It's About Choice

March 22, 2003
/ Print / Reprints /
/ Text Size+
In this month's Food Safety column , Contributing Editor Douglas Powell asks the question: Should politicians be making marketing decisions?

It's a timely question for the food industry. As Powell goes on to explain, the Canadian Wheat Board has petitioned the Canadian Government to ban genetically engineered wheat due to problems with export marketing and with segregating the crop from conventional and organic varieties. The European Union brought the issue to a head this past summer when it proposed regulations requiring all products made from engineered material to carry a label indicating they contain "genetically modified organisms." Furthermore, producers would be required to document the source of their ingredients.

As many of you know, Europe is a heavy importer of North American wheat. So are other countries that are taking a hard line on the biocrop issue. Tsutomu Shigota, senior managing director of the Japan Flour Millers Association, recently told the Dow Jones, "World wheat supply has been abundant in recent years, and I don't see why we have to deal with modified wheat¿ believe the production of modified wheat at this time will be a very risky challenge for U.S. producers." Meanwhile, Algeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have all indicated they will not import genetically engineered wheat.

So it's no surprise that earlier this year the legislatures of North Dakota and Montana likewise debated whether to set moratoriums on genetically engineered wheat. Cooler heads prevailed when manufacturer Monsanto, which plans to commercialize its genetically engineered Roundup Wheat between 2003 and 2005, promised to work with the National Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates to develop a means of segregating genetically engineered wheat from its conventional counterparts.

The question is whether they can do it. According to, Iowa farmers planted 1 percent of their 2000 corn crop as StarLink. By the time the corn was harvested, nearly 50 percent of the crop tested positive for StarLink. And we all know how that fiasco played out.

Like it or not, consumers and yes, even countries, have a right to decide what they will or won't eat. If Algeria, Egypt and Japan aren't convinced that genetically engineered food is safe or nutritious, then they should be allowed to say, "No, thank you." As for Europe, the spread of mad cow disease and other health crises have only served to fuel public concern about food safety. Simply put, the vast majority of European consumers do not believe that genetically engineered food is safe. And it is up to Monsanto and other biocrop manufacturers to build acceptance of their products in those markets.

But the flip side of the argument is that countries and consumers who do want genetically engineered products should have access to them. As Powell points out in his column, genetically engineered sweet corn and potatoes have actually outsold their conventional counterparts in some marketplaces. And, yes, there was labeling in place so that consumers could clearly distinguish between the two product types.

Which brings us back to the issue of product segregation. If business, industry and agriculture can't find a means to separate conventional and genetically engineered consumer products, then sooner or later politicians may, indeed, be put in the position of making our marketing decisions for us.

Equally clear is that any effective method of segregating genetically engineered and conventional crops will necessarily involve processors, particularly those involved in producing conventional and genetically engineered versions of a given food product.

It may be a costly proposition, but no more so than when the government steps in and removes choice from the equation.

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to Food Engineering Magazine.

You must login or register in order to post a comment.



Image Galleries

Plant of the Year 2014

Blue Diamond Growers was chosen as Food Engineering's 2014 Plant of the Year. The Sacramento-based company is the world’s largest producer of almonds and almond ingredients.


Burns & McDonnell project manager RJ Hope and senior project engineer Justin Hamilton discuss the distinctions between Food Safety and Food Defense as well as the implications for food manufacturers of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
More Podcasts

FSMA Audit

What is the is most important step you have taken to become ready for a FSMA audit?
View Results Poll Archive

Food Engineering

FE September 2014

2014 September

The September 2014 issue of Food Engineering explores how lean manufacturing, quality improvements and increased automation helps processors meet rapidly changing demands. Also, read how robotics, advanced machine controls, software and OEE are just a few of the tools that can boost productivity on packaging lines.

Table Of Contents Subscribe


Food Authentication Using Bioorganic Molecules

This text provides critical tools and data needed to augment routine food analysis and enhance food safety by aiding in the detection of counterfeit, and potentially deleterious, foods.

More Products

Clear Seas Research

Clear Seas ResearchWith access to over one million professionals and more than 60 industry-specific publications,Clear Seas Research offers relevant insights from those who know your industry best. Let us customize a market research solution that exceeds your marketing goals.

Food Master

Food Master Cover 2014Food Master 2014 is now available!

Where the buying process begins in the food and beverage manufacturing market. 

Visit to learn more.


FE recent tweets

facebook_40.pngtwitter_40px.pngyoutube_40px.png linkedin_40px.pngGoogle +