GMOs All The Way Down?

Taking aim at the anti-GMO crowd, Jon Entine & XiaoZhi Lim at the Genetic Literacy Project posit that “almost all the hard cheese made in the United States, and in much of the West, uses a genetically engineered protein that is made from genetically engineered yeast and bacteria to make cheese.”

The authors go on to explain that cheesemakers traditionally obtained rennet, a coagulating agent, from the stomach lining of young, unweaned calfs. But by the late 1980s, scientists had developed a genetically modified microbe able to produce chymosin (the primary active ingredient in rennet) in a lab. Chymosin produced in this manner was termed “FPC” and was “given Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) status by the Food and Drug Administration in 1990 after 28 months of review.” Entine & Lim estimate that today “ninety percent of the cheese in the United States is made using FPC.”

Does that make the majority of American-produced cheese a GMO? And must it be labeled as such under new GMO labeling regimes?

I suspect we’ll hear a lot more about these issues in the coming months and years as the labeling debate plays out at the state, federal, and international levels.

But if recently enacted legislation is at all indicative, the labeling question may get answered in the negative.

The GMO labeling law in the cheese-friendly State of Vermont included a safe harbor for, inter alia, any processed foods that would have triggered labeling requirements “solely because [they] include[] one or more processing aids or enzymes produced with genetic engineering,” § 3044(3), or foods for which “the genetically engineered materials in the aggregate do not account for more than 0.9 percent of the total weight of the processed food,” § 3044(5). Much in the same way, “[f]ood consisting entirely of or derived entirely from an animal which has not itself been produced with genetic engineering, regardless of whether the animal has been fed or injected with any food, drug, or other substance produced with genetic engineering.” § 3044(1) (emphasis added).

Will every lawmaker or regulator strike the same balance? That remains to be seen.

Stay tuned.