May 9, 2014

GMO elimination encounters unexpected difficultiesThe health-conscious chefs of Boulder are determined to eliminate genetically modified organisms from their food. However, given the nature of food production, the goal of becoming 100 percent GMO-free is becoming increasingly more difficult to attain. The struggle of local Boulder chefs is being experienced even by large corporate food producers such as General Mills, whose attempt to make GMO-free Cheerios was met with many unexpected hurdles. The difficulties involved in ensuring all ingredients are GMO-free has led to higher prices, though Boulder-area chefs seem confident that the eating habits of the city’s residents will be able to support the price hike.

How to go GMO-free
The lack of GMO labeling is one area of difficulty that many area chefs are running into as they try to go GMO-free. The lack of proper identification makes it difficult for chefs to be sure what exactly is in the food they are buying from their farmers.

GMOs were introduced more than a decade ago to help farmers fight crop-destroying insects and diseases. By altering the DNA of plants such as corn, scientists found a way to make the crops nearly impervious to those natural things that harm them. However, little is known about the health effects of consuming genetically altered produce. As a result, many people protest that GMOs should not be allowed in the food source until more is known about it.

Since GMOs have been in the American food crop for so long, it is very difficult to purchase any food that hasn’t been contaminated with modified DNA. For example, alfalfa is a perennial plant that is commonly used for animal feed. Unmodified alfalfa, however, is pollinated by bees, so any GMO alfalfa within a five-mile radius could be contaminated. Furthermore, this contaminated alfalfa could then be eaten by grazing cattle, introducing GMOs to the beef supply. The troubling thing is that there is no way for chefs to know whether this cross-contamination has occurred. As a result, it is incredibly difficult to maintain a 100 percent GMO-free menu.

The Cheerios problem
Even large-scale corporate food producers are having a hard time eliminating GMOs from their products. When General Mills announced that it would be eliminating the GMOs from its Cheerios breakfast cereal, it didn’t anticipate the problems it would encounter. Cheerios is a natural choice for the elimination of GMOs because it is made primarily from oats. As it stands, there are no GMO varieties of oats, so General Mills wouldn’t have to replace the cereal’s main ingredient. However, Cheerios is flavored with corn and sugar, both of which are by and large genetically modified. Not only was there difficulty finding non-GMO corn and sugar, but new equipment had to be brought in to process the non-GMO ingredients in separately. Altogether the push to eliminate GMO ingredients resulted in a substantial financial investment on the part of General Mills, an investment that may not be an option for small restaurant owners.

Rising prices?
At the moment, General Mills does not anticipate raising the price of non-GMO Cheerios. However, being a giant company, they can afford to absorb some losses. Small restaurants, however, can’t afford to forgo those costs. As a result, many who are determined to provide GMO-free food are forced to sell at a slightly higher price point. However, it seems likely that customers will be willing to spend that extra money to avoid eating something that has a stigma of being unnatural and possibly unhealthy.

Ultimately, though the push to exclude all GMO foods from menus is proving difficult, it is not altogether impossible, and the indication that customers will be willing to pay more for it is reassuring.