In Cheerios’ wake

by Jeff Gelski
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The ingredient list of General Mills, Inc.’s original Cheerios highlights the importance of starch —corn starch is second on the list, right behind whole grain oats. Cheerios, of course, is not the only processed food product to use starch as an ingredient. Companies looking to introduce non-bioengineered products may need to check the availability of non-bioengineered starches and their sources, including corn, rice, potatoes and wheat.

General Mills earlier this month said it will not use bioengineered ingredient, including starch, in original Cheerios (see Food Business News of Jan. 14, Page 1).

Several organizations, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization, have found bioengineered ingredients to be safe (see story on Page 32). Still, a marketing buzz has centered on “non-G.M.O.” products, or those without bioengineered ingredients, also known as genetically modified organisms (G.M.O.s).

Packaged Facts on Sept. 11, 2013, released a report called “Non-G.M.O. Foods: U.S. market perspective” that estimated non-bioengineered food and beverage sales in the United States will be an estimated $178 billion in 2013, which would account for almost a quarter of all U.S. food and beverage sales. By 2017, U.S. non-bioengineered food and beverage sales may have a value of about $264 billion, or about 30% of all U.S. food and beverage sales, according to the report.

“There is widespread agreement within the scientific community that G.M.O.s pose no threat to the environment or human health,” the report said. “Nevertheless, there is a broad base of concern among advocacy groups about G.M.O.s, a concern driven in part by fear of unknown ramifications.”

The Non-GMO Project, Bellingham, Wash., offers independent verification of testing for products in the United States and Canada. Verification has taken place for more than 14,000 products. “G.M.O. free” and similar claims are not  legally or scientifically defensible due to limitations of testing methodology, according to the Non-GMO Project. The Non-GMO Project verification seal is an independent verification for products made according to best practices for G.M.O. avoidance.

Corn starch in Cheerios

According to a June 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 90% of all corn planted in the United States in 2013 was made up of biotech varieties, including 5% for insect-resistant, 14% for herbicide-resistant and 71% for stacked gene varieties.

The Non-GMO Project ranks corn as a “high risk” crop for the presence of G.M.O.s. The Non-GMO Project has not verified original Cheerios and is not associated with the product.

The degree of difficulty in keeping bioengineered ingredients out of Cheerios may depend on the type of corn starch used, said Bryan Scherer, vice-president of research and development for Penford Food Ingredients, Centennial, Colo.

Penford Food Ingredients sources all its waxy corn starch from non-bioengineered sources. Another variety, dent, would pose a problem.

“To change over to non-G.M.O. dent (a corn variety) will require one or more of the major starch companies to contract for new crops from identity-preserved (I.D.P.) seed stock and plant crops away from potential sources of G.M.O. cross contamination,” he said. “This is likely to be a challenge to the existing supply of non-G.M.O. dent corn and could likely affect both supply and pricing for the next several growing seasons. It will also depend on how I.P. dent corn volumes are impacted by the change.”

Dent corn starch is an amylose-containing starch with amylose content of about 24% and amylopectin content of about 76%, according to Penford Food Ingredients. Waxy corn starch is composed almost entirely of amylopectin. Unmodified dent corn starch forms firm gels on cooking and cooling whereas unmodified waxy corn starch forms long cohesive pastes when cooked and cooled.

Mr. Scherer said that, in comparison to General Mills’ Cheerios plans, a more significant impact on supply and demand might come if ingredient labeling laws change to require identification of bioengineered ingredients on food packaging. The change in law may entice companies to change more products to non-bioengineered status, he said.

Non-bioengineered starches from Penford Food Ingredients include waxy corn starches as well as native and modified potato starches, tapioca starches, regular and waxy rice starches, and potato-based resistant starches. Penford tests all of those starches for bioengineered ingredients and provides a written certification of purity.

“Beneficial functionalities range from viscosity development (thickening), moisture control, yield improvement, texture development, fiber enhancement and protein enrichment,” Mr. Scherer said. “For instance, PenBind 1700 non-G.M.O. waxy corn series provides viscosity and heat/low pH stability in soups, sauces and gravies.”

Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill., offers traceable, identity-preserved, non-bioengineered modified food starches derived from maize (corn) as well as non-bioengineered tapioca (cassava), potato, sago and rice, said Leaslie Carr, Wholesome marketing manager for Ingredion.

“In the U.S., our Indianapolis starch manufacturing plant is a non-G.M. facility that only handles non-G.M. I.P. starch,” she said. “Ingredion’s TrueTrace identity-preservation program, started in 2004, follows the guidelines developed by the British Retail Consortium/Food and Drinks Federation Technical Standard for the Supply of Identity Preserved Non-Genetically Modified Ingredients and Products.

“The standard represents the best practices for segregation and documentation of non-G.M. maize. By following these stringent guidelines, TrueTrace also meets or exceeds regulations for non-G.M. identity preservation and traceability in major markets worldwide.”

Non-bioengineered starches are interchangeable with conventional starches, she said. Potential applications include dairy items, soups, sauces, baked foods, dressings and snacks.

“The announcement of General Mills is the latest confirmation of the growing interest that the industry has for non-G.M.O.,” Ms. Carr said. “At Ingredion, with our TrueTrace program, we are well-positioned to support such growth.”

Certifications for rice

The Non-GMO Project places rice among its monitored crops, which means those crops for which suspected or known incidents of contamination have occurred and those crops which have genetically modified relatives in commercial production with which cross-pollination is possible.

Bioengineered rice is not allowed in Europe, said Erik Put, commercial managing director of rice ingredients for Beneo and is based in Brussels, Belgium. Beneo services customers globally and does not supply any bioengineered rice, he said.

A supplier of rice may provide food companies with a certificate saying the rice is non-bioengineered, but the companies may want more verification, Dr. Put said.

“It is very much a matter of risk management,” he said. “How risk-tolerant are you? How much risk do you wish to take?”

Beneo follows a multi-tiered prevention program. First, the company sources rice only from areas where bioengineered rice is not an issue. For example, China is excluded. For the second tier, a certification organization in the country of origin tests DNA extracts of the rice. Detection limits are 0.01%. If the lot passes certification, Beneo samples it again once it arrives at a Beneo production facility.

Finally, Beneo monitors and verifies the end products, such as rice starch.

“This approach has a cost, and it’s an investment,” Dr. Put said.

Varieties and combinations of rice have different functionalities, Dr. Put said. The functionalities will factor into what types of rice are used in a desired rice starch. Factors include smooth or short texture, crunchiness, a low starting gel point or a high starting gel point.

Rice starch may be used in such savory products as meats, vegetables, soups and sauces, Dr. Put said. Rice starch may be used to avoid breaking in cookies or as a gluten-free ingredient in bread and pizza dough. Rice starch may replace titanium dioxide in candy coating. Baby food and dairy items are other application options.

Low risk for potatoes

The Non-GMO Project considers potatoes low risk.

Penford Food Ingredients offers PenFibe RS, a non-bioengineered potato-based resistant starch that contains 85% insoluble dietary fiber, and PenFibe RO-170, a non-bioengineered potato-based soluble resistant starch that contains 56% soluble and insoluble fiber. PenNovo 00, a modified potato starch, has been shown to replace egg whites and egg wash in baked foods.

American Key Food Products, Closter, N.J., offers non-bioengineered potato starch. According to the company, potato starches may act as thickening agents in dry-mix soups and sauces, as fat replacers in meat products, and as binding agents in baked foods such as cake mixes, dough, fillings and biscuits.

Wheat starch is another option since bioengineered wheat is not allowed in the United States. MGP Ingredients, Atchison, Kas., offers Fibersym RW, a resistant wheat starch. Fibersym RW provides formulation convenience, particularly in flour-based foods, according to MGP Ingredients. A low water-holding capacity allows for enhanced crispness and ease in formulating higher inclusion levels to achieve labeling benefits, according to the company.

Other factors may come into play when working with starches for non-bioengineered products.

“If processing the starch involves additives or other additional ingredients, assessing these ingredients for G.M.O. risk would also be important, as many additives are from corn- or soy-based ingredients,” said Isabel VanDerslice, outreach coordinator for the Non-GMO Project.

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