I love cheese, and I’ve yet to really meet a person who doesn’t. But finding high quality GMO free cheeses is getting harder. You probably already know about how most dairy cows in the United States are fed GMO feed, but is there another GMO derived ingredient that could be contaminating even the grass-fed farm cheeses? The answer is sadly YES.
“What this means is that most cheese in North America is made from vegetarian-friendly but animal-origin, GMO-derived FPC rennet.” –American Cheese Society
All about rennet
Chymosin is the active enzyme found in rennet that is used as a coagulant in cheese-making. A coagulant is used to separate the milk into curds and whey, as well as break down the protein casein in milk.
There are 5 types of coagulants in cheese-making:
- Animal rennet (most expensive, up to 2x times cost of alternatives)
- Microbial rennet (mold derived rennet, hard to find, now replaced by FPC GMO rennet)
- FPC-Fermentation Produced Chymosin rennet (GMO)
- Vegetable rennet (hard to source)
- Citric acid or vinegar (often sourced from GMO corn)
Why is GMO FPC rennet used?
The answer is as simple as supply and demand. According to GMO Compass, “the demand for cheese cannot be met with traditional rennet. Therefore, diverse rennet substitutes are in use.” The FPC GMO rennet provides an inexpensive option in unlimited supply.
How can you tell if it’s in your cheese? It’s hard.
Companies are not legally bound to disclosing the type of rennet used on the label.
“FPC rennet is a genetically modified organism (GMO). According to the culture companies, 90% of North American cheese is made with FPC rennet. But ingredient labels do not distinguish between this type of microbial rennet and the original non-GMO type. And the fact that use of FPC-type microbial rennet is not labeled a GMO leaves those who oppose GMOs in the dark when it comes to choosing cheese.” –American Cheese society
What about imported cheeses from European countries that ban GMO’s and hence FPC is banned? According to this source, cheesemakers won’t use FPC for products distributed in GMO banned countries, but they will use it in products imported to the US!
According to The Non-GMO Project, “If a cheese has our seal on it, the consumer can be assured that it does not have [bioengineered] chymosin.” From my research, it appears that at this point “FPC is not permitted in USDA Organic Cheese.” (source), but that is being challenged.
What cheeses are safe?
The cleanest cheeses are those made with animal rennet, such as parmesan and those traditionally made without rennet such as ricotta and mascarpone. However if you need to be sure I suggest contacting the manufacturer, as citric acid and white vinegar can also be made from GMO corn.
“When the label says “enzymes,” it is likely that they are using one of the new products; lots of people are having serious intestinal reactions to commercial cheeses. Real animal rennet is still safe, as far as I know.” Ray Peat, PhD
This is sadly another example of how our current food system is dependent on GMOs. I prefer to vote with my fork whenever I can for the issues that matter—and GMOs is one of them!
What do you think? Does this concern you?
Central Co-op. Rennet. 2013. Retrieved September 20, 2013 from http://centralcoop.coop/index.php?page=rennet
GMO Compass. Chymosin. 2010. Retrieved September 20, 2013 from http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/database/enzymes/83.chymosin.html
Fifth Town Artisan Cheese. The Importance of Knowing Your Rennet. 2008. Retrieved September 20, 2013 from http://www.fifthtown.ca/artisan_cheese/editorial/the_importance_of_knowing_your_rennet/
Microsoft Office. Cheese Clipart. Used with permission from Microsoft.
The Vegetarian Group Blog. Microbial Rennets and Fermentation Produced Chymosin (FPC): How Vegetarian Are They. 2012. Retrieved September 20, 2013 from http://www.vrg.org/blog/2012/08/21/microbial-rennets-and-fermentation-produced-chymosin-fpc-how-vegetarian-are-they/
Wikipedia. Rennet. 2013. Retrieved September 20, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rennet