Organic Soy May Not Be Free of GMO


This subject of this previously published post has recently been back in the news, (and even on Facebook), so I thought it good to re-visit the controversy. Is organic soy milk guaranteed free of genetically modified soybeans? I asked the question of Nigel Tunnacliffe and he was nice enough to write the following answer. Nigel studied risk communication and public policy of GE foods at Simon Fraser University. He runs GE-Free Solutions, a certification and labeling company for non-GE foods. He is on the steering committee for the Society for a GE-Free BC, and covered the Pacific Rim Summit on Biotechnology and Bioenergy on behalf of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN).


Are Organic Soybeans GMO Free?

Photo by “Stuck in Customs”

Before I answer Will’s question, I need to state that I am not an expert on organic certification, and have no experience with American legislation. My experience is with genetically engineered foods in Canada, but I hope that while I approach the subject from a Canadian anti-GE perspective, I can shed some light on the question in as relevant a way as possible. I should also state that I am in the business of certifying non-genetically engineered foods, so please understand that I do approach this subject from a slightly biased point of view.

Can organic soy be genetically engineered? The answer is yes and no. It depends on your definition of “can”. If you mean is organic soy “allowed” to be GE? Then the answer is no. Organic certification requires that a crop be non-GE. BC Certified Organic, Pro-cert, Ecocert, “Transgenesis (modification of a genome through introducing DNA fragments, genetic engineering) is incompatible with the principles of organic production.” Quality Assurance International “Organic refers to products that are produced without using conventional pesticides … or bioengineering.”  USDA National Organic Program: “A variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production, (are not allowed). Such methods include cell fusion, microencapsulation and macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology (including gene deletion, gene doubling, introducing a foreign gene, and changing the positions of genes when achieved by recombinant DNA technology).”

Clearly genetic engineering is not part of organic agriculture, so I believe this far we are all in agreement. The tricky part comes with how the standards are enforced.

If the question “can organic soy be GE?” Means “when I buy organic soy, is it possible that it is contaminated?” then the answer, unfortunately, is yes. It all comes down to the actual requirements under organic certification schemes. The Ecocert (a French multinational certifier) policy, sums it up the best:

a) Operators shall ensure that materials and products used do not come from genetic engineering. A written guarantee from suppliers shall be provided to the certifier whenever there is a variety from genetically modified produce, according to the official list available on the Health Canada Website.

b) As of April 1st, 2007, for reasons of prevention, all agricultural firms must specify in the production plans they submit annually for approval by the certifying body, any possible risks associated with the potential presence of GMOs. These plans must include measures to be put into place by the firm to control and overcome them, and must be updated whenever any changes occur regarding external or internal factors that might influence the organic integrity of the firm’s products.

The requirements stated are not so much of a concern as the conspicuous exclusion of a critical component…TESTING! And with testing, comes maximum allowable contamination. Our North American standards are woefully behind the times, leaving our producers vulnerable to having their exports turned away from European ports, where testing is sometimes done. There was even a case last year where a processor received a shipment of organic soybeans that were 20% GE.

What’s more, there are common ingredients found in organic processed products which can come from genetically engineered sources. For example, both vitamin C and xanthan gum are allowed in organic food. Vitamin C is commonly produced from the skins of corn kernels, and xanthan gum is produced by bacteria which are most commonly fed corn. Corn, of course, is one of the largest GE crops, and there is widespread contamination.

There is a growing movement to require testing for GMOs in organic food. There was a meeting back in March of all major players in organic agriculture and processing to call for GMO testing, but there was no follow-up press release, so the outcome is unknown. The promised report has also yet to surface. There are also organizations such as the Non-GMO Project and GE-Free Solutions, which carry out testing and certification for organic and conventional food.

So, what does this mean for you? First of all, there is no replacement for consumer education. If you are really concerned about eating GE foods, as I am, you read the ingredient panel even if a processed product is labeled as organic. With the exception of Hawaiian papaya, you are safe buying anything in the produce section (GE corn tastes bad, and is almost never sold as corn on the cob). For processed food, watch out for corn, soy, canola and their derivatives (of which there are many), and cotton seed, which is used in vegetable oil.  Some testing is being done to verify non-GE status of certain products.

However, despite the occasional contamination, buying organic is currently one of the safest bets, and definitely the safest alternatives to reading about every possible derivative of soy and corn, you can make as a consumer for avoiding GE ingredients.

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Will Sig
1 Swubird


I agree with the conclusions of the article. However, when it comes to buying organically grown products, I have a little problem. I used to be big on eating organic food, then I began to get more and more digestive disorders – and they seemed to occur right after I ate those kinds of foods. I love the idea of organic in principle, but how do you protect yourself?

When it comes to eating GE foods, I guess I’m waiting for more testing. Like a lot of people, I read the popular books on the subject, and I check with a few blogs such as your blog, but I want to take a look at more data and see for myself before I take a strong stand.

Happy trails.

Swubirds last blog post..THE TENTH COMMANDMENT


2 Will

Hi Swubird – Your issue with digestion seems like there is no way it could be related to organic food. All organic food is just the same food, but without the chemicals. I can not see any way that would affect your digestion.


3 Binky

Perhaps we’ve unwittingly become GM ourselves, and are so used to all the pesticides and chemicals used in traditional foods that we cannot survive without them, The chemical conglomerates would be very pleased.
Binky recently posted..Fake AutobiographyMy Profile


4 Ling

So from what I get out of that, I guess what you need is a global standard for allowable levels of GE contamination, and rigorous testing which will take care of the enforcement of the standards. That’s going to need time, and legislation, not to mention consumer support.


5 Nigel

Hi Ling,

Non-GMO Project and GE-Free Solutions are developing standards, and working to provide labeling to non-GE labeling. Several products are being launched this fall under the “verified [by] non-GMO Project”.


6 Linda Prout

I would be interested in learning more about the organic foods that Swubird (above) believed caused digestive disorders. Even though I buy organic and grow a lot organic, I find it close to impossible to eat organic 100 % of the time. Sometimes I suffer digestive disorders but I never thought to blame organic foods per se. There are other more likely suspects…

Many common foods, organic or not, cause digestive problems. Wheat causes digestive and other problems for a large percentage of the population due to the protein gluten naturally occurring in the plant. I have also seen a number of clients have problems with corn. Dairy is a biggie for GI distress too; many people can’t digest milk sugar and some can’t handle one or more milk proteins. And then there are all kinds of “organic” packaged foods that contain digestive-disturbing substances such as denatured amino acids (organic breakfast cereal) and excess refined sugar.

Soy foods (organic or not) contain trypsin inhibitors, which block protein digestion and can lead to all kinds of stomach distress.

We know from UK studies that GE foods are associated with a 50% increase in allergies, some of which may manifest as digestive disorders.

Perhaps your organic food wasn’t so organic?

Any food, organic or not, can lead to digestive disorders. Eating meals with certain people can also cause digestive disorders. It seems like it would be hard to zero in on organic foods as the culprit. Organic food is just missing chemical residue and contains more nutrients than non-organic, and of you’re comparing it to GE, it’s a different food altogether.


7 Nigel

This just in: the FDA will begin to approve GE animals and fish. Due to some fine print, unless organic regulations are overhauled, I believe it is actually possible for GE animal products (milk, eggs, meat, fish) to be in organic food.

Nigels last blog post..


8 Keith

What you are actually saying is that the FDA will allow non-organic food to be labeled as organic when, in fact, it is not organic. Now we can pay organic price without an assurance that we are receiving what we pay extra to get. Aren’t you pleased with the fruits of your taxes?

No big surprise there. Lots of post-retirement consulting jobs on the line, y’know. Not to mention that big business especially calls the shots in this arena.

GMO foods are big business’s science experiments, and the populace, especially the unsuspecting, are its guinea pigs. Actually more like the canaries in the coal mine.

The truly sad thing about GMO plants is that, even if you grow your own, your produce could still be contaminated by GMO pollen from a neighboring farm. Pandora has really opened the box this time.


9 JT

I agree with Keith. Over time it’s going to become exceedingly difficult to keep GE foods out of one’s diet. There are so many variables involved in food production that, even with regulation, contamination will occur somewhere along the production to consumer path.

With genetically modified animals, vegetables, fruits and who knows what else how will you be able to avoid it? How will you know what a restaurant is using?

Also, given population growth globally GE food will become a critical aspect of feeding the worlds poor.

So, perhaps I should just give up and start on a robust GE food diet and just get it over with. : )


10 Silki Garg

This is a nice discussion building up here. It will be hard in the times to come to get the food in its pure and non-contaminated form. GE food will become the order of the day in onr form or the other.


11 Klemen

I thought this excellent documentary was a very good introduction to the idea that something, seriously needs to be done before we have lost the 100% pure natural genetic strands of all our foods. Corn is pretty much done. So is Soy (at least in the USA). Apples? Oranges? Bananas? Tomatoes? Soon, a good ripe, home grown tomato will just be a distant memory if something isn’t done.

The contamination has started. The alarms are going off all around the world while Monsanto is ploughing ahead with considerable support from the FDA. So I feel will be looking at a grey phase of a few years until all the research results kept tightly in vaults is finally released and GMO’s are fully recognized as damaging. During this time, GMO’s could possibly contaminate every single species of our edible fauna.

So I’m guessing, now it’s time for someone to create a repository of all truly organic seeds; a kind of a DNA bank – to protect them, in order for them to be replicated and brought back to light when time is right. (this rings up Wall-E)

On a side note, somehow it makes me think that we just can’t appreciate something until it’s gone. I’m hoping we’ll be quick enough for this one.

Happy 2010 everyone 🙂


12 Will

Hi Klemen – Thanks for that great comment. Your concerns are well founded. Others would argue that the world is heading unstoppably to 10 billion people. Most of them will be poor and need to be fed. I admit it can look bleak and scary at times.

Please take a look at this post. I think it is exactly what you are hoping for.


13 Ruth

Will, as I understand it the Svalbard Seed Vault is partly funded by Monsanto. 🙁
.-= Ruth´s last blog ..Late Earth Day Post — The Evil of GMOs =-.


14 patricia p. tursi, Ph.D.
15 Angel Strong

Knowing that tons of roundup ready is sprayed into gmos its hard not to believe injesting it wont make you sick. Look what it does to a bug then compare how much is being used infood i always hear a little bit wont kill you. But soy,corn,cotton in some way shape or form is in everything. They are also trying to introduce Agent Orange gmo corn. Common sense dictates a body can only eat so much insecticide before eventually getting sick. I have been very sick for years. I Finally have got it under control to a degree Organic food has helped me to start feeling better. In 09 i decided to eat as much organic food as i could. You cant control what u eat out. I HAD surgery which removed fibromuscular dysplaysia a disease that grows in the arteries. My right side has been 0% since and my left side is 30% a drop from 40% naturally. Proof enough for me.


16 Cili

That sounds interesting, I’ve always been skeptic with organic foods, you never can be sure if you get what you want. I think that the whole growing system isn’t controlled very well…


17 Tony McGurk

It’s becoming harder & harder to know what’s really in what we eat these days. Michelle & I try to be aware of what’s in the food we buy but I guess at the end of the day we are still quite reliant on the food suppliers’s honesty in their labelling. As it’s Spring now my veggie garden’s all ready for planting in a few more weeks. Nothing like home grown.


18 Will

Yeah Tony, labeling is the key. Just like in years past, I think of you and your garden just getting started as I am putting mine to bed. We have tons of tomatoes, peppers, raspberries, and other things right now, but the days are getting shorter and the nights colder. Fall lettuce is in full swing and I plan to plant spinach this weekend. Also plan to harvest some gourds and pumpkins this afternoon. Very interesting to think that I could go south a few thousand miles and be getting started all over again.


19 Niki

There is already too much about ‘clean’ and ‘organic’ food… I think we should accept that there aren’t really green things anymore, we’ve poisoned everything around us in the last couple of centuries…


20 Colleen from Tix-Comix

GMO & Organic are two different and fairly independent things. GE refers to having the gene tampered with at germ level. Organic refers to the chemicals or lack thereof that were applied to the plant during its growth. And the GE pollen can be windborne and cross pollinate the organic plants down the road that is why you can find GMO contamination in organic foods. So it is no surprise to me that some Organic produce may have GMO contamination.


21 Brigi

I think that the most of the organic foods aren’t organic and healthy at all… It is just a big business through they can sell something much more expensive….


22 Taylor

Oh, man. It never occurred to me that organic veggies could be contaminated by genetically engineered crops. Without adequate testing, I guess the only way to be 100% sure is to have your own veggie garden. On the bright side, it’s usually cheaper and you can be sure it’s organic.


23 Kelly Williams

When they say organic, its not 100% in reality! For me its just a marketing publicity to have customers flock over a supposedly “all-organic veggies”. To be on the safe side, its much better to grown your own vegetables, in this way you would be 100% sure that its all-organic compared to what other suppliers are claiming.


24 ringo

this is super bad
my daughter has very sensitive issue with gmo food..
she had seizure after have bad gmo soy, peanut, corn, milk

it not happen immedieatly.. but buid up the heat to her body and swallen eyes and start to hav eseizure

it s not the allegic re action
becuse with organic peacut
i dont see any problem with her

also the smear poop gone forever after stop eat wheat and corn products. ( that we know the big gmo in corn and wheat)

people who never have symtoms are lucky but .. it is not garantee that the kid the great grand kit generataion will not have tha tproblem.. it start to be more and more

hight corn syrup is the big thing that we can notise for hormorn change .. feeling agressive after have food with corn syrup and want t o eat ore and more sweet..

and feel unstable..
u can try by yourself to stop eat corn cyrup food for just 2 weeks

u will feel so bad at the first couple days
and see that u have better and better feleling.. more relax
not too agressive or want to eat a lot

and when u come back to eat oreo or corn syrup stuff again

u notise the change in your feeling, agressive feeling..


25 Cindy

….so the seeds we buy to plant in our own backyards may not be free from GMOs?…


26 crystal

Hello, thank you for the article!
My beef with organic and farmers and being certified… is how corrupt it is. I’m a farming in Southern Alberta, we are not organic. I know farmers that are, and commend them for their hard work. HOWEVER. We have one neighbor who is certified organic, crops over 10 thousand acres… and uses the exact same chemicals as we do.. and year after year remains certified. We even contacted the grain buyers in the US to tell them the product they were buying wasn’t organic. And yes, we even have photo evidence. And we got slapped with a shut your mouth lawsuit. See if they buy grain that isn’t organic and it goes in to their facilities, it’s a HUGE EXPENSIVE problem, because everything is now considered contaminated. We couldn’t afford to go up against general mills and the other big names. Our concern is some people have helth issues that prevent them from using products sprayed with certain chemicals etc.. and they buy these expensive products to make sure they don’t ingest them… and it’s all a lie. You can always tell an organic farmers from a non organic farmer… go look at his fields. They will have weeds!


27 Will

Hi Crystal – Instead of contacting the grain buyers, who of course benefit from this if your allegations are factually correct, try contacting some of the organic proponents. (A few links below) Or, you could try contacting media in the U.S. If the facts are what you say this would be quite a story.


28 crystal

Thanks for the links Will, I will look in to them!!


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