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The Rising Cost of Going GMO-Free


When we talk about the GMO fight, we talk about two things: (1) The ongoing and continuing battle over whether or not food labels should list GMOs; and (2) the ongoing and continuing battle over whether or not GMOs should be allowed in food at all. Today, we're going to focus on a third battle, that until now has been left mostly on the sidelines:

The battle over the rising cost of trying not to eat GMOs.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal analyzed how certain companies were trying to make good on their promise to cut GMOs from their food. Specifically, they looked at the iconic ice cream company Ben & Jerry's, who admits it's going to take them a lot longer than originally anticipated to unweave every strand of GMO web from their ice cream.

Already a year behind their original schedule, the company is just about done with phase one of the transition, in which they are focusing on removing GMOs from the "chunks and swirls" part of their ice cream, things like cookie dough and caramel. Once the "chunks and swirls" part is over, they plan on moving onto the next portion of the GMO eradication process: Milk. And that's going to be a doozy. In all, the company expects -- well, hopes -- to be able to release a completely non-GMO product in five to ten years.

Five to ten years.

The reason for such a lag time from their initial announcement -- which took place back in June of 2013 -- to full implementation is not due to laziness or lack of seriousness. (They've even gone so far in their fight as to name one of their flavors after their non-GMO stance.) It's just that unraveling that mess is turning out to be a lot harder than it originally seemed.

See, GMO "clean-up" is a very costly endeavor. That's because the number of farms that are able to go through the necessary steps to be certified non-GMO are few. (More on that process below.) The main aspect to consider is that companies looking to go non-GMO are going to have to pay quite a premium:

For Ben & Jerry's, the premium for non-GMO ingredients ranged from 5% to 20%, reflecting how deeply rooted the technology is in the U.S. food chain.

The piece goes on to say that Ben & Jerry's isn't going to pass along the higher costs to their customers. (It doesn't, however, clarify whether they're doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, or because they're already charging as much as people will pay for.) But it's not hard to extrapolate that other companies trying to make the switch from GMOs to non-GMOs will have to pass on the cost.

So, where does the higher cost come from?

Let's go back for a second to Ben & Jerry's attempt to remove GMOs from their "chunks and swirls." For each one of those ingredients -- which number well over 100 in their line of ice cream -- they must have a conversation/negotiation with the company that produces the chocolate. And the chocolate company must then have a conversation/negotiation with the company that produces the corn syrup they use. And the corn syrup company must then have a conversation/negotiation with the corn farmer to make sure no GMOs are in there. And then, it's not over.

Then, to get certified with the coveted "non-GMO" label, that farmer has to have other aspects of their supply chain examined to make sure they're clean of GMOs. This means shipping methods and other farms around them, because of the nature of how GMO seeds spread. It's a lengthy process, to say the least.

And when Ben & Jerry's turns their attention to milk, well, that's a whole other problem. It's not so much the cows themselves are being genetically engineered, but that the feed the farmers are using on them certainly is. And right now, there's simply not a feasible way for many farmers to feed their livestock without somehow introducing GMOs to the party. Meaning, five to ten years is simply a ballpark figure now, that may indeed climb well past that when all is said and done.

Paying a higher price to make sure that your food doesn't have GMOs is set to be the new norm. Which, more than anything, is tangible evidence of just how deeply the GMO industry has sunken their teeth into our food.

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