The Taiwanese Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that the country’s new tracking codes have allowed it to determine for the first time that 97 percent of soybeans imported into Taiwan come from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
In July, the Taiwanese FDA implemented new commodity codes to differentiate GMO from non-GMO soybeans. Analysis of the data collected since then revealed that nearly all imported soybeans were GMO, and that most of them were used to make cooking oil.
The new codes were in part a response to repeated requests by consumer organizations and legislators that the FDA implement better controls for tracking the importation, distribution and use of GMO foods.
To avoid GMOs, go organic
The Taiwanese numbers are not particularly surprising, as the world’s top soybean-exporting countries have been avid adopters of GMO soy. They are also fairly similar to the numbers from the United States, where more than 90 percent of all soybeans and more than 85 percent of all corn grown have been genetically modified.
Soybeans tend to be genetically modified for herbicide resistance, while corn tends to be modified for herbicide resistance, to produce the Bacillus thuringiensis pesticide in its tissues, or both. Herbicide-resistant crops are grown using such high quantities of these toxic chemicals that elevated herbicide residues end up in human food.
Because soy and corn are then sold to large distributors who mix together the products of different harvests for processing or resale, essentially all non-organic soy and corn products in the United States contain GMOs. The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimates that 80 percent of all processed food sold in the United States contains at least one GMO ingredient.
GMO tracking: What a concept!
Taiwan’s FDA announced that it has added new codes to differentiate GMO from non-GMO corn, sweet corn, beets and canola, and now requires all of these products (including soy) to undergo mandatory inspection before being used in food.
The agency uses a total of 2,485 commodity codes to track ingredients through the food stream, allowing it to ensure that products are used only for approved uses, and allowing easy recalls if problems are discovered.
This high-regulation approach to GMOs is reminiscent of the one used in the European Union (EU), where the population is highly skeptical of frankenfoods. EU law also requires tracking of all GMO products through every stage of the supply chain. This is the basis of its mandatory food labeling laws, which requires all GMO ingredients to be clearly identified on ingredient labels as “genetically modified” or “produced from genetically modified [name of the organism].” Non-packaged products such as fresh produce must also be clearly identified as GMO, such as by a label on the supermarket shelf.
The EU’s skeptical approach also extends to its process for approving new GMOs. While stopping short of an outright ban, the EU forces every new GMO to be treated as a novel food that must prove its safety (as opposed to the United States, where a food automatically receives approval unless proven unsafe, and many GMOs are now exempted from testing). Unsurprisingly, far fewer GMOs have been approved in Europe.
The EU also allows member states to ban GMOs. A total of 19 European countries have banned GMO cultivation within all or part of their borders.
Both approaches stand in stark contrast to the United States, where President Obama recently signed a law known by critics as the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act. The DARK Act bans all local GMO-labeling initiatives, such as the measure passed by the state of Vermont. Instead, it directs the Secretary of Agriculture to implement a completely voluntary labeling initiative sometime in the next three years.
This “labeling” measure will require consumers to use smartphones to scan QR codes on every single product they are looking at. It also exempts 95 percent of GMO ingredients from being labeled, including all Bt and “Roundup Ready” GMOs.
Ninety percent of the U.S. population supports mandatory GMO labeling.
Sources for this article include: