Mad cow disease hit the news again in June, fueling consumer fears about the safety of the food supply chain. Also, a recent report revealed that over a four-year period Swiss biotech firm Syngenta AG sold U.S. farmers an unapproved strain of genetically modified corn seed, which may have entered the food supply and international channels. These two incidents reveal how porous the U.S. agricultural supply system is to contamination. They also highlight the need for robust traceability technologies that enable food manufacturers to quickly and efficiently respond to potential contamination issues within their supply chain.
To detect GMO contamination in food ingredients, testing alone is not enough. Testing of GMOs in refined ingredients is unreliable and can result in both false positives and negatives – the more highly refined the product, the more uncertain the test results. The best way to ensure the integrity of a non-GMO supply chain is to implement a reliable traceability system that follows an ingredient from field to fork.
To better evaluate the reliability of their suppliers, savvy food manufacturers need to arm themselves with a broad understanding of all the steps involved in ensuring the integrity of non-GM products. Only by knowing what questions to ask can food manufacturers be sure that they are truly sourcing non-GM ingredients. National Starch Food Innovation, a producer of non-GM ingredients, has obtained a third party certification of their traceability program. An overview of their procedures reveals the complexity involved in designing and administering a reliable system that meets international standards – and gives you a measuring stick with which to evaluate your suppliers.
Growing and Handling Requirements
To control its supply chain and assure that the grain it buys is the variety and quality it needs, National Starch contracts directly with farmers to grow its corn. Farmers are required to adhere to a long list of procedures relating to seed selection, planting, segregation, equipment cleaning, handling, transport, documentation and reporting, all of which are all part of the company’s TRUETRACE program.
Because the quality of the end product is only as pure as the seed it comes from, farmers are required to purchase only non-GMO varieties of seed from companies that warrant the purity of their seeds. They are subject to later verification of their seed purchase records and bag labels.
To avoid contamination from volunteer plants from the previous season, farmers must demonstrate that the fields planted with TRUETRACE corn were not planted with GM corn the year before. Non-GM corn must be sown in acreage that is segregated from other varieties to successfully reduce contamination due to cross-pollination during growing. To do this farmers use several methods, including isolation and the planting of buffer crops. Farmers must record the locations of the fields growing TRUETRACE corn and document all crops growing in neighboring fields. At harvest, they are required to remove border rows from the non-GM corn field if they have GM corn planted within 660 feet of the non-GM field. National Starch provides guidelines for the removal of border rows based on distance between GM and non-GM fields.
Throughout planting, harvesting, storage and transportation, the farmers must clean their equipment in such a way that there is no remaining GM material – corn, soybeans or anything else – on or in the equipment, which may contaminate the non-GM crop. The dates of all equipment cleaning are recorded.
Farmers are also required to keep training records. Anybody, other than the contract grower, who handles the crop in any way – from hired help at planting to contract harvesters to the truck driver who delivers the crop to market – must be trained in the TRUETRACE procedures.
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