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Genetically Modified (GM) Ingredients in Processed or Packaged Foods, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Genetically modified (GM) is a phrase that is often applied to any food product that was created through the use of ingredients from genetically modified sources, such as GM corn or soybeans.  GM foods offer tremendous promise as a way to increase global food production at reasonable cost.  In a world that may grow from about 8 billion population in 2022 to as many as 10 billion by 2050, this is a critical need.
Although scientists have been able to engineer highly desirable traits in GM seeds for crops (such as disease-resistance and insect-resistance), and the scientific community has given GM foods a clean bill of health for years, such modified foods have faced stiff resistance among many consumers, particularly in Europe.  While many areas of biotechnology are controversial, agricultural biotech has been one of the largest targets for consumer backlash and government intervention in the marketplace.  Consumer resistance to food products containing material grown in this manner is sometimes fierce.
Recent History:  Groups such as the Non-GMO Project are springing up to lobby for labeling.  The issue came to a head in the fall of 2012, when California’s Proposition 37, which called for the labeling of GM foods, was defeated, but only after a number of food manufacturers spent $40 million on advertising that opposed the proposition.  In July 2016, a Vermont law that requires that any food that has been entirely or partially created with GM ingredients to be labeled went into effect.  Connecticut and Maine passed similar laws, but there’s a catch:  their laws will not take effect until a certain number of other states have passed similar legislation.  Maine’s law also makes it illegal to use a “natural” description for food products if they contain GM ingredients.  (There is often great popular support for such labeling; in one poll, 91% of Maine resident surveyed stated that they wanted a labeling law such as this passed.)
A federal GMO labelling bill was signed into law in the U.S. in July 2016 that requires food manufacturers to label any product that contains GMO ingredients.  The bill allows food companies to label these products with a quick-response (QR) code that can be scanned and read by smartphones, which anti-GMO proponents say will not be used by most consumers.
However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued new rules, pushing back the deadline for labelling products containing GMO ingredients to 2022 for small companies.  Larger producers were required to have labels or scannable codes in place by January 2020.  Companies do not have to include certain ingredients on labels, including refined sugars and corn syrups, which often contain GMO ingredients.
A Pew Research poll found that 57% of U.S. adults consider GM foods to be unsafe to eat.  As a result, packaged food manufacturers are rushing to have their products certified as non-GM, even if their products have not ever included ingredients that are produced from GM plants.  A U.S. brand of salt recently had its product certified as non-GM, even though the contents of a box of salt has nothing to do with agricultural plants or GM seeds.
Food manufacturers and seed developers welcomed a report in May 2016 from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that deemed GMO crops safe for consumption and stating that they appear to do little damage to the environment.  However, the report also confirmed the importance of transparency and the need for mandatory GMO labelling.

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