The Organic and GMO Resolutions after Graham Forsher and Quesada: An Analysis of Legal Issues Revolving Around the Regulations on Organic and GMO Food Products

One of the most popular USA trends in the Food Industry currently is Non-GMO and Organic Foods. These production techniques and food items are spreading rapidly, not only in the retail markets but also in food service areas. This trend is expanding the customer’s desire to have healthier options to eat, with few ingredients and any items that are considered not natural. There are many guidelines to be followed by the USDA and Federal government to properly sell products as Organic or Non-GMO.

Background on Organic and GMO Food Products

When companies are growing and/or selling Organic products, there is a process they must follow according to federal guidelines. There are many different factors for considering something “organic”. This includes soil quantity, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and of course the use of additives. Organic producers always rely on using natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the most full extent. Produce can be considered organic if it is certified to have grown on soil that has had no prohibited chemicals or substances applied for three years prior to the harvest. Organic meat regulations require that animals are raised in living conditions that allow their natural behaviors, fed has to be 100% organic, and they cannot be administered antibiotics or hormones.

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. These are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. Some concerns overeating foods with GMO are nutritional content, allergic response, side effects of toxicity, organ damage, or gene transfer. Scientifically in the United States, it has been proven that GMO food items do not have a negative effect on the body, but the chemicals can cause an issue for the environment. Non-GMO foods are considered to be more eco-friendly. It has become more of a personal preference that people do not like eating foods that have been genetically modified. They do not feel the need to add extra products into their bodies that they have not added before.

The Organic and non-GMO food market is projected to accelerate over 17% in the upcoming years. Companies are planning on producing more items like non- GMO cereals, liquor, meat, poultry, bakery products, and edible oils. The market is expanding and is expected to see in over 30% of North America due to the competitive market. With schools feeling that GMO based foods are not healthy for children, they are even offering food items that are NON-GMO. A lot of schools and parents label GMO with junk food or decreased nutritional value, so they feel it is better for the students to ban the use of GMO products and junk food, and offer all natural or organic healthy options.

GRAHAM FORSHER, Plaintiff, v. THE J.M. SMUCKER CO., Defendant.

The Plaintiff decided to peruse a class action against the company Smucker because they labeled a peanut butter spread as “all natural”, even though the product contained items that were not “natural”. Natural items are described as products that only contain items derived from ingredients that are not bioengineered or genetically modified. In this case the label on the peanut butter states the products “may contain sugar derived from bioengineered or GMO (genetically modified) beets.” Which can be very confusing for customers when the front label states the product is all natural. The case was dismissed due to the FDA noting that “the new techniques are extensions at the molecular level of traditional methods and will be used to achieve the same goals as pursued with traditional plant breeding”. The beets did contain GMO products but when testing was done, it did not meet the standard of detectable genetic material, therefore it could still be considered natural peanutbutter.

Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms, Inc., 62 Cal. 4th 298

Quesada filed a class action Lawsuit against Herb Thyme Farms because, they were selling their herb products under an organic label that violated the state consumer protection laws. Indeed, the item they were selling was not actually kept under “organic” circumstances. There are many USDA guidelines to follow if a company is going to sell their products as organic. The federal guidelines include, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic Producers rely solely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent Possible. The case was preempted. Herb Thyme Farms did keep their organic herbs grown separately from their non-organic products, until it came to packaging. During the packaging process everything was brought into one area. The judge felt that it didn’t completely violate the organic food policy but it did indeed limit state organic certification programs. They did tell Herb Thyme Farms that they indeed needed to perform uniform national standard packaging procedures.

Management Suggestions

From the management standpoint there are a lot of things that can be done when selling products that are considered Organic or Non-GMO. Organic products cannot be cooked or prepared in the same un-sanitized work area. If it is, it’s considered contaminated and no longer organic. It would be a very important precaution to take and ensure all cooks, chefs and employees know that standard. Chefs will have to make sure that all products are properly labeled, stored, and cooked in the certified manner of the FDA. If managing a growing or packaging company, that rule would still apply, so when producing or labeling the products, they must not be contaminated with non-organic products.