NSF, an independent public health and safety organization, recently published an updated version of its non-GMO certification program that defines emerging technologies such as gene editing and synthetic biology as genetic engineering. NSF becomes the second major non-GMO certification firm following the Non-GMO Project to define these technologies as genetic engineering
“Ingredients derived from GMO microorganisms are not acceptable”
The revision means that products derived from gene editing and synthetic biology cannot be certified as non-GMO by NSF.
“Bioengineering, synthetic biology and gene editing are included within the definition of ‘genetic engineering’ or ‘genetic modification,’ ” said Sarah Krol, NSF’s global managing director of food safety product certification.
In 2018, NSF was criticized for certifying Cargill’s EverSweet sweetener, which is derived from a GMO yeast in a synthetic biology process, as non-GMO.
Dana Pearls, senior food and technology policy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said NSF’s non-GMO verification of EverSweet “sets a dangerous precedent for greenwashing other GMO products.”
But NSF’s non-GMO standard has been revised to “clarify that ingredients derived from GM microorganisms are not acceptable,” according to Krol.
In an interview with FoodNavigator-USA, Krol said: “To comply with NSF’s non-GMO certification program, ingredients made by fermentation that are present at more than 0.9 percent of the formulation must be produced by a non-GM microorganism.”
Based on this change, products like EverSweet would no longer be able to be certified non-GMO by NSF.
“Once a standard is revised, we have an established process where each current client is notified of the changes and then given a timeframe by which they need to demonstrate compliance. If no changes have been made within that designated timeframe, and the product remains noncompliant, then NSF will withdraw certification,” Krol said.
Some companies, such as Calyxt and Cibus are promoting their gene-edited crops as non-GMO, such as the former’s high oleic soybeans and the latter’s herbicide tolerant canola. Proponents of gene editing also claim the technology is not genetic engineering because it doesn’t involve the transfer of foreign DNA.
But both the Non-GMO Project and NSF consider those crops as genetically engineered, and would not certify them as non-GMO.
Established in 2016, NSF’s non-GMO certification was created to verify non-GMO claims on food and beverage, dietary supplement, cosmetic, personal care, and household cleaning products.
“If it’s a certified organic product, it’s non-GMO”
Another notable revision to NSF’s non-GMO certification program is that it recognizes USDA certification as evidence of meeting non-GMO certification requirements. This includes the USDA’s “Made with Organic” category and equivalent organic certifications from other regions such as the EU, Canada, Japan and Korea.
Krol pointed out that the use of GMOs is prohibited in USDA certified organic products, which she said many consumers don’t realize.
“Simply put: If it’s a USDA certified organic product, it’s non-GMO,” she said. “NSF’s updated non-GMO certification program recognizes USDA organic certification as evidence of meeting NSF’s non-GMO certification requirements. No additional testing is needed for certified organic ingredients or products.”
Krol also said that GMOs are prohibited in certified “Made With” organic products, according to the USDA NOP regulations.
“Accredited organic certifiers are responsible for verifying that these requirements are met,” she said.
Aims to provide clear production, testing, and evaluation criteria
NSF’s non-GMO certification program will also align with the language and terms used in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS), a new rule effective January 1, 2020 which requires food manufacturers, importers and retailers to ensure “bioengineered” foods are appropriately labeled.
The NBFDS excludes highly refined ingredients such as oils and starches derived from GMO crops such as corn and soy from being labeled if there is no detectable GMO DNA in the finished product. Krol said NSF would certify such highly refined GMO ingredients as non-GMO “only if the final product does not contain more than 0.9 percent GM-derived ingredient content (including water and salt) by weight.”
NSF’s revised non-GMO standard aims to simplify certification requirements for clarity, understanding, and ease of use.
“The goal of NSF’s non-GMO protocol is to provide clear production, testing and evaluation criteria for the accurate labeling of non-GMO ingredients and products so that consumers who look for the NSF non-GMO mark can know with certainty what’s in (or not in) their food, dietary supplements and personal care product,” Krol said.