The growing importance of Identity Preservation

Producing non-GMO seeds, grains, and food products requires preserving the non-GMO identity of such products through every stage of production. As a result, systems of identity preservation (IP) have become more important.

The Organic & Non-GMO Report interviewed Dennis Strayer, president of Dennis Strayer & Associates and a leading authority on IP systems to get his insights on the growing trend to identity preserve food and agricultural products.

Dennis Strayer has over 40 years of experience in the seed and food ingredient industries. His experience includes seed corn production management with a multinational seed company and production and marketing management in a family seed and specialty crop food ingredient business. Strayer’s practical experience and expertise have been invaluable in the development and interpretation of management systems for application to production agriculture, as well as seed and food ingredient supply chains. Strayer is author of Identity-Preserved Systems: A Reference Handbook, CRC Press (2002)

How would you define identity preservation (IP)?
The definition I like best is: Identity preservation is a process or system of maintaining the segregation and documenting the identity of a product.

How long has identity preservation been used?
It has been used in some form for hundreds of years. The most common usage of IP has been in seed production and distribution. Seed certification is at least 100 years old. IP systems used in other industries are based on the seed industry model.

What are the components of an IP system?
You need to start with pure seed. There needs to be proper handling and storage of the IP crop to avoid commingling with another crop. All equipment, such as planters, combines, augers, and elevators and storage bins must be thoroughly cleaned.

A crop such as corn requires a proper distance for isolation from other corn because of cross-pollination.

Finally, there must be traceability. Everything must be documented, and there must be a paper or electronic trail of every step in the IP system.

What segments of the agricultural and food industries use IP systems?
Seed, obviously and any segment that requires genetic purity, such as food quality soybeans and corn.

We may see IP in ethanol production. A lot of ethanol companies now offer higher premiums for certain corn hybrids. In the future these companies will develop elite corn hybrids that maximize characteristics for ethanol production. These hybrids will probably have to be identity preserved.

Has there been a greater demand for IP systems since the introduction of genetically modified crops?
Yes, just because there are more crop types that need segregation. GM versus non-GM is just one of them. We’re seeing channeling of marketing systems for specific crop end-uses where either the genetic purity or a certain characteristic is desirable to the end-user. This would have happened without the GMO issue, but GMOs brought it on faster.

What additional elements to an IP system are needed to preserve the identity of non-GM crops?
GMO testing is an added element. But, a third party (IP) system eliminates some of the testing. The Japanese will allow you to eliminate some testing if you can show you have an IP system.

Is IP similar to organic certification?
Other than the fact that they are both process-based programs, they aren’t similar. Organic certification looks more closely at the land and is more concerned that agricultural chemicals aren’t used than about maintaining genetic purity of the crop itself. IP focuses almost entirely on crop purity. Organic certification is concerned about maintaining non-GMO purity.

Do you see increasing demand for IP systems?
Yes, just because of the increased need to segregate crops for specific end-uses. The GMO issue is just one reason to segregate. Many of the tortilla chip manufacturers are specifying corn hybrids that are used based on the characteristics they want.

Is third-party verification of IP systems becoming more important?
Yes, we are seeing more and more of it, probably because third-party verification can replace some of the sampling and testing required if a system isn’t in place. It gives customers assurance that the product is what they say it is.

How is identity preservation related to traceability?
Traceability is an important component of identity preservation. Any good IP system has a system of traceability as one of the components. Traceability is the documentation of what you’ve done with the crop.

What are the keys to a successful IP program?
Genetically pure seed is probably the most important. Crop isolation is important if the crop requires that. Cleaning equipment and anything that the crops will pass through is another. There also has to be communication at every stage: from the seed producers to seed distributors to farmers growing the crop to the handlers who buy the crop and processors that use the crop.

What do you foresee in the future regarding IP systems?
As there is more demand for specific end-use characteristics, the need for IP will grow. And as more growers become involved in IP, there will also be a need for a structured management system that looks at the things a producer does in his operation.

That’s something I’m working on right now as part of a committee looking at ISO 9001 in agriculture. One thing we’re finding is that ISO and the USDA’s Process Verified Program are more than what growers want. We’re trying to develop a user-friendly and economical program that will certify that a farmer is following certain steps to grow an IP crop.

The program, which we initially named QualityPlus, is based on ISO 9001, but a simpler version. It integrates quality, traceability, farm safety and security, and environmental impacts. It has been approved by the USDA, and we hope to introduce it for the 2007 crop year.

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report 2007. (March 2007).