Organic Food Joins the GMO Scuffle

Last week, we discussed the new law that Congress and President Obama passed that would require GMO labeling, and the industry pushback against the bill.  This week, the story continues with organic food producers who are roiled by non-organic but non-GMO packaging claims.

In the United States, “Organic” labeling laws are very strict and can require hefty investments in infrastructure and licensing.  However, “non-GMO” labels–not so much.  For organic food producers, this has become an unsettling situation, because annual sales of the Non-GMO Project-labeled food have skyrocketed from $7 billion two years ago to $16 billion today.  Meanwhile, the Non-GMO Project products tends to cost less than organic.

Thus, organic food companies are beginning to speak out with concerns, even though many of the first companies involved with the Non-GMO Project are in fact organic producers.  The Non-GMO Project started when organic producers wanted to test their foods for GMOs–a step not required by Organic labeling laws.

For the consumer, this creates a dissonance.  Most shoppers aren’t fully aware of the difference in expectations, or that the FDA has repeatedly stated that there is no health benefit to avoiding GMOs. “It’s a little frustrating, to be honest,” says Jesse LaFlamme, CEO and owner of Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs. “OK, it’s great that there’s a non-GMO symbol on there. But do you understand that that product might have been produced with pesticides, antibiotics, and with no regard for animal welfare?”

Laura Batcha, executive director of the Organic Trade Association, puts it this way: “Non-GMO is agriculture before GMOs were introduced, which is still chemical agriculture.”

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FreshRealm Aims to Answer Meal-Kits’ Biggest Problem

right_open_stair_freshrealm-1-21-15-0048-1-1.jpgEven the strongest advocates of meal-kits (companies like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh which deliver recipes and ingredients to home cooks, specifically portioned for a single meal) have had to concede their biggest problem – the enormous waste of single-serve packaging. When each spice in a curry comes in an individual package (not to mention other glaring examples like single scallions or garlic cloves in their own plastic bags), cooks are bound to notice the packaging pile-up happening in their trash cans. Meal-Kit companies have begun trying to address this problem, making sure that packaging is recyclable and can even be returned to the company (Blue Apron in particular has taken this approach). But in the era of heightened food-safety awareness, there’s also only so much that can be done without putting contaminated ingredients in customers hands.

New Start-up FreshRealm aims to solve this problem with their “Vessel” – a reusable 17″ polyurethane cube in which they deliver all their ingredients. Drawers in the cube house not only individual ingredients, but metal plates that help control internal temperature, meaning FreshRealm does not require refrigerated trucks. All deliveries can be made by FedEx, who will then pick up the returned boxes the next day for sanitizing and reuse. So far the system has been so successful that FreshRealm is also selling it to competitors. Terra’s Kitchen, a Baltimore based delivery company, has already signed on.

To read more, click here.

Ikinari Steak Comes to New York from Japan, with Prime Rib and No Chairs

The popular Japanese steakhouse Ikinari steak, known for it’s unusual ordering style and standing-room-only dining room, will soon come to the East Village. Ikinari currently has more than 50 locations in Japan, and in areas with a large office population some Ikinari outposts feed as many as 500 office workers a day.

The fast-casual concept allows guests to order the exact number of grams of steak they’d like, which are then eaten at standing tables with a precisely calibrated height. Chef and Restaurateur Kunio Ichinose explains that such tables discourage diners from putting their forks and knives down between bites, allowing the restaurant to move guests through as quickly as possible. That throughput allows Ikinari to target workers with lower incomes than many steakhouses; a 7-ounce steak comes to about $16, a particularly good deal in Japan.

If such a fast paced setting doesn’t seem like your ideal way to eat steak, there may be some hope. Ikinari’s LES application for a liquor license indicates they may tweak the concept slightly for the New York market, encouraging guests to stay a moment longer and possibly even giving them a place to sit. After all, it’s hard to hold a fork, knife, and a beer through a full 7 ounces.

To read more, click here.

Obama Signs GMO Labeling Law

In addition to the standard Nutrition Facts labels, products will soon have to include another identification.  On Friday, President Obama signed by S.764, which creates a standard for foods produced with genetically modified organisms.  Congress passed the legislation to necessitate labeling on all food packages to indicate the presence of GMO’s.

However, the exact definition of the label is not nailed down.  While White House spokesperson Katie Hill has said that the “measure will provide new opportunities for consumers to have access to information about their food,” food-labeling advocates are pointing out the pit-falls.  Companies are allows to use QR codes and 1-800 numbers as a form of labeling.

This is a valid concern given that GMOs are estimated to be in 75%-80% of our food supply.  While the Food and Drug Administration has already stated that these ingredients are safe for consumption, advocates of the labeling law are the point is the right to know what is in our food.  Thus, some critics of the law are even calling the bill the DARK act, for “Denying Americans the Right to Know.”

And while industry titans and analysts suggest that more specific labeling will be too expensive, 64 countries already require the identification.  The Department of Agriculture has two years to complete the rules.  To read more, click here.

Whole Foods Denied “World’s Healthiest” Moniker

whole-foods1.jpgIn 2010, Whole Foods successfully took on the name “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store,” trademarking the slogan on the basis of existing consumer sentiment. But they recently submitted an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to call themselves  “The World’s Healthiest Grocery Store” – a significant jump in status which could indicate plans for more aggressive expansion overseas.

Unfortunately the Patent office rejected the application, on the basis that such a slogan makes a “laudatory” and unverifiable claim. Papa John’s slogan “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza” was originally denied for the same reason. One reason the switch from “America’s” to “The World’s” might have struck officials as puffery is that Whole Foods currently has a presence in only Canada, Britain and the U.S. – hardly the whole world. They’ve also struggled historically to push into these overseas markets, where existing chains often have a hold on loyal clientele.

Whole Foods now has 6 months to update and refile the case for reconsideration.

To read more, click here.

Salvage Supperclub is a Pop-Up in a Dumpster

29-salvages-supper-club.w710.h473.2x.jpgSalvage Supperclub is the latest outcome of an increased public awareness about food waste: a traveling pop-up dinner made entirely from wasted food and served (appropriately) in a converted dumpster. The chef behind the club, Pesha Perlsweig, believes that they can change diners’ outlooks with each meal. “It makes me happy to hear that a former guest made carrot top pesto or was inspired by a dish of mine,” she says.

Salvage Supperclub has already hosted dinners in Berkeley, San Francisco and their native New York. And while the list of ingredients at one dinner (including bruised plums, vegetable pulp, garbanzo bean water, sweet potato skins and overripe, peel-on bananas) might force some guests to stifle a gag, the NPR reviewer present described almost everything as “finger-licking good.”

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Wal-Mart: “Welcome, Ugly Apples.”

Wal-Mart has become one of the largest links in the food supply chain to take a massive step towards curbing food waste; the grocer is now purposefully selling blemished apples.  America’s largest grocer is currently piloting sales of weather-dented apples at a discount in 300 Florida stores.  “We’re excited to announce that after months of discussion, a brand of apples from Washington state, called “I’m Perfect,” will make its debut in Walmart stores this week,” said Shawn Baldwin, senior vice president for global food sourcing, produce and floral for Wal-Mart U.S.

Farmers and up against a constant battle with nature and the produce often shows it.  Cosmetic issues have traditionally kept sun-spotted, crooked, and pocked product and fruit from store shelves, despite being perfectly delicious and nutritious.  These rejects usually end up in landfills wasting away and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.  “we’ve typically found that growers reported [cosmetic-related] losses ranging up to 20 percent of production in a given year, but it could be higher in years of bad weather,” said JoAnne Berkenkamp, a senior advocate for food and agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Fortunately, more retailers are taking steps to correct the problem.  Whole Foods Markets is operating a similar program in Northern California, and Giant Eagle is piloting something similar in the Pittsburgh area.

To read more, click here.