The Non-GMO Project is North America's most rigorous certification for GMO avoidance. Our Standard requires ingredient tracing, segregation and testing of major ingredients that are high risk for being GMO.
Testing is essential for managing the risks posed by novel organisms, including potential environmental harm and economic impacts. Just as importantly, testing for the presence of GMOs supports your right to know how your food was made.
We believe everyone has the right to choose whether or not to consume GMOs.
Testing and documentation
To earn the Butterfly logo, verified products must comply with the Non-GMO Project Standard. The Standard requires testing of ingredients that are:
- Major ingredients (making up 5% or more of the finished product)
- Considered high-risk for being GMO
- Testable (tests for GMOs are commercially available)
However, not all GMOs have commercially available tests (we refer to these as "nontestable" ingredients). In the case of nontestable, high-risk major ingredients, the Standard requires comprehensive and legally-binding affidavits. We also work to expand testing capabilities for new GMOs.
"Making the invisible visible."
Some GMO developers claim that GMOs made through gene editing are the same as crops produced by traditional cross-breeding, except they are created more quickly. Thanks to emerging testing capabilities, we know that's not true. Nontestable GMOs are simply GMOs for which a test has not yet been developed — and the Non-GMO Project is working with a coalition of scientists, nonprofits and retailers to change that.
Here's one example of the coalition at work: In 2014, the first gene-edited crop, herbicide-tolerant SU canola, entered the market. Because gene-edited crops don't necessarily incorporate DNA from foreign organisms, the SU canola was nontestable when it was released. So the Non-GMO Project contributed funding toward the Health Research Institute's work developing a reliable test.
The resulting test — freely available to labs worldwide since 2020 — counteracts the narrative that gene editing produces "nature identical" crops. According to Health Research Institute chief scientist Dr. John Fagan, "the same method used to test for every GMO for the past 20 years can be used for gene-edited GMOs" if information about the changes made to the crop is available.
Our commitment to quality
In the meantime, the Project conducts quality assurance and surveillance testing of verified products to protect the integrity of the Butterfly. The quality assurance team goes incognito to purchase samples of Non-GMO Project Verified products from suppliers across North America and sends the products to accredited laboratories for testing. Surveillance testing helps us to monitor and address contamination issues or supply chain disruption.
The Non-GMO Project protects your right to choose in many ways, including testing, ingredient tracing, product surveillance and developing tests to identify new GMOs. The Butterfly is more than Verified products and the most rigorous certification in North America – it’s also a pathway toward a sustainable, non-GMO food supply for all.
We all love organic food here at the Non-GMO Project. Like most of our readers, we prefer not to consume foods that were produced with the use of harmful pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Some people are surprised to learn that the Non-GMO Project doesn’t test for those types of chemicals; our single-issue program focuses exclusively on genetically modified organisms. Let’s talk about how Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified work together!
What is Organic?
Organic certifications set rules for how animals are raised, how crops are grown, and how pests are managed. Each has rules about specific substances that can and cannot be used in the production of organic goods. These programs are run directly by the government in Canada and the United States. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency oversees Canada’s program under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service operates the National Organic Program. The American program focuses on avoiding the use of prohibited substances; Canada’s program relies on a list of permitted substances instead. Neither program allows the use of synthetic pesticides or growth hormones. These programs do not allow GMOs either, but they also do not require any testing for them.
Is Organic Really Always Non-GMO?
It is wonderful that North America’s organic programs do not permit GMOs. Unfortunately, we all know that GMO contamination happens. From cross-pollination to human error, there are many ways for GMOs to accidentally end up in non-GMO supply chains if stringent protocols are not followed. Testing is the best and most reliable way to catch these problems—that is the very foundation of the Non-GMO Project’s work. Our Product Verification Program builds on the already-excellent organic certifications by adding the missing piece: provisions for mandatory GMO testing.
“There is no requirement for GMO testing in organic and that is why the Non-GMO Project was started.” -Megan Westgate, Non-GMO Project Executive Director
This is Where We Came In
The GMO issue is too complicated to be just one component of a broader standard like Organic; it demands its own Standard and its own avoidance program. This was true when the Project was founded more than ten years ago, and it’s even more true now as products of new genetic engineering techniques begin to enter our food supply. The organic programs in North America are not equipped to handle the complexities of all these new technologies—especially as they are not easy to identify or track.
“I truly believe that the Non-GMO Project is more important than ever…no one else is keeping up with these techniques,” -Megan Westgate
The Non-GMO Project works hard to stay ahead of these new GMOs. Our team of researchers works hard to identify and track new GMOs well before they hit the market so we can keep them out of our shared non-GMO supply chain.
Organic and Non-GMO are Friends.
Organic and non-GMO work best when they work together. A non-GMO system supports organic agriculture by reducing GMO contamination pressure and increasing the availability of non-GMO ingredients in the supply chain. The Non-GMO Project’s work helps expand access to non-GMO ingredients and increases traceability throughout the supply chain. In short, our work makes it easier and easier to create organic products that are truly non-GMO.
The Non-GMO Project wants to make sure that everyone has access to non-GMO choices—no matter what type of food they choose to eat. At the Non-GMO Project, we believe Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified is the gold standard for food. Look for the Butterfly when you shop, and if you want to avoid synthetic pesticides and fertilizers too, choose Organic as well!
The Newest Non-GMO Project Standard is Out Now!
You already know that the Non-GMO Project is a nonprofit organization committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. We believe everyone has a right to know what is in their food and deserves access to non-GMO choices and we work hard to give families the power to change the way their food is grown and made just by making informed choices in the grocery store.
Efficient supply chain transformation requires consistent, uniform standards. That’s why we created our Product Verification Program and the Non-GMO Project Standard. The Standard sets the rules for what it means to be non-GMO and what it takes to get Non-GMO Project Verified. Every product is subject to the same set of rules and products must meet all of the compliance requirements laid out in this document in order to use our butterfly mark. These requirements center on three foundational ideas: testing, affidavits, and segregation.
Testing: Major, testable, high-risk inputs need to be tested in a lab before they can become part of a Non-GMO Project Verified product. These tests are usually quantitative. Not only can they tell whether there is GMO DNA in a sample, but these tests can also tell exactly how much contamination occurred.
Affidavits: There are some GMOs that laboratories can’t test for yet. When testing is not a feasible way to prove something is non-GMO, the Project uses a process-based approach that includes comprehensive affidavits as an alternate validation tool.
Segregation: Non-GMO inputs need to be kept completely separate from GMOs all the way through the supply chain in order to prevent commingling. This means food producers need to have systems in place for cleaning out equipment and keeping non-GMO inputs pristine.
Why Does the Non-GMO Project Standard Change?
The Non-GMO Project Standard is a living document. It changes biennially in order to remain current and address new threats to the supply chain. As new types of GMOs emerge, we update the Standard and its High-Risk List to make sure we are positioned to protect our food supply most effectively. For example, Version 15 tightens up rules for products that are derived from microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria. Genetically modified microorganisms are common, and new types of them are entering the food supply all the time. The Non-GMO Project Standard changes to stay ahead of emerging GMOs like these.
The Standard must be both meaningful and achievable in order to effectively build a non-GMO food supply. If it were too easy to get Verified, the supply chain wouldn’t be forced to change enough. If it were impossible to meet our Standard, then no products would get Verified and suppliers would have very little incentive to switch to non-GMO sources. Revising the Standard helps the Non-GMO Project make sure that this delicate balance is always achieved.
Regular updates also allow the Standard to be as collaborative as possible. We couldn’t have made North America’s most rigorous Standard for GMO avoidance in a vacuum—we needed input from farmers, food producers, legislators, brand partners, technical experts, and shoppers. You can help too! We always want to know what you think about the Non-GMO Project Standard. The more specific your feedback is, the more helpful it is. Submit a comment online any time.
The Same Butterfly You Know and Trust Just Got a Little Bit More Rigorous.
The Butterfly won’t look any different when you see it on your favorite products, but now you can rest assured that North America’s most trusted label for GMO avoidance is even better. The Non-GMO Project Standard is available online for free. You can read it in its entirety anytime you want! You can also check out the new Summary of Changes to find out what’s different this time around.
Have questions about the Non-GMO Project Standard? Post them in the comments!