GM labeling has been making headway in the world of food safety. On May 21, 2013 the Connecticut State Senate ratified a bill that would require food companies to place a special label on products containing GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) — biotechnology derived commodities. There is a stipulation in this bill that it will only go into effect if three other states also pass similar labeling laws. Vermont is currently working on passing such a law, but has yet to succeed. Recently, a bill to allow states to pass their own labeling laws regarding GMOs was voted down in the U.S. Senate 71-27. If states start passing individual labeling laws, not only will the food companies have a major headache, but so will farmers who produce crops that use a bulk commodity transport system, such as soybeans. The major problem for these producers comes in the form of traceability.
The Laws Around the World
Each country defines traceability differently. According to the European Union, traceability is defined as “the ability to track any feed, food-producing animal or substance that will be used for consumption, through all stages of production, processing and distribution,” according to the European Commission’s Health and Consumer Protection website.2 The EU’s General Food Law went into effect in 2002 and made the traceability of food mandatory for all food and feed businesses. It requires companies to implement special traceability systems in order to be able to identify where their product came from and where it is going. The law also requires that these companies provide this information rapidly to the necessary authorities. There are special traceability rules for GMOs (implemented in 2004) in order to ensure that the GM content of the product can be traced and accurate “GMO labeling” must be placed on the product so the consumer can make an informed purchasing decision.3 Under the General Food Law, animals are required to be tagged with the details of their origin and then later stamped with the traceability code of the slaughterhouse where they are processed.
In contrast, the U.S. laws mandate the one-up-one-down manner of traceability (more accurately called “trace back”).4 This requires the different links in the U.S. food supply chain to be able to quickly trace where they got a food ingredient/product and where they subsequently sent the food product. The purpose of the U.S. system is to allow the FDA to quickly trace the origin of a food borne illness and then rapidly remove it from the food supply. Parts of the U.S. food industry have been required to keep such records since 2005, however, some produce farms and some restaurants are just recently being placed under a similar law.
The Soybean Production, Collection and Storage Process
Traceability poses major problems for many commodities due to the nature of their transport. A perfect example for the bulk transport of a product is soybeans. All soybeans in the U.S. are transported in bulk with the exception of the small organic and identity preserved market. There are many points during this process in which the soybeans are mixed from harvest to the final destination of overseas ports. The most notable sector of the process in which this occurs is at the country grain elevators.