Does the USDA really have a new non-GMO program?

There’s a lot of confusion circulating about a May 1st letter from US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Portions of the letter went into media circulation today, and have been widely taken out of context and misinterpreted.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has long offered a “Process Verified Seal,” which, according to the USDA’s website, “provides companies that supply agricultural products or services the opportunity to assure customers of their ability to provide consistent quality products or services.” Through this program, the USDA certifies a company’s own internal practices based on their documented quality management system.


Today’s news is that for the first time a company has sought the USDA’s Process Verified label in connection with its non-GMO claim. The USDA has NOT created its own non-GMO standard. Rather, as part of the existing AMS PVP, it has signed off on one company’s own non-GMO practices. There is no transparency as to what these practices are, and they are not based on a third party standard.

The claim the company can make in connection with their approval is a variation on the USDA’s traditional PVP label, reading “Non-GMO/GE Process Verified.” This claim does not communicate any details as to the standards used or process followed. Non-GMO claims are not regulated and any company can say “GMO-free” whether or not it goes through the process with the AMS.

It appears that today’s news is being largely confused with the program proposed in H.R. 1599, commonly known as “the DARK Act.” Under this pending bill, the USDA would actually create its own non-GMO certification program and corresponding non-GMO label. The deeply flawed bill would also override states’ rights to require mandatory labels on genetically engineered products. Consumer advocates are doing everything possible to stop this bill, and we are optimistic it will be defeated.

For now, the only non-GMO label in the marketplace based on third-party verification to transparent, consistent standards continues to be the Non-GMO Project butterfly. This seal is your assurance that a product has met rigorous best practices, including ongoing testing, and has passed third-party audits and inspections for GMO avoidance. To date, the Non-GMO Project has verified more than 31,000 products.

Non-GMO Project Verified

As a non-profit organization, our mission is to preserve and build sources of non-GMO products, educate consumers, and provide verified non-GMO choices. We will continue to monitor developments with the USDA, and will keep you informed on breaking news. Today’s buzz about the AMS Process Verified claim is a testament to the nation’s growing focus on the GMO issue.

Correction: An earlier version of this blog incorrectly stated that the USDA approval would not include a special non-GMO label. The day after the original post, SunOpta came forward as the company in question and disclosed that the USDA had, in fact, created a special “Non-GMO/GE Process Verified” seal. The company will use the label on products shipping from its New Hope, MN plant, but finished products sold at retail will not include the label.