Cheese Regulations, Seed Vaults, and More in Food Policy This Week

In Food Policy This Week: 5 News Bites

A roundup of news clippings we're reading that affect the way we eat.


The inauspicious entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

Is Non-GMO Really Just a Cheaper Alternative to Organic?

Short answer: no. But some shoppers think it is, which is leading to an increasingly tense relationship between organic and non-GMO producers. Trends suggest that consumers assume that non-GMO foods are grown under the same conditions as organic foods. But this isn't true. Non-GMO standards only require that the seeds of those plants are not genetically modified. Organic foods, on the other hand, have stringent restrictions for chemical application, soil quality, and seed type. And organic meats require organic feed, an expensive investment for any farmer. Consequently, organic foods often carry a heavier price tag than non-GMO. But if your priority as an eater is avoiding chemicals in your food, organic is still the best bet at most supermarkets. As GMO labeling becomes more and more common, consumer education must keep pace so shoppers can continue making informed decisions about what they're buying.

Svalbard Seed Vault Accepts 20,000 New Seeds

Consider a future without sweet potatoes, black beans, wheat, okra, or some of your favorite food crops. Pretty bleak, eh? That's why the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was established in 2008. In the face of climate change, tense international relations, loss of pollinators, and increased use of monocropping, a seed vault seemed increasingly necessary to protect the world's biodiversity. The vault contains about 800,000 different seeds, including everything from heritage crops like ancient cherry tomatoes to modern variations of wheat and corn. And just this week, it opened up to accept 20,000 new seeds into its collection. The vault is heavily protected and closed to the public, though the occasional world leader will stop by to pay a visit. Its location—carved into a mountain 600 miles from the North Pole—protects the vault from earthquakes, explosions, and presumably most tourist activity.

New Trade Negotiations May Change the Name of Your Favorite Cheese

The European Union and the U.S. are in the process of negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, an agreement that could have serious consequences on the American cheese industry. One of the agreement's proposed rules is that American cheese producers stop using European names—think Gruyere, Parmesan, or Muenster—to sell their cheeses. The E.U. already has many geographically protected traditional products, meaning that foods like Champagne or Parmigiano-Reggiano can only be sold under that name if they're produced in a particular region. But for several reasons, including fewer traditional food production practices, the U.S. has never seriously considered such regulations. We'll keep an eye on the TTIP and let you know if your favorite Brie will soon be sold under a different label.

Americans Wasted 133 Billion Pounds of Food in 2010

According to a USDA report, Americans wasted about 133 billion pounds of food in 2010. That accounts for roughly 30% of all food purchased by shoppers and diners (so it doesn't include food that was wasted before it got to a retail location). This $162 billion loss is about 50% produce and fruit and 12% fish, meat, and poultry, by volume. Consumer food waste contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. About 20% of landfill trash is food waste, which gives off potent methane gas as it decomposes. Per capita, food waste represents a loss of over 1,200 calories per day.

About the Author: Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website, and you can follow her on Twitter @leahjdouglas.