It's been a big year for food, agriculture and biotechnology news — the month of September alone contained a year's worth of stories. Here is the Non-GMO Project's overview of the biggest and most impactful new stories from the world of food, 2022 edition.
New year, new labeling law
The federal Bioengineered food labeling law (also known as NBFDS) went into full effect on January 1, making BE disclosures mandatory on some (but not all) products made with GMOs. The Non-GMO Project had consistently expressed disappointment with the law, noting it does not do enough to protect consumers or offer the transparency Americans deserve.
However, the Center for Food Safety later won an important victory for your right to know, when their lawsuit prompted a U.S. district court to declare that BE disclosures with QR codes alone were unlawful and discriminatory.
Inflation reduction and debt relief
In August, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was signed into law. While many observers hailed the IRA for its climate provisions, the Center for Food Safety (yes, the same one) noted its failure to meaningfully address the problems of industrialized agriculture. The IRA's funding for so-called "climate smart initiatives" act essentially as subsidies for GMO crops.
On a positive note, the IRA does include a provision to provide assistance to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who experienced discrimination in USDA’s farm lending programs. The issue of compensation for farmers who have faced discrimination is both long overdue and highly contentious, with an earlier attempt, the American Rescue Plan, reversed by the courts. In October, the USDA sought public comments on how to implement the provision.
Biden's big biotech bid
In September, President Biden signed the National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative, an Executive Order promoting biotechnology across all government sectors, including GMOs in the food system. The Order unfairly favors GMOs and the companies behind them at the expense of food security, environmental resilience, public health and social equality.
Later that month, the U.S. government selected the first round of grant recipients under the “Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities." The program earmarked $3 billion of the federal budget to reduce GHG emissions and increase carbon sequestration in major food crops and commodity production. However, the focus on commodity crops effectively props up a destructive industrial and GMO-based agriculture system, failing to address the monocultures and lack of biodiversity that contribute to environmental degradation.
Food sovereignty — and the news story that wasn't
Also in September, the Gates' Foundation-led Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) underwent a rebranding effort, announcing that it will keep the acronym "AGRA" while striking the term "Green Revolution" from its name and related events. Strangely, the renaming was accomplished with no explanation or context. Critics wonder if the quiet rebranding is AGRA's attempt to distance itself from its dismal track record on food scarcity or farmer incomes. Farmers, civil society and faith leaders of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa quickly denounced the rebranding, calling instead for a "Green Restoration."
Food sovereignty is also at the core of the ongoing dispute over Mexico's looming ban on GMO corn. Throughout the year, U.S. corn producers condemned the ban (the vast majority of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified and the ban would strike a blow to GMO farmers). The latest news indicates Washington might try to challenge the ban as a violation of the USMCA trade partnership and Mexico could seek a compromise. The Non-GMO Project supports Mexico's right to food sovereignty and self-determination, and welcomes the opportunity for more U.S. acreage to transition to non-GMO crops to meet the demand.
Wheat's winding path
Russia's unlawful invasion of Ukraine in March has been broadly condemned for its impacts inside Ukrainian borders and around the globe. In addition to the toll on the Ukrainian people, the war has devastated farming in "the breadbasket of Europe," causing supply chain disruptions, impacting commodity and fuel prices and compromising aid packages to millions of people facing food scarcity.
The conflict might even have helped a new GMO cross the finish line of regulatory approval. In May, Argentina approved the commercial cultivation of genetically modified HB4 Wheat for the 2022/23 planting season. Historic attempts to produce genetically modified wheat were abandoned more than 20 years ago, in part because of consumer unease around eating GMOs (wheat is the most widely consumed grain in the world). Ukraine is one of the world's main wheat producers, and concern over the war's impact on grain production possibly played a role in GMO wheat gaining a foothold.
The year ended with a welcome development, in the form of non-GMO wheat news. In December, a new variety of drought-tolerant wheat created through traditional cross-breeding methods was announced. Non-GMO "Jabal" wheat was produced by farmers and crop scientists working together as part of an international breeding program that incorporates wild relatives of food crops. According to one agricultural expert, "This shows what can be accomplished with multilateral cooperation where farmers are at the center of decision-making."
On that hopeful note, we move together into the new year. We'll keep following developing stories such as Mexico's ban on GMO corn, and keep you posted on current events as they happen. Here's to a happy and healthy 2023!