Draft standard for non-GMO verification introduced

A draft standard for verifying the non-GMO status of natural and organic foods was introduced at a meeting held at Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore in September. The Board members of the Non-GMO Project, an industry initiative to verify the non-GMO status of natural and organic foods, discussed the draft non-GMO standard.

According to Megan Thompson, Non-GMO Project executive director, the goal of the draft standard is to define an industry-wide non-GMO Verification Program that is both meaningful and achievable. “The content of this draft reflects diligent efforts on the part of the Non-GMO Project’s Board of Directors and Technical Advisory Board, a collective group of over 30 leading members of the North American natural products industry,” says Thompson.

Non-GMO Project board members developed the draft standard over the past four months with input from industry members. The standard defines protocols and “action thresholds” that companies must adopt in order to verify their products as non-GMO and display the Non-GMO Project Verified seal on product labels. (See following article.)

Solution needed now
Speaking at the Expo East meeting, Thompson and other Non-GMO Project board members emphasized that the aim is to establish a non-GMO standard that is broadly acceptable to industry members—from farmers to food manufacturers.

Project board member Mark Squire says the draft standard offers a powerful model to help the industry deal with the threat of genetically modified organisms, which natural food consumers want to avoid. “This is a solid vehicle for us to move forward,” said Squire, owner of Good Earth Natural and Organic Foods in Fairfax, California. “Consumers want to know about GMOs, and we can be hurt by denying that information.”

Squire said the standard with its action thresholds for adventitious GMO presence is fluid and flexible. “The action thresholds need to be doable,” he says.

Squire and others emphasized an immediate need to address the GMO threat. “We need a solution now. This problem will only get worse,” he said.

Needed in natural and organic foods
George Siemon, chief executive officer, Organic Valley, and another project board member, said the Non-GMO Project is needed in the organic industry because “The National Organic Program left us with no means to deal with GMOs.”

Margaret Wittenberg, vice president of communications and quality standards, Whole Foods Market, Inc., said the Non-GMO Project gives the natural and organic food industry a means to deal with GMOs. “The Non-GMO Project will help us unite to deal with the GMO issue. This is something everyone should be part of,” she said.

Wittenberg said Whole Foods is telling food manufacturers that the company backs the Non-GMO Project.

Progessive improvement
John Fagan, chief scientific officer, FoodChain Global Advisors, described the Non-GMO Project as “a process of progressive improvement.” He emphasized that companies going through the non-GMO verification would not be punished for not meeting action thresholds. Instead, the thresholds will trigger quality assurance steps, such as segregation. “The project is not designed to reject anyone,” said Fagan.

Fagan also said a collaborative effort is needed to protect the seed supply from GMOs. Seed contamination is one of the biggest challenges facing the organic industry. Fagan discussed unique PuraMaize corn seed varieties developed by Nebraska-based Hoegemeyer Hybrids that block cross-pollination from other corn varieties, including GM. Such pollen-blocking corn could be a useful tool to protect organic corn from GM corn pollen.
Bill Wolf, President, Wolf, DiMatteo & Associates, asked if the Non-GMO Project seal on products would create confusion among consumers. Thompson replied that there are already many non-GMO product claims in the marketplace, and that the Non-GMO Project aims to bring consistency to such claims. She also said the Non-GMO Project seal would not appear on food products until the standard is finalized.

The Non-GMO Project standard is posted on the Non-GMO Project’s website, www.nongmoproject.com, and will be available for public comment through the end of November. “All feedback received during the public comment period will be taken into account in formulating the final standard,” says Thompson.

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report November 2007.