Whole Foods Markets is now instituting a series of responsible packaging guidelines that encourage use of glass and post-consumer recycled plastic. The guidelines do not endorse bioplastics because they may be derived from genetically modified food crops.
It’s curious because I’m not really aware of what foods that I eat are based on genetically modified crops. Isn’t that more important than whether or not the packaging is made from genetically modified crops?
Maybe I’m all wet, but NatureWorks, the leading supplier of polylactic acid (PLA) bioplastics, is jumping through hoops to avert any potential problems.
Steve Davies, director corporate communications and public affairs, at NatureWorks sent me the following response when I raised the question:
“The manufacture of IngeoTM does not require genetically modified (GM) materials. The IngeoTM biopolymer is made from plant-based sugars as its source and is certified by Genescan to contain no genetic material of any kind. However current US corn grown produces a mixed stream of GM and conventional corn. To address variable market demands around the world relating to this concern, NatureWorks offers three certified sourcing options.
There are three ways to buy IngeoTM
1st option: Genescan certified.
NatureWorks has made sure that their unique Ingeo resin and the dextrose feed stock material used exclusively in its manufacture does not contain any GMO material at all due to the high heat used in the basic manufacturing process. Ingeo is certified to be free of any genetic material by Genescan, Inc. Recognized by both government and NGOs as the leading authority for testing food, feed, and raw materials.
2nd option: Source Options
NatureWorks give real choices and takes the extra steps needed for those customers who want other options by purchasing a crop weight equivalent to customers needs and maxing this in a stream of conventional and GM corn grown in the area. While it is not possible to sort the streams, for customers who so choose, NatureWorks replaces the purchase of GM corn with corn witch is source certified and guaranteed non-modified.
3rd option: Identity preserved
NatureWorks offers a choice that shows their commitment to innovation and Ingeo biopolymer production batch made from identity preserved conventional corn sources to satisfy our retail customers’ particular needs. The customer commitment to production is contingent on following longer lead times and guaranteed volumes to accommodate appropriate farm to production commitment on a single batch.
Does not require corn
IngeoTM doesn’t require corn, it only needs a sugar source, whatever is most readily available depending on the geography.
In the future, IngeoTM will be made from cellulosic raw materials agricultural wastes and non-food plants.”
I then asked Steve about price premium is for the options and the extent to which they are requested. His answers follow:
“Option 1: Genescan testing. No charge for this, and while it’s indeed been used, it’s less frequent. This is because of those customers that are concerned, most are more focused on the upstream agricultural practice, than on concerns over the plastic
Option 2: Source offsets: This option in common use by many of our European customers, so it is far from theoretical - we’ve been exercising this program for many years. The premiums can run on the order of 10%, covering both raw material difference, program administration, tracking, etc. (e.g. we provide the complete paper-trail for the end user, from the seed purchase to corn receipt at the corn wet mill)
Option 3: This has not been exercised to date. Premiums for this would be higher, as it involves the sourcing of a more expensive lactic acid source from say, the EU, or Asia, shipping to Nebraska, as well as the shutdown/cleanout of the system before the campaign. For those that have taken a hard look at this option, most conclude that option 2 achieves the same end-goal that they’re after (i.e., the Ingeo plastic produced is in either case, identical, and option 2 provides the same net agricultural goal - of getting the equivalent acreage planted with an identity preserved crop). Given that option 2 is far more cost effective and achieves the same agricultural impact, most have opted for it.”
Given NatureWorks’ position, the Whole Foods guidelines seem puzzling. And what about other types of renewably sourced plastics made from biomass?