You have the right to know what’s in the food you’re eating and feeding your family. Most governments agree—nearly 50 countries around the world, including Japan, Australia, Russia, China and all of the EU member states, have either banned genetically modified organisms (GMOs) completely, or require that food containing them be clearly labeled. The experimental technology of genetic engineering forces DNA from one species into a different species. The resulting GMOs are unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional breeding. GMOs have not been adequately tested, and have not been proven safe for human consumption.
In Canada, we do not have mandatory GMO labeling, and the
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) does not require safety assessments of GMO foods or even review all of the GMO products hitting the market. Meanwhile, close to 75% of our conventional packaged foods now contain GMOs. In response to this dire situation the Non-GMO Project was founded, with a mission of protecting consumer choice and preserving and rebuilding our non-GMO food supply. By offering North America’s only third party standard and labeling for non-GMO products, the Project helps fill the information gap for the increasing number of Americans who are concerned about the health risks and environmental pollution associated with GMOs. This October is the third annual Non-GMO Month – an event created by the Non-GMO Project to help raise awareness about the GMO issue and celebrate Non-GMO Project Verified choices. As part of our participation in Non-GMO Month, we are sharing this article to help you understand what Non-GMO Project Verification is all about.
Since late 2009, the Project has verified over 5,000 products to its rigorous standards for GMO avoidance, and this number increases daily. Companies enroll in the “Non-GMO Project”:http://www.nongmoproject.org for many reasons. For some, it is part of their company’s mission. For other companies, verification is driven by the demands of retailers and consumers. Doug Foreman, the founder and chairman of Beanitos says, “We were totally unaware of what GMOs were until a health food store questioned us on whether we were verified Non-GMO. This was an eye-opening moment for us. We found an abundance of evidence revealing possible problems with genetic modification in our food supply and immediately began the process of verification.”
More and more people are looking for the Non-GMO Project Verified label, and asking their favorite brands to participate, but what does that really mean? The butterfly on the “Verified” seal is a real eye-catcher, but many people are still curious about what it takes for a food producer to earn that lovely lepidopteran. When you see the Non-GMO Project Verified seal on a product it indicates that the product is compliant with the Non-GMO Project’s Standard – a transparent document requiring producers to meet strict requirements for GMO testing, segregation, and traceability. The butterfly’s cute, but it represents a tremendous level of commitment on the part of the brands that have earned it.
Here’s an overview of what it takes to become Non-GMO Project Verified…
First, an interested manufacturer, farmer, or restaurateur reaches out. The Project answers basic questions and helps them understand what to expect. The company shares basic information, such as product names, ingredients and number of production facilities. All this info helps the Project’s technical advisors to pinpoint high-GMO risk ingredients and facilities, sketch out a rough idea of what any individual verification will entail, and figure out what the verification process will cost.
As a mission-driven Non-Profit organization, the “Non-GMO Project”:http://www.nongmoproject.org works to keep the cost of verification as low as possible – after all, the more Non-GMO options, the merrier! For the many brands that do decide to pursue Verification, contracts are signed ensuring that confidential product information stays confidential, and that products only get to use the Verification Mark once they’ve completed Verification. It’s all legalese to many of us, but it’s an important step in making sure that shoppers can trust any product bearing the butterfly seal.
Even more important is the Verification process itself. Companies provide hard data about the products they are enrolling: ingredient lists, production facility information, test results from approved laboratories, etc. Once the data upload is complete an evaluator with FoodChain, the Project’s technical advisor, begins the review process – and what a process it is!
To quote Brian Ray of Garden of Life,
Our Multi-Vitamins, for example, can contain 50 to 60 different food based ingredients.[…] It’s a staggering amount of work to evaluate each product. And the Non GMO Project auditors are extremely thorough. Even though we collect certifications from every supplier verifying that each ingredient is GMO-free, the auditors work tirelessly UP the food chain, challenging each statement and requiring that suppliers prove through adequate agricultural controls and regular DNA testing protocols that GMOs are not unintentionally introduced.
For companies with low risk ingredients the process can be quite a bit simpler. In describing their verification, Doug Foreman of Beanitos says:
The process itself took just a few months to complete. The longest part was waiting for our supplier’s 3rd party lab tests proving their commitment to sourcing Non-GMO ingredients. One of our seasoning suppliers couldn’t guarantee that the milk in our cheddar was sourced from hormone free cows. We subsequently moved to a supplier that is just as dedicated to Non-GMO as we are.
If a product contains only low-risk ingredients, with no GMO varieties on the market, testing is not required, but FoodChain conducts a thorough review of ingredient specification sheets for an in-depth assurance that there is no risk of GMO presence.
For companies with major high-risk ingredients in their products, the Non-GMO Project standard requires ongoing testing of those risk ingredients. High-risk ingredients are any derived from crops grown commercially in GMO form–from corn and canola to the occasional summer squash. After testing, ingredients must remain segregated from other GMO risk factors, and traceable from that point on. This ensures ingredient integrity through to the finished product. To ensure that everything’s being produced properly, manufacturers must pass onsite inspections of any facility that uses high-risk ingredients.
Upon successful completion of the verification process, the manufacturer receives a certificate of compliance, and can start using the Verified seal on their packaging. Even at this point, manufacturers who have committed to Verification aren’t off the hook – they must continue testing every single batch of their high-risk ingredients, and complete an annual audit process to remain verified.
As you walk through The Granary this October, then, keep an eye out for the many Verified products we sell. Supporting manufacturers who have committed to “Non-GMO Project”:http://www.nongmoproject.org Verification sends a powerful message about what you want on your family’s table, and helps support some of this country’s best farmers.
In this day and age, it can take a lot of extra energy to provide reliable Non-GMO products, but as Doug Foreman says, “Being verified by the Non GMO Project has been a 100% positive for us. Consumers want to eat food that is safe, and being Verified is a big part of making sure that happens.”