Non-GMO verification of organic foods to start

The Non-GMO Project has finalized its working standard for verifying natural and organic food products as non-GMO and will start enrolling food products in the verification process. That was the main message at a “GMOs, What You Need to Know” seminar, held in March at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California.

Speakers at the seminar included Megan Thompson, executive director of the Non-GMO Project; Michael Funk, CEO, United Natural Foods; Margaret Wittenberg, vice president, quality standards & public affairs, Whole Foods Market; and John Fagan, chief scientific officer, FoodChain Global Advisors.
Thompson gave an overview of the threat posed by genetically modified crops to organic foods. “The natural and organic food industries need a system to keep GMOs out of their products,” she said.

The Non-GMO Project provides the verification system needed to accomplish that goal, said Thompson.

“Simple request”
Funk expressed concerns over the proliferation of GM crops, citing a statistic showing a 12% increase in GM crops in 2007. “We have a major battle on our hands,” he said. “We don’t want to eat foods with GMOs. That’s a simple request.”

Referring to Monsanto’s genetically engineered growth hormone, rBGH, Funk said that the US Congress is holding hearings on the use of steroids and growth hormones among professional baseball players, while “our children are consuming growth hormones in milk. Is that a screwed up priority or what?”

Funk cited some non-GMO victories such as the stopping of GM wheat, rice, and alfalfa. Both Democratic presidential candidates, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have pledged to support mandatory labeling of GM foods. If elected, “they will have to follow through on that,” he said.

Funk said the Non-GMO Project is needed to prevent GMO contamination of organics. “We can drive GMOs out of the food supply,” he said.
Wittenberg said the organic industry needs to bring the GMO issue back to the forefront.

She called the Non-GMO Project “a framework for hope” for eliminating GMOs.

Wittenberg said the industry had finally succeeded in creating a non-GMO standard after nearly 10 years of efforts. “We now have an applicable standard,” she said.

Biotech companies own 85% to 90% of corn seed germplasm
Fagan said the industry needs to focus its passion about the GMO issue into effective action through the Non-GMO Project. “We need to work together on an industry-wide basis,” he said.

He said that 85% to 90% of the corn seed germplasm is controlled by five biotechnology companies. “It’s not surprising there is GMO contamination,” he said.

Because of the contamination threat to seed, the Non-GMO Project has created a taskforce with the aim of developing a reliable supply of non-GMO and organic seed.

According to Fagan, the three main requirements of the Non-GMO Project verification program are segregation, traceability, and sourcing verified non-GMO inputs.

The standard sets target action thresholds of 0.1% for seed, 0.5% for food, and 0.9% for animal feed.

If companies cannot initially meet those action thresholds in a particular input, variances of 0.25% for seed, 0.9% for food, and 1.5% for animal feed will be allowed. These are contingent on participants “demonstrating sustained, active efforts to develop non-GMO sources of that input.”
The standard will be reviewed semi-annually with 30-day public comment periods every spring and fall.

Thompson said food products are now being enrolled in the Project’s verification program. There will be an 18-month transition period for implementation of the verification program. This will allow refinements to the program before companies make non-GMO product claims, which is expected to begin in fall 2009.

In the meantime, products enrolled in the verification program will be listed as “Participants” on the Project’s website, Thompson expects products to start being listed by the end of May.

“This will allow companies to get recognition on the website and for consumers to see which products are enrolled,” she said.

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report April 2008.

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