Segment What We Know About GMOs and Specialty Coffee Daily Coffee News

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“When consumers see a coffee on a shelf labeled Non-GMO, it implies that other coffees may be genetically modified. Yet in our 39 years of sourcing coffee around the globe, we have never encountered a genetically modified coffee plant. Meanwhile, labeling efforts tend to be driven by consumer demand. According to our research at Royal Coffee, Inc., Non-GMO labeling is currently the fastest-growing agricultural certification, outpacing Organic three years in a row.
We see this trend, and we believe researching and sharing information is the most important step to transparency in our decision-making. As Non-GMO certification continues its momentum throughout the agricultural sector, we think itu2019s time for our corner of the industry to familiarize itself with genetic engineering, the Non-GMO movement, and its relevance to specialty coffee.
While researching for this piece, we quickly learned that the pursuit of solid, unbiased information about GMOs is a challenge. We are hopeful that our efforts will shed a nonpartisan light on the research, investment, risks and potential for biotechnology in the specialty coffee industry, and how it could affect roasters.
Does GMO coffee exist?
According to the National Coffee Association USA (NCA), there is no evidence of GMO coffee cultivated for commercial use. However, there have been efforts to develop and patent genetically modified coffee plants.
In 1999, the University of Hawaii was granted a U.S. patent on coffee genetically altered to stop growing just short of maturity. A chemical spray was then used to ensure the berries all fully ripen at the same time, resulting in uniform picking.
In 2006, The Wall Street Journal reported that Nestle was granted a patent for genetically modified seeds by the European Patent Office. The report refers to a u201cgenetically modified coffee plant with a blocked enzyme, designed to improve the solubility of the coffee powder.u201d The patent covered the technical process, genetically modified plants, and the use of coffee beans for the manufacture of soluble coffee.
In 2008, nine years after the ripening patent was released, Kona coffee farmers in Hawaii successfully lobbied to ban the cultivation of certain GMO crops. They argued the presence of u201cfrankenbeansu201d would damage their reputation and ability to charge a premium.
In 2014, a flurry of reports warned that GMO coffee could be around the corner after scientists sequenced the coffee genome for the first time. These scientists analyzed robusta genes and compared them to the caffeine content in chocolate. This further demonstrated that the objectives of research have been consistently targeting solubility, caffeine content, yield enhancement, and herbicide tolerance, to aid in efficiency and long term cost saving developments.
Recently, the University of California, Davis, released the first public genome sequence of Coffea Arabica Geisha varietal. This research is of high importance for the specialty coffee industry, as it could provide a foundation for improving diversity and breeding.
However, this recent development should not necessarily be associated with genetic engineering. This research can be used to advance other breeding techniques, such as molecular markers, which increase the efficiency of classifying the materials and selecting the candidates for parental crosses with desirable traits.”

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