Market trends, GMO labeling, and plant-based foods were key topics at Organic & Non-GMO Forum

Published: December 27, 2019

The fifth annual Organic & Non-GMO Forum covered a range of topics including organic market trends, transitioning to organic, and labeling of genetically modified foods, as well as fast-growing trends such as plant-based foods and regenerative agriculture.

About 300 people attended the forum, which was held this past October in Minneapolis. Attendees included farmers, seed companies, grain traders, ingredient suppliers, and food company executives as well as suppliers of related products and services and non-profit organizations. Attendees came from 7 countries and 31 U.S. states. The forum included a trade show of companies serving the two markets

There was also a showing of the film Dreaming of a Vetter World, which profiled pioneering organic farmer David Vetter. Vetter also gave a keynote address on his experiences as an organic farmer.

Joy O’Shaughnessy, COO of HighQuest Group and event director for the Organic & Non-GMO Forum, says the event fills a needed role in the two growing markets.

“The Organic & Non-GMO Forum is a successful platform to identify the challenges and business opportunities that lie in the coming year for those in this sector. This event attracts a finely-focused attendee base of key players in the industry, making it a must-attend annual conference for those seeking up-to-the minute insight and unrivaled networking.”

Organic market trends and drivers

The growth of organic food and farming was the topic of a presentation by Peggy Miars, president of International Federation of Organic Farming Movements (IFOAM). Miars gave statistics on global organic production. Ninety-three countries now have organic standards with another 16 drafting standards.

“One half of the countries in the world have organic activity,” Miars said.

IFOAM is working to advance organic agriculture worldwide.

“We want to increase the number of farmers growing organically,” Miars said. “Organic agriculture is the best solution to climate change.”

Ken Roseboro, editor of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, spoke about organic and non-GMO market drivers. Global organic sales have grown 483% since 2000, growing from $18 billion in 2000 to $105 billion in 2018. Roseboro cited survey data showing that millennial parents account for 52% of organic shoppers.

“The main driver of the organic market is the millennial mother,” Roseboro said.

Roseboro said that consumer activism and awareness has driven the non-GMO market, which now produces $30 billion in annual sales of Non-GMO Project Verified products.

Kellie James, CEO of Mercaris, a market research firm focusing on the organic and non-GMO markets, gave an overview of the organic grain markets. She said that imports of organic corn and soybeans for organic feed markets continue to increase.

“Reliance on imports is unlikely to change,” she said.

Efforts to increase U.S. production of organic corn and soybeans need to consider the need to sell other organic rotational crops.

“We can increase to 650,000 acres of organic soybeans but what will happen next year with finding market for that much organic corn?” James asked.

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New GMO labeling law

The new national GMO labeling law, National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS), was the focus of a presentation by Todd Napolitano, director of business development GMO services at Merieux NutriSciences.

Napolitano said the NBFDS is not about transparency. “That is the wheelhouse of the Non-GMO Project,” he said. “It’s about disclosing whether there are bioengineered ingredients.”

The NBFDS will exempt a vast number of products from labeling. “If a product contains sugar made from GMO sugar beets but the (GM) DNA is not detectable, no disclosure is required,” Napolitano said.

Also exempt are pet food and animal feed, and food from restaurants, cafeterias, and food trucks, among others. Napolitano also said that Non-GMO Project verified products are not exempt from the labeling rules, while certified organic products are.

There are no financial penalties or recall mechanisms in the NBFDS. Though, Napolitano said that individual states could include financial penalties.

Napolitano predicted that “lawyers are waiting to file litigation” over the NBFDS.

Plant-based food trend

Tyler Lorenzen, CEO of Puris, a manufacturer of pea protein, gave a keynote talk on the fast-growing plant-based food trend.

“Plant-based food dollar sales are growing, now at $4.5 billion; we’re seeing 13% growth, which is ten times faster growth than conventional food sales,” he said.

According to Lorenzen, the plant-based food trend is “just getting started,” calling it a “movement.”

“People want to get healthy; they want to nourish themselves and the earth,” Lorenzen said.

Puris is producing pea protein from peas, which Lorenzen said enhance soil health and are grown as a cover crop.

“We are building a system for soil health. Peas are grown as far west as Oregon and south to Georgia,” he said.

Puris has partnered with Cargill to ramp up production to meet strong demand from companies like Beyond Meat, which is producing popular fake meat burgers and supplying restaurant chains like Subway.

“The future will be interesting,” Lorenzen said. “Will meat be gone? No. Will plant-based foods be a big part of the food system? Yes, it will be.”

Regenerative agriculture

Regenerative agriculture was a key topic of discussion during several sessions. In a session titled “The Impact of Full Rotation Products to Producers, Processors, and CPGs,” Beth Robertson-Martin, senior manager, natural and organic sourcing at General Mills, discussed the three main practices of regenerative agriculture: cover crops, diverse crop rotations, and no-till. She said General Mills has committed to one million acres of regenerative agricultural land based on the urgent need for healthy soil.

“We have 60 harvests left, and we won’t have a viable company or a viable planet,” she said.

General Mills is conducting research about how to effectively communicate the benefits of regenerative agriculture to consumers.

“We have to simplify the message; consumers don’t connect with soil health with nutrition,” Robertson-Martin said.

Robertson-Martin and Chris Wiegert, chief soil health and sustainability officer at Healthy Food Ingredients, also discussed the regenerative promise of Kernza perennial grain.

“Kernza is doing great things for soil health. It will change the landscape,” Wiegert said.

Robertson-Martin also sees great potential for Kernza. “If we could convince big retailers to add a little pea flour and Kernza to their products it would change the landscape.”

General Mills’ subsidiary Cascadian Farms is working with Healthy Food Ingredients to develop Kernza.

“We couldn’t have had the Kernza product without Healthy Food Ingredients who did the processing. Having this partnership is critical,” Robertson-Martin said.

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