Gerber’s Decision to Drop Bioengineered Suppliers Raises Questions

Gerber’s Decision to Drop Bioengineered Suppliers Raises Questions

With Gerber’s announcement that it no longer will buy genetically engineered corn and soybean products from suppliers comes a host of questions. Parent company biotech giant Novartis expects that by the end of September it no longer will be using corn and soybeans that have been genetically altered to be resistant to pests and herbicides. Such ingredients account for about one-half of 1 percent of Gerber’s ingredients, and are mainly used in dry cereal.

Recently, Gerber’s parent company, major biotechnology seed producer Novartis AG of Switzerland, said it was considering the move to non-GMO ingredients even before the environmental group Greenpeace asked for information about the company’s use of bioengineered products.

The decision to abandon biotech ingredients like soybeans and corn for its baby food line owned by a major GMO producer may seem contradictory to some. However, a Novartis spokesperson said the decision is “… not a matter of safety, but it is a matter of consumer wishes.” Consumers would prefer to have non-GMO ingredients for baby food, she said.

Another issue is who will provide the largest baby food maker with non-GMO ingredients? Novartis said it would now try to use only organic (pesticide- and herbicide-free) ingredients in Gerber products. Gerber produces 5.5 million jars per day and has annual worldwide sales of $1 billion. This translates into a major opportunity for organic farmers and processors of corn and soybeans.

Gerber is not alone in its decision to abandon GMO ingredients. Two other baby-food makers, H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh, and Healthy Time Natural Foods, Poway, Calif., have made similar changes. Another major maker of baby food, Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp., St. Louis, uses no modified ingredients. Also, it uses no soy ingredients, removed cornstarch from all foods two years ago, and its corn is non-GMO; all in response to consumer demand.

The decision left some observers to feel that this is the tip of the iceberg in growing opposition to GMOs. According to one organic proponent, world agriculture could still turn its back on biotechnology. As some in the organic industry predict a sharp rise in opposition to biotechnology among U.S. consumers as European resistance crosses over the Atlantic.

And, as opponents worry about biotechnology’s effect on the environment and public health with Gerber’s decision comes the final question, which is the next food processor to come to the same conclusion?

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