Little Known GMO Exclusion

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on October 29, 2015 · 0 comments

For those who wish to avoid foods with genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) we already have safeguards in place. The USDA Certified Organic seal assures that no organic farmer can plant GMO seeds and animals cannot be fed grains from GMO crops. On food labels, the Non-GMO Project Verified seal shows shoppers that the food has gone through a third-party verification process and can be accurately labeled as containing no GMO ingredients. In addition, the US Department of Agriculture, through its Process Verification Program can provide companies with another way to verify non-GMO claims.

Few people, however, know that almost all hard cheese made in the US use a genetically engineered protein to drive the clotting process to produce cheese. Even Vermont, the first state to pass a mandatory GMO labeling-bill, has exempted Vermont cheese from carrying a GMO label. Rennet, traditionally obtained from the stomach lining of unweaned calves, was used to clot milk into cheese. In the 1990s rennet prices rose, animal rights groups pushed to protect young animals, and cheese consumption rose sharply. This trifecta pushed biotechnology scientists to discover that a bovine cell transferred into microbes could produce the same clotting agent needed to produce cheese.

FPC (the clotting agent produced) was equivalent to the rennet from calves. It was given GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status by the FDA in 1990. Today, 90% of cheese made in the US uses FPC as the enzyme to clot milk. Most cheesemakers find it superior to calf rennet. FPC is considered suitable for vegetarian, kosher and halal requirements. It cannot, however, be used to produce organic cheese in the US, Canada and Europe.

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