GMO Guidance

by Emily Wilson
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In hopes to narrow the gulf between the lack of GMO knowledge and the amount needed for grain companies to operate successfully now and in the future, three companies have joined forces and created a seminar tackling various GMO issues. Directed toward a broad audience spanning the grain and processing industries, the seminar has been well attended, and hence, also been a good opportunity for grain handlers, grain traders and grain processors to join in one forum and discuss these issues.

Created two years ago by Strategic Diagnostics Inc., and joined by GeneScan USA, Inc. and Medallion Laboratories, Inc. in 2002, the seminar covers many topics, including testing methods, labeling, traceability also know as trace back, export considerations and vendor certification.

Lisa Leier-McHugh of SDI, Michael Russell of GeneScan and Anne Bridges of Medallion Laboratories have already presented nine seminars this year, with two more to come in September and likely another series of seminars to come next year.

"SDI’s vision is to offer ... guidance on how and when to test," said A.J. McCardell, SDI’s marketing manager. "We thought it would be helpful to inform those in the industry about testing options available to them and when to apply them. There are times when protein testing, such as that offered by SDI, and times when genetics-based testing, such as that offered by GeneScan, is needed. It made sense to bring Medallion labs into our group because they have experience with developing vendor certification programs and this was another area that customers were interested in learning more about."

The seminar begins by covering the basics of genetically modified crops and foods, and even covers the genealogy of ag-biotechnology. The differences in input, output and nutraceutical traits are also addressed.

Genetic modification, as the seminar explains, involves copying the genes that govern a particular trait in one organism, and then transferring them to another. Traits that have been most commonly identified are insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, disease resistance, improved nutritional value, or the ability to survive harsh environments.

According to Leier-McHugh of SDI, just defining these genetic traits and genetic modifications has been very beneficial to seminar attendees.

Testing and sampling

Testing and segregation is at the core of the GM-issue for grain handlers, and the seminar dedicates considerable time to explaining detection methods and reasons for testing.

Attendees are probably most interested in learning when and how to test a crop, Leier-McHugh said. Although testing begins at the seed level, testing at arrival to the elevator is the most critical stage and begins the entire process of identity preservation, she said.

The sampling and testing effort — the knowledge of which is most demanded in the end product — must be concentrated at the earliest stages, harvesting and grain storage, to ensure accurate GM identification and continue the preservation throughout processing, Leier-McHugh continued.

There are currently several testing methods. First, the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test detects an inserted DNA sequence. These tests are used more often as food progresses down the supply chain. DNA tests screen and detect many GMOs and are often required for labeling regulations and commercial contracts. It is relatively expensive testing and labor intensive.

The Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) method detects protein unique to the modification being tested, not the DNA itself. Similar protein tests, often referred to as strip tests, lateral flow tests or immuno-assay tests, are ideal to use at elevators, Leier-McHugh said.

"It flows within the system at an elevator," she explained. "A small sample of grain can just be taken from the grain grading sample that they already have to take. The test only takes about three minutes, provides qualitative yes/no results and is inexpensive."

Applying the strip test is simple. The client determines the GMO action levels and risk allowed, she said. From the grain-grading sample taken, remove 125 to 800 kernels. Grind the sample for 15 to 60 seconds; add water and mix. Add .5 milli-liters to a tube and insert the test strip.

If a client wants a quantitative analysis, they can perform an ELISA plate kit test. Plate kits are generally at least 10 to 100 times more sensitive than strip tests.

Information is also presented about problems causing false negative and false positive test results.

Another section of the seminar reviews requirements at each step in the supply chain. Producers are required to provide and guarantee non-biotech or biotech supplies. At the elevator/grain handler level, identity preservation systems are implemented. Grain handlers are responsible for implementing testing and documentation.

At each step in the supply chain, there are certain choices that are made. Grain handlers choose whether they will store biotech, non-biotech or both grain types. Elevators also have the option to choose supply contracts and price premiums for non-biotech (or biotech) crops.

What is GMO-free?

"What do GMO detection levels really mean?" Because there are several interpretations of what GMO-Free and Non-GMO might mean, detection level results can have different meanings.

The seminar discusses those interpretations and also answers the question, "Is it legal to say "GMO-Free?" Non-approved GM events usually have a zero tolerance, while approved events fall under labeling regulations, which vary greatly in various markets.

In the U.S. and Canada, no labeling is needed. In the E.U. and Japan, GM levels in any amount are okay if the product is labeled as containing GMOs. In some countries, no labeling is required if the GMO percentage of each ingredient is below a certain threshold.

Labeling policies are in place for the U.S., E.U., Korea, Canada, Switzerland, Russia, Argentina and Japan.

The following countries have labeling policies under development: Chile, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic, CODEX, Mexico, South Africa, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia and Slovenia, India, China, Thailand, Philippines, Turkey and Romania.

Emerging Trends

The seminar also tries to address emerging factors and trends in the arena of GMO testing and identity preservation. In this new and ever-changing field, it can be difficult to know what the role of each step in the supply chain should be. The market is on a learning curve, and changes are taking place.

For instance, seminar presenters emphasize that identity preservation is shifting from independent roles for supply chain entities to one single interdependent role within the whole chain. What were once "generic" commodities are now identity-preserved ingredients, the seminar points out.

The presenters seminar also believe there is a shift of focus from agronomic trait development, such as yields, protein content and test weight, to output trait development, such as taste, texture, health and manufacturing performance.

In addition, where there was once open access to grains, that system will continue to evolve into more and more proprietary grains.

The seminar touches on the many implications of these and other trends. Throughout the supply chain, entities will need to be able to deliver identity-preserved grains, requiring tighter supply relationships and segregation requirements.



Nine GMO Issue Seminars have already been held this year. Two more half-day seminars are planned in September. The seminar will be in Los Angeles, California, on Sept. 25 and in Portland, Oregon, on Sept. 27. SDI also offers customized group seminars.

Topics covered include:

• What is a GMO?

• Testing methods: how they work and when to apply them.

• Regulations and legal aspects of Identity Preservation.

• Identity Preservation systems.

• Demonstration of strip tests.

To get more details and sign up for the seminar, contact LeighAnn vonHoelle of Strategic Diagnostics by phone: 1.800.544.8881 or 1.302.456.6789, ext. 260; by fax: 1.302.456.6782; or by E-mail:

The three companies plan to hold a new seminar series in 2003, with the topic to be determined depending on market demands.


Strategic Diagnostics Inc., located in Newark, Delaware, U.S., offers GMO and identity preservation testing, GMO test kits, as well as laboratory testing services. Located in Belle Chase, Louisiana, U.S., GeneScan USA offers analytical testing services, test kits, consulting services and training. Medallion Labs, Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., offers nutritional labeling services, GMO kit testing, storage testing and studies and mycotoxin and pesticide testing.