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A blog about all things allergen-free and delicious

Entries in gmo (2)


Organic? All Natural? GMO’s? What’s Happening to Our Food?


As seen in Women's Lifestyle Magazine's April 2012 EditionRead the Full Magazine.


Photo Courtesy of Women's Lifestyle Magazine


It's Not Just About Food Allergens Anymore

When you become a Tender Foodie, you start to read labels.  As entertaining as this sounds, it is a necessary and regular exercise that helps keep people with food allergies safe.  Labeling gives us important information, and it helps build trust with manufacturers.  But as you apply this label-reading practice to your daily life, you begin to see how essential each ingredient is to your overall health.  It is as important to read what’s ON the label as it is to understand what is NOT on the label.  ‬

‪In this article, I’ll help decipher some of the labels you see every day, and then outline important events that are happening off- label, so you can better understand your choices.  It isn’t just about food allergens anymore. ‬


Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.

‪~USDA National Organic Program‬

The label “Organic” is important for the many reasons stated in the above quote.  One of the most important issues of our time, however, is that it’s one of the only ways to know that your products do not contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).  You could also get to know your farmers and vineyard owners, learn about their practices, and trust them.  It’s not scientific, but there are responsible farmers out there who grow organically, even bio-dynamically (above and beyond organic), but who do not use the USDA certification process.  We’ll get into GMOs in the next section.  ‬

‪First, let’s roll up our sleeves, get out our magic decoder rings, and review organic labeling.  ‬

‪“100% Organic” / USDA Certified Organic Seal‬

‪Only manufacturers who have met the USDA requirements and who have been certified by a licensed agent may use this claim and use the USDA Certified Organic Seal.  All agricultural aids and processing agents must be 100% organic, must not be irradiated, and may not contain GMOs, or anything (including chemicals) from the National List of Prohibited Substances.  ‬

‪“Organic” / USDA Certified Organic Seal‬

‪At least 95% of the product must be composed of certified organic agricultural products.  The remaining 5% must consist of organically produced agricultural products if commercially available. If not, the product may consist of certain non-organic agricultural ingredients or non-agricultural or synthetic ingredients listed in the regulation.  No genetically modified organisms (GMO), sewage sludge or irradiation are allowed in the remaining 5%.  ‬

‪Food producers can use the above terms (“Organic” & “100% Organic”) anywhere on the package, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other legal labeling requirements.‬

‪“Made with Organic Ingredients”‬

‪Up to 3 organic ingredients can be highlighted anywhere on the package.  This practice is often used as a marketing tool to underscore that the product contains organic ingredients.  An unlimited number of organic ingredients can be marked as such in the ingredient list.  For a food producer to use the “Made with Organic Ingredients” label, however, at least 70% of the ingredients must be certified organic.  The remaining 30% may be substances from any non-organic product produced without GMO, sewage sludge, or irradiation.  ‬

‪What Happens When a Product is Less Than 70% Organic?‬

‪If a product is made with less then 70% organic ingredients, the manufacturer is not permitted to use the term “organic” anywhere on the label, EXCEPT in the ingredient list itself (such as “organic carrots, peas, organic tomatoes”, etc.)  The USDA Certified Organic Seal may not be used.  The label must, however, identify the certifying agent, identify which ingredients are organic, and may include a statement or organic percentage in the ingredient information panel.‬


‪. . . Ah, the wild west of food marketing.  I hear people say, “But the label says that it’s All Natural?  How could that be bad?”  ‬

‪Steve Kluting, an attorney with Varnum, who focuses his practice on food industry issues, including product labeling, explains:  ‬

‪While the use of "organic" and its related terms is strictly regulated, the use of "natural" and "all natural" on food labeling is much more loosely dictated under the law.  To label a product as "natural", a food business does not have clear and straight-forward rules to comply with so, as a result, the grocery aisle is filled with "natural" products that a consumer might purchase despite that consumer having a definition of "natural" that's vastly different from the FDA, the USDA, or the food processor that labeled it.

‪In short, the FDA does not consistently define this claim, nor regulate it.  It’s policy (not law) is that natural foods contain no added color, synthetic substances or flavors, and that nothing artificial or synthetic has been included in, or added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in food.  But what is considered “synthetic”?  High fructose corn syrup is one example of an inconsistency and is under scrutiny by a number of courts.  GMO products are also allowed with this label.‬


‪According to the USDA Economic Research Service, 90% of soy crops produced in the United States, 86% of corn and 93% of cotton are genetically modified.  About 80% of our processed foods contain GMOs (think soy lecithin, sugar from GM sugar beets, and high fructose corn syrup).   At least 30 countries (including Japan and the entire European Union) have either banned, demanded labeling, or have greatly restricted GMOs.  According to Reuters in February 2012, China, the 2nd largest corn consumer in the world, is considering approval for GMO corn for 2013.  ‬

‪The U.S. has been using GMO crops since around 1996 without any labeling.  There is also no standard definition of “Non-GMO” labeling.‬

Photo Courtesy of Women's Lifestyle Magazine
‪Petitions created by consumer and farmer groups raise important questions about the wisdom and safety of GMO crops.  In March 2012, 45 Congressmen and women and 10 Senators have recognized that GMOs are a critical issue and have prompted the FDA to look at GMOs much more closely.  ‬

‪In January of 2000, a group of 828 concerned scientists from 84 different countries have issued an open letter to all governments, urging them to immediately suspend all release of GMO crops:‬

‪We urge the US Congress to reject GM crops as both hazardous and contrary to the interest of family farmers; and to support research and development of sustainable agricultural methods that can truly benefit family farmers all over the world. ‬

‪We, the undersigned scientists, call for the immediate suspension of all environmental releases of GM crops and products, both commercially and in open field trials, for at least 5 years; … and for a comprehensive public enquiry into the future of agriculture and food security for all.

‪  ~ From an open letter to all governments Signed by 828 scientists from 84 different countries, including Majory U.S. Universities.‬

‪What is a GMO?‬

‪A GMO food contains genes replicated in a lab from other plants, animals, bacteria or even viruses that give these foods different characteristics – such as a resistance to insects, increased yield, or drought resistance.  This is not crossbreeding.  GMO crops are specifically engineered to withstand the direct application of herbicide, and /or to produce insecticide.‬
‪ ‬

‪What’s Wrong with GMOs?‬

‪Some of these new characteristics sound noble and helpful.  GMO manufacturers have made claims that genetic engineering will “feed the world”.  However, they have released new genes into our food supply without knowing how these genetic alterations would affect human, animal or farming health.  ‬

Independent, long- term studies have exposed serious health and farming concerns.  The Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving non-GMO foods, has compiled an impressive, but frightening list of scientific research using large and small animals.  According to these studies, GMOs have caused problems with immune, reproductive, and gastrointestinal systems; and have also caused organ damage and accelerated aging in these animals.  ‬

‪In one of only a handful of human studies performed at the University of Sherbrooke Hospital in Quebec, Canada, 93% of pregnant women had traces of insecticide present in their blood, namely, the bacterial toxin, “bacillus thuringiensis”, or Bt, found in GMO Corn.   The health effects were beyond the scope of this study, but significant, none-the-less.  ‬

‪GMOs are an experiment, plain and simple.  It is not the consumer’s responsibility to prove that GMOs are safe or to put their health on the line in the name of science.  GMOs must be removed from the market and then be properly and independently tested.  Until then, we have the power to act.  We can demand labeling of GMO foods.  The FDA has until mid-April to respond to the petition to label GMO’s.   Go to to learn more.‬

‪7 Simple Actions You Can Do Now‬

‪1.    Read every label – every time‬
‪2.    Know your brands‬
‪3.    Stay away from the top GMO 8:  corn, soybeans, canola, cottonseed, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, yellow squash and zucchini (buy these organic, but be aware that cross-breeding between GMO & Organic can easily occur for certain crops, like corn)‬
‪4.    Go Organic whenever possible‬
‪5.    Look for the “Non-GMO Project” Seal‬
‪6.    Shop using the “Non-GMO Shopping Guide”‬
‪7.    Ask the FDA for Labeling.  Nearly one million people have sent their comments to the FDA through the “Just Label It!” campaign at  The FDA has until mid-April to respond to the petition to label GMOs.  ‬


‪The Institute for Responsible Technology (‬

‪Just Label It!  (‬
‪ ‬
‪The Non-GMO Shopping Guide  (‬)


About Elisabeth

Writer, owner of Blue Pearl Strategies, and lover of all culinary delights, Elisabeth is a Tender Foodie. She started The Tender Palate, a website for foodies with food allergies where she consults with experts from every area of the Tender Foodie life. She believes that everyone should live deliciously and have a healthy seat at the table. Find her at



INTERVIEW: Bob's Red Mill on Gluten-free Processing, Testing and GMO's


This is an interview with Cassidy Stockton, the Social Media Specialist for Bob's Red Mill.  Through the interview, she takes us behind the scenes at Bob's, and gives us insight into their practices and philosophies, and some of the challenges in the allergen-free food market.  The above video opens the door to the plant and their testing facility, so we can see how things are done.



TF:  How & Why did Bob’s Red Mill get started? 

Bob’s:  Bob's journey began in the mid 1960’s after running across a book about old, stone-grinding, flour mills.  The book really struck him.  He became so enthusiastic, in fact, that he began to search the U.S. for stone mills that were still usable.  High-speed, steel, roller mills were quickly dominating the market, so any stone mill was a rare find.  Bob is pretty persistant, so when he procured millstones from an old water-powered flour mill in North Carolina , Bob and his wife, Charlee, began their first mill in Redding, California.

In 1978, Bob and Charlee decided to pursue others interests and moved to Oregon City, Oregon. On an afternoon walk, Bob came across yet another, beautiful, old mill.  As luck would have it, the mill was for sale.  In a few months, Bob was producing stone ground flours and cereals for local customers. Word quickly spread and Bob's Oregon City based mill enjoyed much success until 1988 when a fire destroyed the building.

Bob knew he owed it to his family of employees and loyal customers to rebuild.  He spent many years growing the business to where we are today. Our current site, located in Milwaukie, Oregon is a 320,000 square foot facility covering some seventeen acres and produces thousands of products each day.  Our products are all made with the same good old-fashioned techniques our customers have come to love and trust since our beginning.



Bob's Whole Grain StoreTF:  How does Bob’s keep their GF flours truly “gluten-free” when also processing other products that contain gluten grains?

Bob’s:  Our gluten free process begins at the farm. We source from suppliers who can deliver clean, gluten free grains.  We do not use suppliers who cannot provide us with grains that are mostly clean from gluten-containing grains. Once we receive a shipment, it is tested in our on-site gluten-free laboratory for gluten before it is released into our gluten free facility. If an ingredient does not test gluten-free, it does not go into that facility. All products and ingredients are tested to be under 20 ppm.

Within our building we have two manufacturing facilities- one that is entirely gluten free and one that is for everything else. The gluten free facility has dedicated storage areas, manufacturing lines, employees, and even a separate ventilation system. Customers can learn more, here: (links to a tour of our GF facility). All gluten free products are tested when they come in (as ingredients), during and after production before being released to the public.

Our entire facility is HACCP certified, which means that we practice Good Manufacturing Practices and all of our employees are well-versed in preventing cross contact between allergens.

Link to HACCP

Link to GMPS


TF:  Do you use a particular process for cleaning machines and your facility?   If so, why did you choose this particular process?

Bob’s:  Yes, we have a full procedure for cleaning machines. All lines are cleaned between runs using air and 30 lbs of the new product is flushed through the system before packaging begins. Production is scheduled with allergens in mind so that cross contact is minimized, for example if a soy product is to be run on a line, only products containing soy are run after it.


TF:  What certification organization(s) do you use?

Bob's:  We are certified organic by Quality Assurance International and certified kosher by Kehilla Kosher. Our HACCP certification is done by Randolph Associates, Inc.


TF:  Do you source your gluten-free grains from farms that do not rotate their gluten-free crops with wheat, rye or barley? 

Bob’s:  Yes, all of our gluten free oats are grown by a farming cooperative in Canada who is committed to only growing oats. No oats can be grown on those farms within the last 3 years prior to joining the coop. Additionally, while I don’t know the exact mileage, all of those farms are located a certain distance from farms growing wheat/rye/barley or other gluten-containing grains to prevent cross contamination due to weather/ birds/etc.  


Bob's Gluten-free LogoTF:  To what ppm do you test for gluten?  Why have you chosen that particular number?

Bob’s:  We test products down to 20 ppm, which means nothing over 19 ppm goes out- period. We chose 20 ppm because we felt that was low enough for the mass majority of people and high enough for us to produce the wide variety of gluten free products that we carry. At the time, this was the standard used in Europe. People should know that while we do test to below 20 ppm, most of our products fall much lower than that.


TF:  You also process nut flours.  If someone has both gluten and nut allergies, is it safe for a nut-allergic person to eat your gluten-free flours?  What is your advice?

Bob’s:  Yes, we package hazelnut and almond meal in our gluten free facility. We do not grind these flours, as stone grinding cannot produce flour and instead turns nuts into butters. We do package those flours and as we stated above, use good manufacturing practices to prevent cross contact. We have many people with nut allergies who eat our gluten free products with no problem, but it really comes down to the comfort level of the individual. There are several companies that specialize in allergen-free and nut-free products and we recommend customers look to them if they are not comfortable with our practices.

TF:  Do you test for other top allergens? 

Bob’s:  No, we do not.


TF:  Are you considering testing for other allergens to help more people with multiple food allergies?

Bob’s:  No, there have been no plans to do so.


TF:  Why are some of your gluten-free grains, like whole grain millet, not labeled “gluten-free”?

Bob’s:  All of our gluten free grains that are tested, including millet, are labeled gluten free. Some products, such as the millet, are sold to all sorts of customers. Those products have a small symbol on the front of the package to indicate gluten free, while the products that have been specifically designed for gluten free eaters display a more prominent gluten free label. We do have some products that are inherently gluten free, such as Buckwheat Flour and Soy Flour, but are not packaged or tested to be gluten free. This typically happens when we cannot secure a supplier who can provide the commodity in a reliable, gluten free manner in a sufficient quantity for our needs.


TF:  Oats are another fairly common allergy for people with gluten allergies or celiac disease.  Do you also test for oats in your gluten-free flours?

Bob’s:  No.



TF:  While on the subject of gluten, what are Bob’s thoughts on the proposed gluten testing  & labeling law?  Do you think 20 ppm is enough? 

Bob’s:  As a leader in the gluten free industry, Bob’s Red Mill was asked in the original hearings. We fully support this labeling law and eagerly await its release. We have been very active in pushing this law through by working with our US senator, Ron Wyden. (

We support 20 ppm because we feel it is a reasonable level for most manufacturers to attain. When you start getting into 10 and 5 ppm, many companies won’t be able to meet that threshold and will not be able to produce gluten free foods.


TF:  Could you see the law going further in any area?

Bob’s:  One area that begs more consideration is regarding the use of the gluten free claim on foods that are inherently gluten free. The spirit of the law is to prevent people from putting gluten free on things such as milk and eggs- things that would not ever have gluten. However, it will cause problems for foods that are inherently gluten free, such as oats, but need to be produced in a way that makes them fully gluten free. It does not help the consumer to say that all oats are gluten free- they simply are not.

TF:  Could you clarify what the labeling law means for foods that are "inherently" gluten-free?

Bob's:  It’s kind of a tricky wording on the proposed law. It says that if a product is inherently gluten free, you must state that. So for things like Quinoa, for example, even if we go above and beyond to ensure that the product is gluten free (through sourcing, production, and testing), we’ll have to put “quinoa is inherently gluten free” on the labeling if we want to call it gluten free. What worries our company is that people might assume that all quinoa is safe for consumption because it’s "inherently gluten free", (when it could be sourced or processed with gluten grains, and is not tested for gluten). That’s just an example, by the way. It’s just scary with the foods that really do have a high chance of cross contact- like oats- and if customers are not as savvy about what something like "gluten free oats" really means, they might think that all oats are inherently gluten free, so safe to eat even if the label doesn't actually say "gluten free".

TF:  What is the most difficult thing for food manufacturers to deal with when serving people with food allergies (Tender Foodies)? 

Bob’s:  Cross contact and keeping our ingredients clean through the entire process. It’s hard when you’re trying to source grains and your suppliers don’t know enough about allergens to work with you.



TF:  I see on your web site that Bob is a big supporter of health and wellness.  In fact, he and his wife recently gave to Oregon Health and Science University.   What inspired this interest and the gift to OHSU?

Bob’s:  The donation to OHSU and the two given last year to Oregon State University and the National College of Natural Medicine are all working to create and bolster nutrition research and education. The OHSU donation is the largest and will create the Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventive Health. Bob and Charlee want nothing more than to help end childhood obesity and educate people about proper nutrition.


TF:  I also noticed that Bob’s site has a section dedicated to Autism.  I know that a gluten-free diet has helped many people with Autism.  What is Bob’s interest in this condition?

Bob’s:  Our gluten free products have always been free from dairy/casein and we started hearing from our customers about their success following a GF/CF diet to mitigate the symptoms of autism. We care about our customers, so we listened and started trying to get more involved in the autism community.


TF:  Do you have any new products coming to market, or any events coming up that you would like my readers to know about?

Bob’s:  We have a few new gluten free products coming in 2012, but we cannot divulge what they are at this time.



TF:  What is your position on GMO's?

Bob’s:  All of our products come from identity preserved seeds. This means the seed planted in the ground is non-GMO. We simply can't guarantee against cross-pollination due to natural occurrences such as wind drift, so we do not label our products GMO-free.



TF:  How can Tender Foodies help manufacturers serve them better?

Bob’s: By increasing education and awareness (in the community).


TF:  If you were to give the Tender Foodie Community one piece of advice, what would you like them to know?

Bob’s:  Be an advocate for yourself. You are your biggest ally in eating allergen-free.


My warmest thanks to Cassidy Stockton and to Bob's Red Mill for the information they provided for this interview.