The Non-GMO Project began in 2006 as a nonprofit with the goal of providing everyday consumers with a choice about whether or not to consume genetically modified organisms. Our passion for natural foods and consumer advocacy means our actions, decisions and very purpose are not driven by profits, but by our mission: To empower people to care for themselves, the planet and future generations through their food choices. We believe that given accurate information, people can make better decisions for themselves and their families.
Nonprofit passion, non-GMO pursuit
In the 1990s, GMOs were quietly introduced into the food supply without knowledge or consent of the people who would end up eating them. A few folks with their ears to the ground realized that profound changes were occurring in agriculture, and that these GMO foods were finding their way to grocery store shelves. But there was no way for the average consumer to learn about GMOs or figure out how to avoid them.
To meet that need, a pair of visionary natural foods retailers partnered with Megan Westgate, a fierce advocate and the Non-GMO Project's eventual executive director. They worked together to raise the visibility of GMOs that had already entered the food supply. Fourteen years later, the Butterfly has become one of the most recognized clean food labels on the market, appearing on more than 60,000 verified products.
Small but mighty
Our outreach and advocacy work towards a non-GMO future is managed by our nonprofit team of 35 people in Bellingham, Washington. Because of these ongoing efforts, awareness of GMOs in the food supply is nearly universal: 97% of consumers know that GMOs have become pervasive on grocery store shelves. While the corporations that introduced these products might not have wanted consumers to think about how the food system was changing, we are delighted to disappoint them.
Chemical companies promised farmers that GMOs would deliver a range of economic and practical benefits, including reduced pesticide use and increased yields. Most GMO crops are engineered for herbicide tolerance, meaning farmers can plant their fields with GMO seed and spray it with herbicides that kill off weeds but don't damage their cash crop. The chemical companies that produced early GMOs also produced these herbicides — a clever business model designed to sell more products to farmers. So how have these promises played out?
- The use of glyphosate-based pesticides has increased 15-fold since herbicide-tolerant GMOs came onto the market.
- GMO crops designed to resist herbicides or to generate their own pesticides have given rise to "superweeds" and "superbugs" — pests that no longer respond to the chemicals that were deployed to decimate them. Farmers are left to apply ever more toxic formulations to fend off increasingly robust pest species.
- The pesticides that accompany GMOs — glyphosate, dicamba, 2,4-D — continue to wreak havoc on the biodiversity of beneficial insects, local wildlife and soil microorganisms — all of which are critical to the future of our food supply.
There is a profound disconnect between what people want to eat and how our valuable agricultural land is actually used. Even during this last tumultuous year, demand for organic, non-GMO and locally sourced food has continued to grow. But our agricultural landscape tells a different story, with the three biggest commodity crops dominating agricultural land in the U.S.:
- GMO corn covers more than 84.6 million acres.
- GMO soy covers more than 78.7 million acres.
- GMO cotton covers more than 11.7 million acres.
Most GMO crops end up as animal feed and biofuel. The rest are refined and become cheap additives for processed foods that offer little nutritional value. The idea that GMOs are necessary to feed a growing population is just a myth, cultivated to grow profits for the corporations that hold the patents on GMO seed. As a mission-driven nonprofit, the Non-GMO Project effectively disrupts that narrative.
New techniques, same GMOs, same work
Today, the landscape of genetic modification is changing rapidly. The Non-GMO Project's dedicated team of researchers are the only ones continually monitoring developments in the field of GMOs, providing unique insight into what products are coming down the pike.
Biotech companies learned their lesson from early consumer rejection of GMOs and are actively distancing themselves from that legacy: They're using new techniques and language for a new generation of GMOs — gene editing, bioengineering, synbio (synthetic biology). Beyond the blatant re-branding of controversial products, the biotech industry is trying to change the very definition of GMO, all while "rewriting the code of life."
- The Non-GMO Project is the only team currently monitoring the work of 411 GMO developers around the globe — that's a 250% increase in the number of developers since monitoring began in 2016.
- These companies are working with new technologies to bring strange products to market, including cows that produce human breast milk, goats that produce spider silk and fruits and vegetables that hide signs of damage and decay from consumers.
- The new USDA GMO labeling law is fraught with loopholes, and promises to confuse consumers through contradictory and diluted guidelines.
In the face of this proliferation of genetic engineering and with no meaningful regulation on the horizon, the work we do at the Non-GMO Project is more important than ever! The effort we put into our rigorous Standard means the Butterfly is, quite simply, the best way to avoid GMOs.
Reclaiming the green revolution, together
We face a warming climate, bringing with it more damaging and frequent severe weather events. The future that climate scientists warned about has arrived. Biotech companies offer us a new generation of GMOs with familiar — but hollow — promises of salvation. We've been here before. The more we regard nature as something to be subdued, dominated and plundered, the more it shakes off our attempts at control. At the Non-GMO Project, we believe in working with nature, not against it. To make an ally of the natural world, and in doing so remember that humanity is part it.
Reimagining how we grow our food is one of the most impactful ways to make that shift: A system that prioritizes short term profit over long term health is a dead end, and it is too late in the day for us to support that. Together, we can move toward a food system that nourishes people and planet, restores soil health and biodiversity, revitalizes rural economies and provides the kind of stability and prosperity farmers need to succeed.
The Non-GMO Project relies on public support to fulfill our mission of protecting your right to choose non-GMO. Each time you look for the Butterfly at your local store, follow us and share our posts on social media or contribute a tax-deductible donation to support our mission, you are choosing to act as a force for positive change.
We are deeply grateful for your support and honored to work with you, to work for you — to work together for our shared future.