After the passing of the GMO labeling bill in 2016, which requires processors to start labeling for the presence of GMOs in mid-2018, the fervor over genetic modification isn't going away. GMOs are created using gene-splicing techniques, which allow DNA from one species to be injected into another species in a lab. In theory, they're more environmentally friendly because they conserve water, soil, and energy, and they increase yields. The FDA and the science community have declared them safe.
Nevertheless, more products are sporting or seeking a non-GMO label claim. Annual sales of non-GMO certified products increased from $349 million in 2010 to more than $19 billion as of March 2016, according to Packaged Facts (www.packagedfacts.com), Rockville, Md. Demand is expected to grow 12 percent annually through 2018.
Crops that have the highest likelihood of containing GMOs are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beet, yellow summer squash and zucchini, according to the Non-GMO Project (www.nongmoproject.org), Bellingham, Wash., which independently verifies that products are GMO-free. As a result of the widespread use of corn and soy as ingredients, it's estimated GMOs are present in 70 to 80 percent of the foods consumed in the U.S. today – as well as most livestock feed.
Regardless of all the scientific evidence, GMO foods make the general public a bit apprehensive and skeptical. People want to know where their food comes from, and the "seismic shift" in American eating habits shows the concerns about genetically modified foods and consumers' trust in organic ones. Thus, demand for non-GMOs is gathering momentum.
Non-GMO claims are gaining traction on food and beverage labels, according to Chicago-based Mintel Group (www.mintel.com). The research firm's Global New Products Database tracked 15.7 percent of new U.S. food and beverage products making non-GMO claims in 2015, versus 2.8 percent in 2012. Interest in GMO-free foods among all consumers (37 percent) outweighs interest in foods free of soy (22 percent), nuts/peanuts (20 percent) and eggs (17 percent).
The Non-GMO Project has a tolerance level of genetic modification of less than 0.9 percent, the same as European Union countries. Certifying at least 20,000 products so far, the organization requires ongoing testing of all at-risk ingredients — any ingredient being grown commercially in GMO form must be tested prior to use in a verified product. Verification also involves facility inspections and annual audits to ensure a company meets the highest standards currently available for GMO avoidance.
Thousands of retailers, ingredient suppliers and food and beverage manufacturers have earned Non-GMO Project certification, and more earn it every day. The non-profit group has stated that determining the safety of GMO foods requires studies "spanning generations."
Ingredient suppliers are removing them.
Food developers also are taking a more critical look at individual non-GMO ingredients. As a result, ingredient suppliers of everything from probiotics to spices are acquiring Non-GMO Project verification.
The first wave of certifications from the Non-GMO Project was for finished food products, but in the past year or two ingredient suppliers are flooding the group with verification requests.
"The proper labeling of GMOs is in the spotlight," observes Mike Bush, president of Ganeden Inc. (www.ganedenprobiotics.com), Cleveland, which became the first probiotic supplier to meet Non-GMO Project requirements for its probiotic strain GanedenBC³°.
Ingredion Inc. (www.ingredion.us), which deals in many corn-based ingredients, has worked particularly hard at certification. In January, the Westchester, Ill.-based company announced Non-GMO Project certification for nine products in its Novation Prima, Novation Endura, Ultra-Crisp and Globe brands of sweeteners, starches, texturizing and nutrition products, bringing its total non-GMO ingredients to 57.
"Receiving the additional Non-GMO Project verification adds another layer of trust to our long non-GMO track record and broad portfolio of ingredients," said Igor Playner, vice president of innovation and strategy for Ingredion North America. "As consumer demand grows, manufacturers can respond with products made from our Non-GMO Project Verified ingredient solutions that meet demand for clean and simple labels and deliver on the sensory experience."