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First Labs Pass Organic Cotton Efficiency Test for GMOs

Three organizations representing the organic textile sector have reached a significant milestone in testing for genetically modified (GM) cotton.

In 2019, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) and Textile Exchange partnered to develop the ISO IWA 32:2019 protocol to create a common language among laboratories around the world to screen for the potential presence of GM cotton along the organic cotton value chain.

Following that project, the groups set out on a new initiative to bring what they saw as much-needed clarity regarding the laboratories that perform testing against the international ISO reference protocol and carry out qualitative GM testing in cottonseed, leaf, fiber and chemically unprocessed fiber-derived materials.

The global ISO IWA 32:2019 proficiency test initiative is a collaboration between GOTS, OCA and Textile Exchange with technical support from Wageningen Food Safety Research. The joint project has now reached a significant milestone, with 14 laboratories from China, Germany, India, the Netherlands and Portugal successfully passing the proficiency test.

An overview of the laboratories that can now conduct GMO testing via the ISO IWA 32:2019 method has been jointly published by GOTS, OCA and Textile Exchange, constituting an important milestone on the journey toward the widespread use of this standardized protocol.

While GMOs are excluded from organic systems, organic isn’t a claim of absolute freedom from contamination or GMOs’ presence in organic products, the organizations said. It is a claim that GMOs are not deliberately or knowingly used and that organic producers take far-reaching steps to avoid GMO contamination along the organic cotton value chain, from farmers to spinners, to brands. To manage this, it is essential that organic cotton stakeholders can reliably test their products for the potential presence of GM cotton, they said.

Since the publication of this globally accepted reference protocol, qualitative GM cotton screening as per the ISO IWA 32:2019 is mandatory within GOTS and OCS (Organic Content Standard) supply chain and OCA’s Farmer Engagement and Development program.

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The sector now recommends using the ISO IWA 32 protocol throughout the organic cotton value chain as the only recognized method for GMO testing.

“As a global platform, we are committed to increasing the clarity and reliability of GMO screening for the organic cotton sector,” OCA’s program officer, Mathilde Tournebize, said. “The first results of the global proficiency test initiative have given us an overview of the laboratories that can be contacted to conduct such tests. We’re hopeful that as we see more laboratories implementing the ISO IWA 32:2019 worldwide, several rounds of proficiency tests will help us all chart the labs that can be contacted to reliably conduct GMO tests.”

Tournebize said the trio’s ambition is to reach out to more laboratories and geographies to increase the widespread use of the ISO IWA 32:2019 protocol.

“I am glad to see a high level of interest from laboratories across the world and results showing competence from producing and buying countries,” Rahul Bhajekar, managing director at GOTS, said. “We shall continue to further advance this collaboration with like-minded organizations to further develop the standardization of GMO testing in cotton fiber products. We remain committed to ensuring that GOTS goods are free from GMOs.”

Amish Gosai, South Asia manager at Textile Exchange, said the success of standardized testing methods depends on adaptability and uniformed results. Gosai noted that labs achieving a successful outcome in the proficiency test indicates both lab performance and the effectiveness of this method.

“We are glad to see that this initiative shows that the global ISO IWA 32 testing method gives consistent outcomes and we look forward to more labs joining the next round of the proficiency test,” Gosai added.

The ISO IWA 32 protocol is also currently in the process of being converted to an International Standard by the ISO “Molecular biomarkers of agricultural fibers.” GOTS, OCA and Textile Exchange are participating in the working group to ensure that the organic cotton sector interests are represented.