impact prices?

Suppose a country imports a shipment of organic grain, and it’s tested upon arrival in the importing country for GM crop content. If even the smallest traces of GM crops are detected within that shipment, say less than 1%, this shipment is no longer considered to be organic because the organic threshold for GM products is 0%. The importer then treats the imported grain as a conventional or GM grain, which is sold at a lower price. Although the grain would be a lower price, the organic importer would not have the grain they need and would possibly have to replace this at a higher price.

Another scenario is where a shipment is received by an importing country and discovers the low-level presence of an unapproved GM crop variety. In this case, the shipment can be either diverted to biofuel production or another market (where the variety is approved), rejected, returned, held until approval or destroyed. None of these options are cheap and add additional costs to the price of food products.

At the end of the day, the lack of coexistence regulations for the trading of food products costs all us more money. Future blogs from this book will examine this topic in a variety of ways.

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