Business Bites: US updates GMO regulations, funds organic education

5 ice-cold news sips: U.S. government agencies are updating the framework for regulating biotechnology; USDA funds organic food projects; Beyond Meat and other alt-meat producers continue to report losses; and more.

Scott Miller, Staff writer

May 20, 2024

5 Min Read
DNA made of food being modified.

At a Glance

  • This marks the first update to the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology since 2017.
  • A total of $4.4 million will fund a three-year project to boost awareness about the benefits of organic food.
  • Beyond Meat reported revenues dropping 18% to $75.6 million in Q1 2024.

On the one hand, several U.S. government agencies are working together to update the regulatory framework surrounding the products of biotechnology, which typically do not qualify as organic. On the other hand, USDA is funding education initiatives for organic products. Strange timing, which could signify a push to further clarify consumer purchasing decisions by, for example, implementing stricter labeling requirements. But with what goal? Only time will tell. Read on for more, plus tips on sustainable chocolate production and how TikTok might be spawning unusual new flavor combinations.

USDA, EPA and FDA update joint regulatory plan for GMOs

In September 2022, President Biden issued Executive Order 14081, “Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy,” and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have finally decided to act. Or start planning to act, at least.

These three agencies jointly regulate the products of biotechnology, also known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and they’ve created a plan to update, streamline, and clarify regulations and oversight mechanisms. The supposed goal is to ensure public confidence in biotechnology regulatory systems and improve transparency and efficiency in those systems. The plan will tackle five major areas of biotechnology product regulation:

  • Modified plants

  • Modified animals

  • Modified microorganisms

  • Human drugs, biologics and medical devices

  • Cross-cutting issues

The update seems to focus on modified microbes, but the extent to which the rules will change remains unclear. This is the first update to the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology, established in 1986, since 2017.

Organic Trade Association, The Organic Center win USDA grant

In addition to updating its regulatory focus for GMOs, USDA is looking to expand organic markets via consumer education and promotion. As such, it has awarded $2.2 million in Organic Market Development Grant funds to the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and The Organic Center. These funds match those provided by the OTA, The Organic Center and Organic Voices, totaling $4.4 million.

Said funds will back a three-year joint project to promote the benefits of USDA certified organic products with the goal of stimulating demand for these items.

“We want to educate people about the difference organic makes, and inspire them to choose organic,” Amber Sciligo, director of Science Programs for The Organic Center, said in a press release. “This project will highlight organics’ ability to protect natural resources, sequester carbon and regenerate soil health, while also providing nutritional benefits and protecting us from synthetic pesticides, preservatives, antibiotics and more.”

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Beyond Meat’s struggles continue, calling entire alt-meat category into question

Another quarter, another dismal set of results for plant-based meats. Beyond Meat has reported a net loss of $54.4 million, with revenues dropping 18% to $75.6 million in Q1 2024. On the earnings call, CEO Ethan Brown said Beyond Meat is treating 2024 as a pivotal year for achieving “sustainable and profitable operations.” Reportedly, the company’s cash balance was $173.5 million, while its total outstanding debt was $1.1 billion. Ouch.

Beyond Meat isn’t the only alt-meat company currently struggling. Impossible Foods just rebranded its entire product line to make items seem “meatier,” possibly to try to exit the culture war developing around alternative meats. Consuming plant-based meat substitutes can reduce carbon footprint and improve health outcomes, but it’s evidently become associated with “left-wing politics” as well. I guess wanting to clean up after yourself and not die from a heart attack at 45 are radical ideologies.

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Chocolate sustainability report reveals ways to aid cocoa farmers

Luker Chocolate, a Columbian business-to-business chocolate manufacturer, has released a sustainability report for 2022-2023, showcasing the company’s dedication to its goals of improving farmers’ incomes and providing deforestation-free cocoa.

In 2022-2023, Luker paid an average of 94% of the New York Stock Exchange Free on Board price to cocoa suppliers in 2022-2023, which allows it to compensate Colombian farmers more fairly. Plus, 80 farmers are working to implement regenerative cacao farming.

The report also highlights a Luker initiative called “The Chocolate Dream,” which helps farmers develop entrepreneurial skills and enhances local communities through vocational and technical education opportunities while also raising awareness about human rights issues and working to prevent modern slavery and child labor in the cocoa industry.

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Pickles in Dr Pepper apparently a thing, according to TikTok

Based on a recent video uploaded by TikTok user mississippimemaw, pickles and Dr Pepper are a match made in heaven, but I’m not convinced. I hate pickles. They’re one of those foods that seems as if it were developed by accident, after some presumably very hungry individual accidentally dropped their cucumber in a toilet, then took a quick look around and decided, “Eh, why not?” That said, I do love Dr Pepper, and trying out trending flavor combinations is part of the job, so I decided to give this one a shot.

The trademark briny stench of pickle juice sends a shudder down my spine as I slice up the pockmarked tubes. When the rounds drop into the effervescent abyss, they sink straight to the bottom — just like my hopes for the beverage I probably just wasted.

I take a sip.

The flavor combo is surprisingly subtle, adding a hint of salt and vinegar to the good Dr’s trademark plums, licorice and pepper. The lesson here is not to shy away from unexpected flavor combos. You might stumble upon something you didn’t realize your customers might like, especially since the Institute for Food Technologists predicts consumers are leaning into bold and bitter flavors.

That said, I still dumped most of this out.

About the Author(s)

Scott Miller

Staff writer, Food & Beverage Insider

Scott Miller brings two decades of experience as a writer, editor, and communications specialist to Food & Beverage Insider. He’s done a little of everything, from walking a beat as a freelance journalist to taking the Big Red Pen to massive technical volumes. He even ran a professional brewing industry website for several years, leveling up content delivery during an era when everyone had a blog.

Since starting at Food & Beverage Insider, he’s written pieces on the price of greenwashing (and how to avoid it), debunked studies that served little to no purpose (other than upsetting the public) and explained the benefits of caffeine alternatives, along with various other stories on trends and events.

Scott is particularly interested in how science, technology and industry are converging to answer tomorrow’s big questions about food insecurity, climate change and more.

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