If you are a food technologist and you live in Oregon, your job may have just gotten a bit more strenuous this month. Measure 27, on the ballot in Oregon this November, is a bill—the first of its kind to go before voters in the United States—that would require food companies to label products that contain genetically modified ingredients.

A USDA geneticist prepares to load PCR samples onto an automated DNA sequencer.

According to some industry groups, an estimated 70% of processed food contains a genetically modified organism (GMO) from corn, soybeans, or some other crop. Organizers of the Oregon measure say that it would allow consumers to make an informed choice about their food purchases. Meanwhile, food industry groups are fighting the measure, which they say would be costly and difficult to comply with. According to the food industry groups, processors would need to make products for the Oregon market and products with different labels for the rest of the U.S. The Oregon measure is sure to make the work loads of food technologists involved with quality assurance and regulatory issues a little heavier.

According to an October 9, 2002, report in USA Today, Food and Drug Administration Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford sent a letter to Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber warning about the Measure 27 biotech labeling initiative. The FDA letter reportedly advised the governor that the initiative requiring labeling of foods made with genetically engineered ingredients would impermissibly interfere with manufacturers’ ability to market their products on a nation-wide basis.

A good overview of the both U.S. and international labeling requirements related to GMO foods is IFT’s “Expert Report on Biotechnology and Foods: Labeling of rDNA Biotechnology-Derived Foods,” which can be found online at www.ift.org/govtrelations/biotech/iftreport_labeling.pdf. Another online resource is FDA’s January 2001 draft guidance for industry, “Industry Voluntary Labeling Indicating Whether Foods Have or Have Not Been Developed Using Bioengineering,” which can be found at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/../~dms/biolabgu.html.

On October 17, 2002, a new European Union Directive took effect that provides a more transparent and effective system for the authorization of GMOs. This new directive, according to the European Commission, allows companies to decide what products they want to put on the market. It also allows Member States to initiate the procedure for GMO authorization. Directive 2001/18/EC replaces a previous Directive (90/220/EEC), which had been in force for the past ten years. An online resource on the new EU regulations can be found at: http://gmoinfo.jrc.it.

Screening Techniques
Foods are considered genetically modified when genetic material from outside sources is inserted into its DNA sequence. Genetic modifications include conferring herbicide and insect resistance to plants or correcting nutritional deficiencies.

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During GMO testing, laboratories must distinguish an artificially inserted sequence of DNA, determine the amount of that material present, and identify the specific modification present. Two approaches have been developed to screen for genetically modified materials. The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test screens for proteins produced from the bioengineered gene, and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test screens for the modified DNA sequence.

When an ELISA test is used for detecting genetically modified material, the novel protein that is made by the bioengineered gene is isolated and antibodies are raised against specific surface structures of this protein. If the protein is present, it is bound to the walls of the test kit and reacts with tagged antibodies, resulting in a color change.

The PCR technique selectively generates copies of a section of an original DNA molecule that serves as a template. A polymerase is a naturally occurring enzyme that catalyzes the formation and repair of DNA (and RNA). This polymerase allows the targeted DNA to be reproduced from small numbers up to a detectable levels. To analyze a food product by PCR, a solution of the DNA present in the sample must be obtained, then the DNA is extracted from the sample and purified making it suitable to serve as a template in the PCR reaction. After replication, the DNA can be sequenced. The sampled DNA sequence can then be compared to an original sequence to determine a difference.

Working with Outside Laboratories
Screening for GMOs is the first level of ensuring that products are GMO free. Another approach is identity preservation (IP), a control system that ensures that the identity of a product is maintained from its origin to its final use. Food processors should consider using an outside consulting service to set up an IP program.

Setting up an IP program is very similar to setting up a HACCP program. However, there is no universally accepted definition of an IP program, so the scope and specificity of these procedures will vary with each product and processor. Since IP programs are difficult and extensive to implement, a food processor needs to consider the need for them carefully.

Some outside laboratories also offer their clients sample verification. An independent sampling audit provides verification of how the sample was obtained, thus conferring a increased level of validity on the applicability of the laboratory’s analytical results to the lot being sampled.

The following are some testing laboratories offering GMO services:
GeneScan USA Inc., 101 Woodland Hwy., Belchase, LA 70037 (phone 504-398-0940, fax 504-398-0945, www.gmotesting.com), offers complete GMO testing, consulting, and IP programs.

Silliker Inc., 900 Maple Rd., Homewood, IL 60430 (phone 708-957-7878, fax 708-957-1483, www.silliker.com), offers the Qualicon BAX System PCR Assay, said to be a leading technology for detecting GMOs in raw commodities and minimally processed foods. Other GMO services available include auditing, consulting, training, and research. The GMO Product Integrity Program explains the legal and scientific aspects of GMOs and how they impact businesses.

Genetic ID Inc., P.O. Box 1810, Fairfield, IA 52556 (phone 641-472-9979, fax 641-472-9198), offers the Cert ID non-GMO certification program, which integrates accurate GMO testing with rigorous traceability of an ISO-compliant IP system to ensure non-GMO production. Varietal ID tests allow importers and exporters to screen for GMO varieties prohibited in the European Union and Japan.

Q Laboratories, Inc., 1400 Harrison Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45214-1606 (phone 513-471-1300, fax 513-471-5600, www.qlaboratories.com), offers GMO detection and other laboratory services.

The Burdock Group, 780 U.S. Hwy. 1, Suite 300, Vero Beach, FL 32962 (phone 561-562-3900, www.burdockgroup.com), offers testing and consulting on GMO safety and regulatory issues.

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Issue Is Here to Stay
As this is written, Measure 27 is still to be voted on. However, consumer concerns about GMO foods should be considered a fact of doing business for food processors. The issue is here to stay. Testing for GMOs will become or already is a common duty for food technologists.

PDA-Based Electronic Inspection System
, the C.A.F.E. or (Creatively Analyzing Foods and Environments) is an electronic inspection system that allows field inspectors to collect data on facilities and vendors and get it back to a central location in a standardized way. Inspection templates and a complete history of prior violations are loaded into a PDA equipped with a built-in temperature probe. The inspector completes the audit, prints a summary report on-site using a battery-powered printer, and then uploads the data to a PC. Risk-based scheduling and scoring focuses resources where they are needed most. Real-time reporting and automatic e-mail report distribution keeps management informed. The system includes data mining to spot trends. An optional microbiology LIMS (Laboratory Information Management) system with risk-based sampling plans for the food industry is available. For more information, contact IQ Scientific Instruments, Inc., 11021 Via Frontera, Ste. 200, San Diego, CA 92127 (phone 858-673-1851; fax 858-673-1853).

Food Safety Web Site has been developed by Ecolab, Inc. The web site provides information for food safety professionals on proven approaches, procedures, and products that help keep food safe. Sections on the site cover livestock disease interventions, advanced sanitation technologies, personnel hygiene programs, and food surface treatments. For more information, contact Ecolab, Inc., 370 N. Wabasha St., St. Paul, Minn. (phone 612-293-2233; www.ecolab.com/foodsafety).

Salmonella Screening Kit, the TECRA Salmonella Ultima™ , is a visual immunoassay for screening food, food related and environmental samples. The kit is said to offer significant speed, convenience, and cost advantages compared with standard methods and other rapid methods that use M-broth and two selective enrichments. It is said to give a result in less than 36 hr. There is one simple enrichment protocol for all food, a simple two-step enrichment with no M-broth or secondary enrichment required and a single selective enrichment broth. Results are said to be easily read by eye with the option of using a plate reader. Highly toxic selective enrichment media are not used with the kit. Rappaport-Vassiliadis R10 Broth or Rappaport-Vassiliadis Soy Peptone are used, which improves laboratory safety. For more information, contact TECRA International Pty Ltd., 13 Rodborough Road, French’s Forest, NSW 2086 Australia (phone 61 2 8977 3026; fax 61 2 9453 3422; e-mail [email protected] ).

Coliform Kit, called ColiCheck™, may be used to determine water quality. The user collects a sample in the provided sterile bottle and then adds the test broth to the bottle. The bottle is then incubated in a warm location and if a color change occurs the water sample has the potential for coliforms being present. The broth is provided in a concentrate that is added to 100 mL of sample and incubated for 24-48 hr at 35 + 0.5 ºC. Bromcresol purple is added to the formulation to indicate acid production of a contaminate thus resulting in a color change of purple to yellow. Another test kit, the Colicheck w/mug™, isolates Escherichia coli with the addition of an indicating agent. The presence absence broth will detect coliforms and fluorescence of the media indicates that E. coli is present. A UV black light is required. For more information, contact Biopath, 2611 Mercer Ave., West Palm Beach, FL 33401 (phone 800-645-2302; fax 888-645-2302).

Internet Editor