During the past few years the subject of GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) has become a hotly debated topic within U.S. consumer and trade groups. Are there harmful effects of using raw ingredients that have been genetically modified? Or, are the improvements in the genetic make-up of some of our core crops (corn, soybeans, beet sugar, etc.) the reason for higher yields and lower consumer costs?
Here at Pretzel Pete, I have also been doing my own soul-searching on this subject. For the past 10 years or so, we have actually been doing some export of Pretzel Pete to Europe. Some of this product has landed with major retailers in Germany, Holland and elsewhere that insisted that our products be GMO-free. Accordingly we submitted our products for testing and were pleased to find that there were no GMO’s detected in our products thereby meeting the local EU requirements.
Here in the U.S., however, it is a bit of a different story. Much of the anti-GMO flag-bearing has been done by a group called the Non-GMO Project. The “Project” has established a set of guidelines and requirements that are well in excess of those mandated in Europe and the rest of the world. Depending on the type of product, dozens of separate verification documents may be required from not just the manufacturer but from each separate raw material supplier as well. For some food categories, these requirements are not too onerous and there are quite a few companies that have earned their Non GMO Project Verification. Unfortunately, for other food categories – such as pretzels – the requirements are very difficult to meet.
In the case of pretzels, one of the major hurdles is yeast – a required ingredient in wheat-based pretzels. It is not that there are necessarily GMO’s in yeast – it is that the documentation by the Project from the yeast suppliers is so detailed. The yeast used in our products, for example, has indeed been tested as non-GMO but the manufacturer refused to submit to the onerous Project documentation requirements. This is a typical example of why the cost/benefit of meeting the Non-GMO Project requirements is challenging for certain product groupings such as pretzels.
For our part, this has been quite frustrating. Why can we sell without problem in Europe (the “birthplace” of the non-GMO movement!) as a non-GMO product but be faced with such an uphill climb here in the U.S.?
The solution we settled on was a third party certification company by the name of BioChecked™. They directed our samples to a well-respected biotech laboratory (Genista) who conducted comprehensive GMO testing on six of our items. As we suspected, all of the results came back “non-GMO” and the certification was awarded.
The GMO debate in this country is certain to rage on for the foreseeable future. At some point, the FDA must weigh in (much like it did concerning the standard on “Organic” products) to provide some clarity on how GMO’s are to be defined. Until then, us small food business owners are left on our own to navigate this high profile issue.