The USDA recently approved a new, genetically modified purple tomato for cultivation in the U.S. The tomato is engineered to be high in anthocyanins, a purple pigment with antioxidant properties reported to have health benefits. The modifications have also increased the GMO's shelf life.
The purple tomato was created by scientists at Norfolk Plant Sciences in the U.K. It is a mixture of old and new: The purple tomato's longer shelf life echoes the characteristics offered by the first GMO approved for human consumption (also a tomato). Scientists used traditional GMO techniques to add snapdragon genes to a tomato, resulting in a dark-fleshed fruit with generous antioxidant levels. And those antioxidants, while new to the tomato, are frequently found in existing fruits and vegetables.
The purple tomato's story weaves together breakthroughs and encores — leaving us with questions about its usefulness.
The most common GMOs (think soy, corn, cotton, alfalfa) are engineered with traits that appeal to the farmer or manufacturer. For example, Roundup Ready crops can withstand multiple applications of glyphosate, making it easier to apply weedkiller to the crop (though using more weedkiller has its own problems. Many varieties of GMO corn produce their own insecticide, providing increased pest resistance (though the trait also has some negative impacts. Non-browning GMO apples are attractive in schools or hospitals where food is prepared hours before it is served (though there are non-GMO apples that resist browning.
On the other hand, the purple tomato joins a relatively short list of genetically engineered foods with traits designed to benefit the person who eats it. The GMO's color is due to added snapdragon genes that cause the tomato to produce anthocyanins — a pigment with antioxidant properties thought to have health benefits. Anthocyanins may help to reduce inflammation, protect against type 2 diabetes, or even fight cancer.
Purple flesh isn't the only novel characteristic of this GMO. Reports indicate plans to introduce the GMO at farmers' markets, where sellers can talk with interested eaters about the fruits proposed benefits. Furthermore, purple tomato seed could ultimately be made available to home gardeners — a significant departure from the restrictions faced by farmers who grow GMO commodities.
The purple tomato is also the first GMO to be deregulated under the new SECURE rule, which went into effect in 2020. The SECURE rule streamlined some aspects of GMO regulation, effectively removing many GMOs from USDA oversight, and was the first substantial revision of biotechnology regulation since 1987.
The genetically modified purple tomato is not the first genetically modified tomato. In fact, the first GMO ever approved for human consumption was a tomato — the Flavr Savr tomato, engineered for hardiness and longer shelf life.
Also, the purple tomato is not the first GMO whose modified traits promise a health benefit to the consumer. For example, the Sicilian Rouge tomato is engineered for higher levels of an amino acid believed to aid in relaxation and help lower blood pressure (the Sicilian Rouge is currently available only in Japan).
It is not the first purple tomato. Other varieties with deep, dark skin include heirloom Cherokee Purple or traditionally cross-bred Indigo Apple tomatoes. It is not the only food high in anthocyanins, either — berries, cherries, pomegranates, cabbage and eggplant are a few of the many excellent natural sources of anthocyanins.
This makes us wonder: Is a genetically modified, high-anthocyanin tomato really the best use of cutting edge science? Has the team at Norfolk Plant Sciences reinvented the wheel? Genetic modification is an expensive process that, in this case, delivers a niche product with a trait already found in various natural foods (more on that in a moment). Nevertheless, lead botanist Cathie Martin would like to expand the niche. According to an interview in Fast Company, Martin foresees applying the same process to "bananas, oranges, and countless other fruits."
In the meantime, you can reach for blueberries or blackberries if you'd like to increase your anthocyanin intake. Or try cabbage. Or pomegranates. Or grapes (grape juice and wine have benefits as well!) or eggplant. Also, purple carrots. Or black beans. Or cherries, elderberries, strawberries, chokeberries, açai, blood oranges, and so on.
On April 21, 2021, the USDA invited public comments on the future of the food system: From commodities and food crop production to the supply chains that process crops and transport them. This kind of comprehensive look at critical systems is both timely — with lessons learned from the global pandemic — and crucial to our collective welfare and security as we face a changing climate.
Among the Non-GMO Project's guiding principles is the belief that everyone deserves access to good food. Food security, climate change and social justice are inextricably linked, and each element inevitably impacts the others.
We are in a moment unlike any other in human history. The interconnected impacts of our choices and the consequences of "business-as-usual" lie in sharp relief. There is a shared sense of purpose and a renewed appetite for change, drawing us toward systemic reforms that benefit producers, workers and consumers alike.
In support of a truly resilient, regenerative food system that supports jobs and wellbeing today and for generations, the Non-GMO Project advocates for:
- A systemic shift toward diversified farming systems
- Development of regional food hubs for production and processing
- Federal support for regional action to address food access and nutrition
- Secure incomes for farmers
- Living wages and equal rights for farmworkers
Industrial agriculture is currently the dominant practice in the United States. While this system has produced high-yield, low-cost commodity crops, a closer look reveals exorbitant hidden and externalized costs, including environmental degradation, biodiversity loss and increased health risk to millions of consumers.
Because of the systems of centralized power that "lock in" industrial agriculture, change will be most effective when economic and social policies are grounded in ecological principles.
Here, we offer our vision for the future.
A systemic shift toward diversified farming systems
While uniformity is the basis of an industrialized system, diversity is the basis of resilient agriculture.
Agriculture occupies more than 900 million acres of land in the United States, the overwhelming majority of which is used for livestock and the production of a few GM commodity crops.
This homogenous and extractive model squanders natural resources, devastating biodiversity above and below ground. Industrial-style crop production degrades soil and hastens erosion. Monoculture planting creates ideal conditions for destructive pests and pathogens because it works against the natural inclination of the landscape towards diversity.
Biodiversity is critical to successful and sustainable agriculture. Pollinating insects and birds are responsible for a third of the food we eat, while crops rely on healthy soil that is home to billions of invertebrates and microorganisms.
Diversified farming systems that integrate livestock and crop production drastically reduce the need for costly synthetic fertilizers while supporting healthy soil. A growing body of evidence indicates diversified farming systems can provide a diverse and healthy diet with sustained yields over time and strong performance under environmental stressors.
Healthy ecosystems provide a range of services that support human health: water and air purification, nutrient cycling, habitat and food for diverse species and billions of soil microorganisms that are the basis for new medicines. Support for these activities is vital: There is more crucial natural infrastructure in a healthy landscape than we could ever hope to construct by artificial means.
The challenges we face in the coming decades require bold action. We must provide economic incentives for farmers to rebuild healthy ecosystems in their operations. Subsidies for commodity crops — many of which are overproduced — should be redirected as incentives for diversification: promoting crop rotation, nutrient-dense fruits, nuts and vegetables, as well as non-GMO and organic foods. Using more acreage for domestic consumption will revitalize rural economies.
Moving from an extractive model of agriculture toward a diverse and regenerative one will improve soil, water and air quality, restoring them as high-quality resources just as valuable as the crops. By adopting a holistic view of our food system and optimizing production practices, we will build a sustainable and resilient system — aiding our work to heal a broken planet.
Regional food hubs
The Covid-19 pandemic illuminated and exacerbated our food system’s pre-existing flaws. Consolidation in food processing has produced brittle supply chains, unable to adapt to disruptions. More disruptions are coming: The form may vary, but disruption has become a recurring variable rather than an outlying event.
During this time, there were also success stories. Small-scale and organic operations pivoted during the pandemic, meeting the needs of farmers and their local communities. What worked provides a blueprint for a truly resilient and nimble food system.
We must create a strong network of regional, mid-size processing, storage and transportation infrastructure to protect the supply chain, enhance agility and create markets for small and mid-sized producers. Designed strategically, smaller processing plants also offer safer work environments — an important consideration given the increased frequency of emerging zoonotic diseases.
By intentionally building a diverse and regionally-based production and processing system, we bolster the supply chain against future disruptions and create market opportunities for smaller operators.
Everyone deserves access to nutritious food
The elements of a nutritious diet are well-known: regular, moderate meals with an emphasis on plant-based foods. But our agricultural landscape doesn't reflect our goals. It reflects the reality of unbalanced, unsustainable and unhealthy food choices, prioritizing high-yield crops with lower nutrient density.
For example, of more than 900 million acres of agricultural land*:
- 70% is used for livestock production.
- 24% is used for just three crops — corn, soy and wheat. Most of the corn is used to feed livestock.
- <2% is used for "specialty crops" such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts — the foods that make up the basis of a healthy diet.
If every American voluntarily switched to a healthy, flexitarian diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, there would not be enough produce to feed them.
We eat what we grow, and we are as sick as our landscape.
Food issues emerge in different forms: Food insecurity stems from poor access, often due to poverty or the absence of grocery stores. Nutritional insecurity, on the other hand, when we rely on low-quality foods. A poor-quality diet may meet our caloric needs, but fresh foods and essential nutrients are lacking. Diet-related diseases are the number one cause of mortality in the States.
Food insecurity increased dramatically during the pandemic — particularly in families with young children and in Black and Hispanic households. We've seen government programs and private entities scramble to provide meals to those in need. If we transition acreage to diversified farming systems and strengthen regional food networks, federal and state initiatives such as SNAP, WIC and school meal programs could create markets for locally-produced, nutritious food. By building these intersecting systems across the supply chain, we can move beyond food security and toward true nutritional security, crop diversification and secure markets for nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables and nuts — a triple win.
The solutions to food and nutrition insecurity are often regionally specific. These are unique situations determined by population density, social dynamics, geography or myriad other factors. A "one-size-fits-all" approach to food and nutritional security simply doesn’t work.
However, fantastic organizations across the country are already deeply engaged with the communities they serve. We must increase support and funding for regional food hubs that prioritize local and nutritious food, food sovereignty, and food justice, elevating this expertise to benefit the communities that need it the most.
Workers' rights: Seed saving, secure incomes and support for BIPOC farmers
Through land theft, dispossession and exploitative working conditions, the modern food system has been devastating to the people whose labor sustains it. Black farmers saw an erosion of ownership and food sovereignty over the past century. Millions of essential workers who earn their living doing hourly work in the food sector — from on-farm to processing and service jobs — make some of the lowest wages in the country.
Discriminatory laws fail to provide some of these positions with basic protections and marginalized and BIPOC workers disproportionately bear the impact. The continued denial of rights and protections to an essential sector of the workforce sustains inequalities that have been part of the agricultural system since this country's founding. We must build something better for the workers who feed us.
Owners and operators on agricultural land are also struggling. For 19 of the past 20 years, the average farmer spent more to produce crops than they earned from their operations. Subsidy programs improved the financial outlook of commodity farmers, but these programs prop up an inherently unsustainable system. By redirecting support to promote diverse farming systems, farmers gain income security, produce more nutrient-dense food and regenerate their land.
Ultimately, converting acreage toward diversified operations reduces mechanization and leads to more hands-on jobs. It is essential to create a labor market that does not rely on exploitation. Through legislation and policy development, we must increase support for groundbreaking nonprofits like the Fair Food Program, a highly successful certification and enforcement program that improves conditions for workers.
Our vision for the future of our food system relies on integrated systems and a bold commitment to social and environmental justice. It is a heavy lift. But the challenges we have faced during the past 18 months are proof of just how quickly systems can change in a crisis. Adaptation saves lives and livelihoods. When the initiating event is not a once-in-a-century pandemic but an existential threat to humanity in the form of climate change or the ongoing nutritional deficiencies and food insecurities that stifle our potential, surely we can act just as decisively.
As the Covid pandemic recedes, we welcome the Biden Administration's efforts to "Build Back Better." We respectfully ask for bold action to ensure nutrition security for all and to restore our environment.
USDA, Agricultural Statistics Board, NASS, Prospective Plantings, 2021.
USDA, ERS, The Adoption of Genetically Engineered Alfalfa, Canola and Sugarbeets in the United States: Report Summary, 2016.
USDA, NASS, 2017 Census of Agriculture, 2019.
It's been a big year for the biotech industry. You may have noticed the wealth of headlines reporting breakthroughs in gene editing and other new GMO techniques, news stories littered with acronyms like CRISPR, TALEN and RNAi. These are just some of the new techniques being used to create novel products in our food supply — some of which are even being marketed as "non-GMO"!
But you won't see the Butterfly on these products.
At the Non-GMO Project, we recognize that any process in which an organism’s genetic material is engineered in a laboratory is genetic engineering. The products of emerging techniques — including CRISPR, TALEN, RNAi and gene drives — are GMOs. The Non-GMO Project Standard adheres to the definition of GMOs laid out by the Codex Alimentarius, the internationally recognized set of standards addressing food issues, from production to labeling and everything in between.
Because the new federal bioengineered food labeling law does not recognize many products of emerging genetic engineering techniques as GMOs, tracking new techniques and their impact on the food supply is more important than ever. Rest assured, the products of gene editing are excluded from the Non-GMO Project Standard, and packaged goods that rely on gene-edited ingredients are not eligible to wear the Butterfly seal.
A GMO-producing trio: TALEN, CRISPR and RNAi
In 2019, a GMO soybean became the first gene edited crop commercially available in the United States. The soybeans were engineered using a technique called TALEN, resulting in more oleic acid and fewer trans-fats. These soybeans do not require disclosure under the new bioengineered food labeling law, and oil or meal derived from the GMO soybeans could end up entering the food supply marketed as a "non-GMO product."
TALEN has also been used to modify alfalfa for animal feed, and even to modify the animals themselves. One infamous case of TALEN-gone-wrong can be found in the GMO cattle engineered to be hornless. The hornless bull was initially hailed as a success, but was later found to contain non-bovine DNA that could increase antibiotic resistance. This extra genetic information was picked up in the lab during the genetic engineering process. Critically, the company responsible for the creation of the GMO cattle did not find this error — it was detected purely by chance by an FDA researcher running tests on software.
Another gene-editing tool used to create GMO livestock is CRISPR. Of all the emerging acronyms, this is likely the most familiar, as CRISPR has generated a lot of press — and controversy. Its creators won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery, while a scientist in China "shocked the world" with the use of CRISPR to edit human embryos.
There are many projects involving CRISPR in development, including some varieties of genetically modified livestock. Researchers are working to create animals that offer producers higher profit margins or can better withstand the harsh conditions of factory farming. Genetically modified animals include such creations as "double-muscled" pigs and poultry with enhanced immune systems.
CRISPR is often described to layfolk as "operating like a pair of scissors." Or, in a much grander vision for the future, the Nobel Prize press release described CRISPR as "a tool for rewriting the code of life" — a jaw-dropping example of hubris considering how much we don't know about the function of genetic material.
Whether it's kitchen chemistry or re-creating the world, the overall message is, "We've got this."
In truth, we very much don't have this. The gene-editing process can impact sections of DNA that weren't intended, creating so-called "off target effects." There are also the unforeseen consequences resulting from our limited knowledge of the complex and interrelated functions of genes.
One recent CRISPR story involves a bull named Cosmo, engineered to produce more male offspring — a beneficial trait in the beef industry. In the case of Cosmo, the Baker City Herald reported as much:
"A close look at Cosmo’s DNA after birth revealed Crispr’s unpredictability. Researchers said there was a piece of genetic code that didn’t belong, and Cosmo had more SRY, the gene that causes male traits, than intended."
The Baker City Herald continues with a description of odd side effects in other CRISPR animals: “pigs with extra vertebrae, cattle that die prematurely, rabbits with huge tongues.”
This "rewrite" of the code of life is clearly not ready for publication.
Short for RNA Interference, this new GMO technique uses RNA molecules to interfere with the expression of certain genes in order to modify an organism's attributes. For example, RNAi was used in the creation of the Arctic Apple to interfere with the apple's natural tendency to turn brown when it's cut open.
Additional products of RNAi currently on the market include some varieties of Simplot Innate potatoes, engineered to reduce the appearance of bruising. The trouble with inhibiting a gene to hide damage is that the damage is still there, weakening tissues and providing an entrypoint for pathogens. It's only the visual indicators that have been eliminated. At the Non-GMO Project, we believe that's important information and we're better off recognizing it for what it is.
Learn more about GMO potatoes
Syn(bio) City — GMO dairy, breast milk and "meat juices"
Short for synthetic biology, “synbio”refers to the merging of biology and engineering. Currently, the term largely refers to the genetic engineering of microorganisms such as yeast and is often used to produce flavorings or dairy proteins.
Synbio dairy proteins are a hot item in the frozen foods aisle, providing the key ingredient to several GMO frozen dairy desserts, including Brave Robot, Smitten N’Ice Cream, Nick's and Graeter’s Perfect Indulgence. These brands all get their "dairy-identical" synbio dairy proteins from a single source: Perfect Day, who brought their own limited release ice cream to market for $20/pint a few years back. One of the co-founders at Perfect Day, Ryan Pandya, described their marketing strategy in enigmatic terms: "We want people to know it’s plant-based but not from plants, it’s an animal product but without animals." Which leaves one to wonder: What is it, then? Well, it's GMO.
These dairy-without-the-animals desserts put a lot of weight on their non-animal status, appealing to the vegan market. But here we hit a snag: Producing the non-animal dairy protein relies on a digitized copy of a cow gene. While that information is part of an open source database, the genetic material originally came from an animal. According to Perfect Day, it came from a cow named L1 Dominette 01449. Depending on how strictly one defines and practices veganism, the origin of the genetic material becomes vitally important. A product that originated with blood drawn from a cow may not satisfy some vegans.
Other synbio products include human collagen for the skin care market, as well as "heme," a synbio compound that is used to create meat-like juices in the Impossible Burger. The Impossible Burger is also a tricky proposition for vegans: While the heme is derived from GMO soybeans, Impossible Foods conducted animal testing during its development.
Developers are also using new techniques to synthesize proteins found in human breast milk, with a potential use in GMO infant formula.
The Butterfly is more important than ever!
With novel products made with new GMO techniques entering the market, it's more important than ever to look for the Butterfly. Many of these products won't require a "bioengineered food" disclosure under the new BE labeling law — a law which focuses on foods with detectable modified genetic material in the final product.
Learn more about the bioengineered (BE) labeling law
The biotech industry knows all too well that the majority of Americans want GMOs to be clearly labeled. So, as they bring new products to market, they are bending over backwards to distance themselves from the simplest and most powerful acronym of all: G-M-O.
At the Non-GMO Project, we believe that everyone has the right to know what's in their food. That is only more critical in light of emerging technologies and new techniques, creating organisms that humans haven't eaten before.
Since its inception in 2007, the Non-GMO Project has advocated for meaningful, mandatory labeling of GMOs. And we are not alone: *65% of Americans believe GMOs should be labeled. So when the incoming federal labeling law for bioengineered (BE) foods was released, we hoped it would meet the public's desire for transparency.
We were disappointed. The BE labeling law, as written and passed in 2016, overlooks many products made from GMOs, making it insufficient. Meanwhile, labeling guidelines do not provide clear information to consumers about the food they are serving to their families.
Here’s what you can expect as this law becomes mandatory on January 1, 2022.
"Bioengineered" means GMO — just not all GMOs
The Non-GMO Project's definition of GMOs includes all the products of genetic modification covered by the BE labeling law. But the Butterfly doesn't stop there. As the technology that drives genetic modification continues to evolve, the products of new GMO techniques like gene editing are entering the supply chain.
The Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program keeps the products of new GMO techniques from being Verified. At the same time, our research team tracks developments in biotechnology to stay ahead of impacts on the food system.
By adopting the term "bioengineering," this law selects language that's unfamiliar to most shoppers. People know about GMOs. Most people do not know much about bioengineered food. The term causes consternation and the furrowing of brows.
For the BE food labeling law to truly serve consumer needs, it must be clear, transparent and able to keep pace with the technology it is meant to identify.
BE labeling options could cause confusion
The BE labeling law allows several options for how the Bioengineered disclosure appears on packaging. Brands might display the BE symbol or include a line of text. They might opt for a digital code or a contact phone number that would provide the inquisitive shopper with more information. These options offer flexibility to the manufacturer, but they also make information less accessible to people in stores. Electronic disclosures exclude people who face barriers to technological access, such as residents of rural areas or people who come from a low-income background. Anyone who isn't comfortable with pocket-sized tech or who is shopping with small children could also be impacted.
With each step away from clear and equally accessible labeling, the average shopper gets less information, compromising the very purpose of an effective labeling program.
Want to keep GMOs out of your shopping cart? Look for the Butterfly
What gets left out of the BE labeling law is just as important as what's included. For the *40% of shoppers looking to avoid GMOs, a "bioengineered" disclosure isn't enough.
Which GMOs are overlooked under the BE labeling law?
- Most products of new GMO techniques like CRISPR gene editing won't require a BE disclosure. That’s because the law focuses on foods containing detectable modified genetic material in the final product. Products that contain GMOs made with new techniques are currently untestable.
- Foods that are heavily processed contain little or no intact genetic material for accurate testing, so they also fall outside of BE disclosure. That includes very common products like sugar and cooking oil, as well as packaged goods that contain such ingredients.
- The BE labeling law only applies to food intended for direct human consumption. GMO crops for livestock feed take up millions of acres of agricultural land and ultimately support the human food supply — but the BE labeling law does not look at it. Because of the sheer volume of GMO commodity crops grown for livestock feed, choosing Verified meat, dairy, and eggs is the key to building a non-GMO future.
There are also complexities in the new law that prevent GMOs in multi-ingredient products from being disclosed. For example, a canned soup containing GMO corn would not require disclosure if the formulation lists meat as the first ingredient. Under the BE labeling law, it doesn't matter that the corn is prevalent and plainly visible in the product or that 92% of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. It doesn't even matter that the corn might have detectable modified genetic material. With meat as the first ingredient, the product is not subject to disclosure. Even if water, broth or stock is the first ingredient and meat is the second, the loophole still applies because those kinds of liquids don't count.
Test your ability to predict where the BE label will show up with this quiz!
With so much remaining outside the scope of the BE labeling law, looking for a "bioengineered food" label may not be effective at keeping GMOs out of your shopping cart. These undisclosed genetically modified ingredients still contribute to GMO agriculture and acreage and the destructive, chemical-dependent practices that go with it.
At the Non-GMO Project, we believe that everyone has the right to know what's in their food and to choose whether to consume GMOs. We welcome and encourage meaningful labeling of GMOs. The effectiveness of any labeling program relies on transparency, so the average person can understand quickly and easily what is being disclosed.
Until the BE labeling law meets that criteria, looking for the Butterfly remains your best option to avoid GMOs.
*Source: Organic & Beyond © 2020, The Hartman Group, Inc.
The first batch of genetically modified salmon raised in a U.S. facility has been sold from AquaBounty's facility in Albany, Ind. The GMO salmon were modified with DNA from both a Chinook salmon and an ocean pout to grow nearly twice as fast as non-GMO Atlantic salmon while consuming less feed.
Will GMO salmon be labeled?
The Non-GMO Project supports clear and transparent labeling of products made with or containing GMOs. AquaAdvantage salmon is listed as a “bioengineered food” under federal BE food labeling law, the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS). Because of this, AquAdvantage salmon sold by retailers must include a mandatory “Bioengineered Food” disclosure starting January 1, 2022. However, the GMO labeling scheme is not short on loopholes:
- Mandatory disclosures can take the form of the bioengineered foods label, a QR code or a phone number the consumer can dial for more information — a range that presents three very different experiences for a busy shopper in a grocery store.
- The voluntary disclosure period of the NBFDS is still in effect until the end of this calendar year, and it's unclear whether fish sold directly to consumers during this period will be labeled. AquaBounty has previously sold genetically modified salmon to unwitting consumers in Canada, where unlabeled GMO fish have been available since 2017.
Without standardized and accessible labeling — not to mention the confusing attempt to rebrand GMOs as "bioengineered foods" — shoppers continue to rely on the Butterfly to exercise their right to choose non-GMO.
Big names in food industry boycott GMO salmon
Consumers won't find AquAdvantage salmon at some of the biggest retail chains in the country, as 80 companies with more than 18,000 locations have pledged to not carry the GMO fish. The list includes grocery chains, restaurants, seafood companies and food service providers including Costco, who find the product incompatible with their sustainability policies. Hy-Vee issued a statement on their reasons for not carrying AquAdvantage: "In order to protect marine resources and ensure future seafood supplies, Hy-Vee strongly believes that genetically engineered seafood has no place in its stores."
Other companies that have publicly committed not to carry the GMO salmon include Kroger, Meijer, Target, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Aldi, Aramark, Compass Group and Sodexo. For a detailed list of companies that are opting out of GMO salmon, visit Friends of the Earth's webpage.
FDA failed in environmental assessment of GMO salmon
A coalition of environmental groups have fought against the approval of genetically modified salmon for years, citing the risks it poses to native salmon populations. Critics of the GMO fish include The Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, The Center for Biological Diversity as well as several employees at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. On November 5, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the FDA violated environmental laws with its hasty approval of GMO salmon. The ruling calls out the FDA's failure to adequately assess the impact escaped GMO salmon could have on wild populations, stating, "The FDA knew that the company’s salmon operations would likely grow, with additional facilities being used for farming. Obviously, as the company’s operations grow, so too does the risk of engineered salmon escaping."
Salmon hold a place of particular importance to the Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest who lived and fished sustainably for centuries before the arrival of colonizers in the 19th century. In the words of Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians and of the Quinault Indian Nation,
"Salmon are at the center of our cultural and spiritual identity, diet, and way of life. It's unconscionable and arrogant to think man can improve upon our Creator's perfection as a justification for corporate ambition and greed."
While the FDA must now complete adequate assessments on the environmental risks of genetically engineered salmon, the ruling doesn't impact the current sales of AquAdvantage.
Find out more! Read Hidden GMOs in the Seafood Aisle
As we welcome the roaring 20s, let’s revisit the major GMO-related happenings of the past year. 2019 rode in on the back of the National Bioengineering Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS), a piece of regulation born to confuse, confound and mystify. At the Non-GMO Project, we worked hard this year to provide the transparency and reliability the NBFDS lacks, releasing v.15 of our Standard (you can read the Standard here anytime). Now let’s review the action that occurred outside the building.
Plant-Based Meat (What’s in a Name?)
This was the year of plant-based meat alternatives. Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger led the pack, with Impossible bringing the GMO blood and no small amount of drama. From reformulating their product to include an additional source of GMOs, to its controversial promotion at the world’s largest natural foods trade show, to picking a fight with the regenerative agriculture movement, Impossible Foods came out swinging.
The market-wide influence of plant-based meat alternatives provoked action at the state level to restrict the use of terms such as meat, burger, or steaks to products harvested from a slaughtered animal. Imagine what the plant-based landscape would look like today if the first veggie burgers of the 80s had faced the epically unappetizing moniker “veggie discs”?
Read more about meat and meat alternatives
Monsanto v. the Masses
Monsanto/Bayer is facing thousands of lawsuits over their most popular weedkiller, Roundup, as consumers who used the product face devastating illness. At the Non-GMO Project, we have a bee in our bonnet over Roundup, as the majority of GMO crops were explicitly developed for tolerance to this herbicide (“Roundup Ready”), leading to a 15-fold increase in its use. In 2015, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup — was “probably carcinogenic to humans.” So far, juries have overwhelmingly favored the plaintiffs, while the EPA overturned California’s efforts to require warning labels on Roundup. The year ended with the arrest of Timothy Litzenburg, a lawyer for the plaintiffs suing Monsanto, who allegedly offered to “take a dive” during depositions if the agro-chemical giant paid him millions in consulting fees.
Achievements in Unintended Consequences
New genetic engineering techniques such as CRISPR and TALEN — used to create GMOs — are described by the National Institute of Health as “effective and reliable.” These GMO animals of 2019, not so much:
- Friendly Mosquitoes: GMO mosquitoes released in Brazil successfully bred with native populations, even though they were engineered with a “self-limiting gene [that] prevents offspring of [the] released male insect[s] from surviving to adulthood.” The company that created them, Oxitec, has applied for a permit to release a second generation of the GMO Friendly Mosquitoes in Monroe County, Florida.
- Hornless “Cattle”: Cattle engineered to be hornless were found to carry non-bovine DNA. Both the incorporation of junk DNA and its subsequent discovery were accidental.
Swimming to America
The FDA authorized the farming of GMO AquAdvantage salmon. These fast-growing frankenfish are raised in pens in Indiana and Prince Edward Island. A coalition of advocacy groups including the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service have raised serious concerns about the threat the AquAdvantage fish would pose to native salmon populations should there be an escape from the facilities. Contamination events can and do occur, and AquaBounty — the company responsible for the GMO salmon — raised the risk level considerably by producing both GMO and non-GMO salmon eggs at their Prince Edward Island facility.
Here Comes the Grain Again
A rogue field of unapproved GMO wheat sprang up in Washington State this year. This was not the first time GMO wheat made an unexpected appearance: similar surprise visits occurred in Oregon in 2013, Montana in 2014, Washington in 2016, and Alberta, Canada in 2018. The interlopers are different varieties of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready wheat, and demonstrate impressive migratory abilities, moving from test plots in California to contamination in Alberta, Canada without so much as a passport.
News From the Hill
We were underwhelmed by the National Bioengineering Food Disclosure Standard when it dropped like a lump of coal into our laps last December. We bucked up, wrote some educational materials to help consumers, retailers and brands figure out what it meant for them, and hoped for better things in 2019. Here’s how that turned out:
- In June, President Trump directed federal agencies to simplify regulatory pathways for GMOs, meaning that an increasing number of GMO crops and animals will not be subject to scientific review by federal agencies.
- The USDA’s Greg Ibach tested the waters as to whether new GMO techniques could be used in organic food production. Mr. Ibach found those waters to be unwelcoming, as the organic industry vehemently rebuffed his proposal.
The Rise of the Butterfly
Before abandoning all hope, we may take solace in the fact that our work and the support of shoppers, retailers and brands are shifting public discourse. In one of our favorite moments from 2019, freelance writer and GMO advocate Kavin Senapathy broke ranks with Monsanto. You’re welcome to join us for our New Year’s party, Kavin!
by Melissa Waddell, Assistant Copywriter and Editor, Non-GMO Project
The Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program allows participants to submit products to be evaluated against the Non-GMO Project Standard. Participants must demonstrate that their products are not made with genetically modified organisms, including products of biotechnology. Products that demonstrate their non-GMO status in accordance with the Standard may become Verified and use the Non-GMO Project Verified mark.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism in which the genetic material has been changed through biotechnology in a way that does not occur naturally by multiplication and/or natural recombination; cloned animals are included within this definition.
GMOs are changed through biotechnology, not through natural selection or traditional breeding methods.
Biotechnology is the application of:
a. in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and the direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles; or
b. Fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcame natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection.
Biotechnology means artificially altering DNA in a context where only the genetic material of an organism is altered or artificially merging DNA from different species which would not reproduce on their own. More specifically, and for the avoidance of doubt, biotechnology includes all of the following specific new breeding techniques:
- Oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis (ODM)
- Zinc finger nuclease (ZFN); cisgenesis and intragenesis
- Agro-infiltration (“sensu stricto” and “floral dip”)
- RNA interference (RNAi)
- RNA-dependent DNA methylation (RdDM) and reverse breeding (RB)
- Transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALEN)
- Meganucleases and clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR),
- “Synthetic biology”, and “gene drive” (each a“GE Technique”)
Biotechnology means artificially altering DNA in a context where only the genetic material of an organism is altered or artificially merging DNA from different species that would not reproduce on their own.
The Non-GMO Project High-Risk List identifies inputs that may be, contain, or be derived from organisms that are known to be genetically modified and commercially available. These inputs and their derivatives are subject to additional scrutiny under the Non-GMO Project Standard. The majority of these crops are engineered to produce an insecticide or tolerate the application of an herbicide.
High-risk inputs include:
- High-Risk Inputs
- Sugar beet
- Yellow summer squash / zucchini
- Microorganisms and enzymes
- Animal products
Monitored-risk inputs are those for which a GMO version exists, but is not widely commercially available. Such inputs may exist in the research and development stages, or may be inputs for which known GMO contamination has occurred. Other crops are included because they could be contaminated by cross-pollination from GMO crops.
Monitored-risk inputs include:
- Beta vulgaris (chard, table beets)
- Brassica napa (rutabaga, Siberian Kale)
- Brassica rapa (bok choy, turnip)
- Cucurbita pepo (acorn squash, pumpkin)
- Camelina (false flax)
- Spider silk
Monitored-risk inputs are evaluated like low risk inputs; their monitored status does not impact testing or affidavit requirements. However, the Non-GMO Project keeps a watchful eye on these crops in order to prevent potentially ensuing GMO varieties from entering the supply chain unchecked.
PROCESSED DERIVATIVES OF GMOS
Many common processed ingredients are derived from GMO crops, especially commodity crops such as corn and soy. The following non-exhaustive list includes some of the most common derivatives of high-risk crops.
- Ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, vitamin C
- Citric acid, sodium citrate
- Corn syrup
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Monosodium glutamate
- Common Processed Ingredients
- Textured vegetable protein
- Amino acids
- Flavorings, “natural” and “artificial”
- Lactic acid
- Microbial Growth Media
- Xanthan gum
Livestock, aquaculture, and apiculture products are considered to be high-risk inputs because animal feed is very likely to contain GMOs such as corn, soy, and alfalfa. Animal-derived inputs must come from animals that ate a non-GMO diet to be used in Verified products. These inputs comply with the sampling and testing requirements of the Standard through the sampling and testing of Inputs to the animals’ rations and/or the seed used to grow the inputs to the animals’ rations.
Download this guide as a PDF
CONTACT: Hans Eisenbeis
PHONE: 360-255-7704 x107
Bellingham, WA, June 19, 2019—The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced last week that an unapproved variety of genetically engineered glyphosate-resistant wheat was found in an unplanted farm in Washington state. This experimental variety was reportedly grown in field trials more than a decade ago. There are no genetically engineered wheat varieties currently approved for sale in the United States or any other country, and yet biotechnology companies continue to allow their GMOs to contaminate fallow fields.
This is not the first time wheat has been contaminated by an unapproved GMO. Glyphosate-tolerant wheat was discovered in Oregon in 2013, Montana in 2014, Washington in 2016, and Alberta, Canada in 2018. The USDA strengthened its oversight of wheat field trials after the 2016 contamination; producers are now required to obtain permits for such trials.
This occurrence threatens the U.S. wheat market. International regulations on import and sale of unapproved GMO varieties are strict; previous contamination events have led to rejection by foreign markets The Washington Association of Wheat Growers reports that Washington state exports 80 to 90 percent of its wheat crop, which means farmers may face low prices if foreign markets reject American or Washington-grown wheat.
“This contamination demonstrates yet again that once GMOs are released into the environment, these novel organisms cannot be recalled,” says Non-GMO Project Executive Director Megan Westgate. “The Non-GMO Project remains committed to protecting our supply chain from unchecked GMO contamination.”
About the Non-GMO Project
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.
When we think of innovations in today’s supermarket, the mind easily jumps from farm to fridge blockchain tracking, to stores with a million cameras and no checkstands, or even to robots roaming grocery aisles. However, a smaller and much simpler piece of business technology has been pervasive in the marketplace for nearly three decades.
Price look-up codes (PLUs) are commonplace in nearly every major grocery store across North American and beyond. Since the first implementation of PLUs in 1990, various myths have circulated about how the lay shopper can read these labels to help inform their purchasing decisions. One such myth is that you can tell if a product is GMO by looking at its PLU. That’s simply not true. Unfortunately, in today’s confusing food labeling landscape, it’s hard to tell what’s in your food—and PLUs are not intended to help solve that problem.
That’s where we come in. The Non-GMO Project and thousands of participating brands, work hard to provide shoppers with meaningful non-GMO options, backed by our rigorous Standard. All you have to do is Look for the Butterfly.
Learn more about the facts behind PLUs:
What are PLUs?
Can I tell if a product is GMO or non-GMO from its PLU?
Can I tell if a product is organic from its PLU?
How are PLUs used?
Why are some foods labeled with PLUs while others are not?
Where did PLUs come from?
How are PLUs assigned and governed?
What about other PLU prefixes?
What are PLUs?
PLUs are four or five-digit numbers associated with bulk food items, often appearing on a small sticker applied to pieces of fresh produce or alongside the bins in a store’s bulk section of dried fruit and nuts, for example. PLU codes help grocery workers identify bulk foods based on various attributes including variety, size, and growing method (conventional vs. organic).
The standard four-digit PLU code is randomly assigned within a series of numbers. Five-digit PLUs are equivalent to their four-digit counterpart, with the addition of a prefix number to identify the method by which a product was grown.
No intelligence is built into any single digit of this code, but as a whole, it is used to identify bulk goods in a standardized format that makes grocer data universally comparable.
Can I tell if a product is GMO or non-GMO from its PLU?
No. The standard PLU code, designating a conventionally grown product, is four digits long. Though the IFPS once reserved prefix 8 to identify GMO foods, the prefix was stripped of this designation in July 2015 due to the unwillingness of GMO producers to use the number 8 prefix in a retail setting. IFPS maintains that it will recommission the 8 prefix in the future to accommodate a growing PLU database and assign universal PLUs to new varieties of bulk foods.
Shoppers who want to avoid GMOs can always look for the Non-GMO Project Verified mark to ensure the products they bring home are, in fact, non-GMO.
Can I tell if a product is organic from its PLU?
The standard PLU code, designating a conventionally grown product, is four digits long. The only prefix currently recognized by the IFPS for usage with PLUs is 9, which identifies an organically grown product. So, a product bearing a five-digit PLU code beginning in the number 9 would technically signify that product was organically grown.
If the PLU code for a conventionally grown yellow banana is 4011, an organically grown standard yellow banana would be 94011.
Before you go looking for the number 9, keep in mind that PLU codes are not implemented for shopper use. The IFPS recommends that consumers in search of organic products should always look for the USDA Organic seal on a product and/or consult their store’s produce or bulk section manager for more information.
How are PLUs used?
PLU codes are a simple, yet valuable business tool used in grocery stores to communicate universally recognizable electronic data around the sale of bulk goods. Common applications of PLU data in the marketplace are inventory control, accurate pricing at the register, and tracking of customer purchases. PLUs are not intended to convey information to shoppers.
Why are some foods labeled with PLUs while others are not?
PLU code usage is discretionary based on the grocer’s preference and on practicality. While stickers displaying PLUs are commonplace on fruits like bananas or apples, it’s hard to imagine individual nuts or green beans labeled in this manner. As an alternative to the traditional sticker display method, PLU codes are increasingly included on signage near products or otherwise affixed to them.
Where did PLUs come from?
PLUs were first implemented by grocery retailers in 1990 as a business tool to make check out and inventory control faster, easier, and more accurate.
How are PLUs assigned and governed?
PLUs are not regulated or required by any government, yet labeling bulk items with PLU codes is now commonplace in major grocery stores around the world. In their infancy, PLUs were primarily assigned by retailers and the information they conveyed was not universally agreed upon. In 2001, the International Federation for Produce Coding (IFPC) was founded by a coalition of fruit and vegetable associations with the goal of creating a global standard for the use of PLUs.
In 2006, the IFPC became known as the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS), which fulfills the same mission by assigning universal PLUs to bulk foods and maintaining a database of these items. According to the most recent available data from IFPS, 1,400 standardized PLU codes have been assigned to date.
A select range of PLUs are reserved by IFPS for retailer-assigned use. These are codes maintained in the IFPS’ database exclusively for retailers to use in association with the bulk products carried in their stores that have not been assigned a universal PLU code by the IFPS. Retailers are also welcome to submit applications for new PLU codes to be reviewed by IFPS.
What about other PLU prefixes?
Although PLUs starting with the prefix 6 have been spotted in retail settings, this prefix is not part of IFPS’ internationally recognized, standardized list of PLU codes and the organization does not comment on the use of this or any other unofficial prefix. IFPS recommends that shoppers contact the produce or bulk section manager at their local grocer using these prefixes for more information about their meaning.
Read more about PLU codes and standards from the International Federation for Retail Standards (IFRS)
From CRISPR Babies to Regulatory Loopholes: The New GMO Landscape
Thursday, March 7 from 4:00-5:30 PM
Marriott Platinum Ballroom 3
Join us for a conversation about the state of the non-GMO landscape, including:
- The rise and threat of emerging GMO techniques
- The steps brands are taking to keep GMOs out of consumers shopping baskets
- Consumers’ changing attitudes toward GMOs
- What the USDA’s National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard means for consumers, brands, and retailers
- Megan Westgate, Executive Director, Non-GMO Project
- Abby Cullinan, Consultant, The Hartman Group
- Justin Gold, CEO & Founder, Justin’s
- Nicole Atchison, Chief Technology Officer, PURIS
Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director, Center for Food Safety
Yes, There is Non-GMO Canola!
Our readers write to us almost every day to ask why they saw canola in a Non-GMO Project Verified product. There’s a fairly pervasive misconception that all canola is genetically modified, but this is not true! Non-GMO canola does exist; when you see canola in a product bearing the Butterfly, you can rest assured that it’s non-GMO canola because we test (major) high-risk crops that go into your food.
Canola’s story starts with the rapeseed plant, which is a member of the Brassicaceae family like cabbage, beets, mustard, and turnips. The name of this plant comes from rapum, the Latin word for turnip. While we think of this as a Canadian crop, rapeseed has been a traditional part of Asian cuisines for more than 4,000 years. It did not become widespread in Canada until it was used to make industrial engine lubricant during the Second World War.
In the 1970s, researchers at the University of Manitoba started working to alleviate two potential problems with rapeseed: erucic acid (which has been connected to heart problems) and glucosinolate (which just tastes bitter or pungent). By repeatedly crossing rapeseed plants that were lower and lower in these compounds, scientists used traditional breeding methods to create canola: a rapeseed variety that is very low in erucic acid and glucosinolate. The first canola variety emerged under the name Tower canola in 1974. To be clear, Tower canola was a non-GMO crop. GMOs had not been developed yet!
What’s the difference between hybrid crops and GMOs?
Remember, most GMOs are essentially living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through biotechnology, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. Those traditional crossbreeding methods are exactly how canola was made, by breeding crops over generations without the use of genetic engineering. For about 20 years, all canola was non-GMO canola.
That changed in the mid-1990s when GMOs started to emerge. Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready canola variety became the first commercially available GMO canola in 1997. Like all herbicide-tolerant GMOs, it allows farmers to spray chemical herbicides (in this case, glyphosate) directly onto the plant without harming it. Today, nearly all of the canola grown in Canada and the United States has been genetically modified to be herbicide-tolerant. Herbicide-resistant GMOs are made by the same chemical companies that sell these harmful chemicals. It’s no accident that just three of these chemical companies now control over 60 percent of the world’s entire seed supply.
Read more about patented seeds
These chemical companies still claim that herbicide-tolerant crops reduce chemical herbicide usage, but the USDA’s data shows the opposite is true. In fact, research shows a fifteen-fold increase in glyphosate use alone since the introduction of Roundup-Ready crops. Read this full study to learn more.
Herbicide-tolerant GMOs have also been connected to the rise of herbicide-resistant “superweeds.” Herbicides such as Roundup kill most weeds with each spraying, but the few that survive can pass their resistance on to the next generation of pests. This is becoming a serious problem across the continent—how many herbicide-resistant weeds are there in your state or province? This has, in fact, become such a problem that some farmers are now spraying more pesticides more often, including more potent formulations like Monsanto’s Enlist Duo. This herbicide is made with dicamba and 2,4D—one of the components of Agent Orange.
Read more about pesticide treadmills
Some herbicide-tolerant canola (e.g., Clearfield canola) is the product of a genetic mutation rather than genetic engineering.
Mutations are not inherently bad, they are just changes in a heritable trait. For example, blue eyes started out as a mutation. Mutations occur naturally all the time; they are the basis of natural selection. There are also actions humans can take to force mutations to occur in plants. Crop scientists can use chemicals or radiation to induce random mutations in lots of plants, then pick out the plants with the most desirable traits to keep breeding. This process (sometimes called traditional mutagenesis) does not involve either in vitro nucleic acid techniques or fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, so it is not biotechnology.
However, some processes that result in mutations do involve biotechnology. Oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis (ODM), a type of site-directed mutagenesis or site-specific mutagenesis, is a new genetic engineering technique that uses in vitro methods to create specific mutations at specific points in a DNA sequence. The type of canola that is made with this technique is on the Non-GMO Project’s high-risk list; it is a GMO and it is not permitted in Non-GMO Project Verified products.
Canola is Everywhere in the Grocery Store
Canola is perfect for making processed oil because its seeds have upwards of 40 percent oil content. With most of its glucosinolate (which is what makes mustard and radishes taste so strong) bred out, it has a mild flavor that doesn’t overpower other ingredients. Canola oil is present in many store-bought foods. Once the oil has been extracted, the leftover parts are generally used in animal feed.
If you live in the United States, it’s important to be aware that products containing canola oil may not be labeled as GMOs under the new National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. This law only requires the labeling of products that contain detectable GMO DNA. Canola oil is so refined that it does not always contain enough useable DNA to test it for GMOs. The Non-GMO Project solves this problem by tracing that oil back to its source and testing the canola itself. Remember, you can’t start with a GMO and process it into something that is not the product of biotechnology.
While most canola is genetically modified now, about ten percent of the canola grown in North America is still non-GMO. Show food producers you want more non-GMO canola by choosing Non-GMO Project Verified when you shop. Collectively, we have the power to change the way our food is grown and made.
After a lengthy delay, the USDA published the final National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) in the Federal Register on December 21. This law, which you may have heard called the DARK Act, is the start of mandatory GMO labeling in the United States. It means that some—but not all—products containing GMOs will have to be labeled by 2022.
While the Non-GMO Project supports mandatory labeling, we are disappointed by the content of the final rule. It does not do enough to protect consumers and it does not offer American families the transparency they have been calling for.
Read the full law on the Federal Register
As you know, consumers have been demanding meaningful GMO labeling for more than 20 years. Fifty-four GMO labeling bills landed on ballots in 26 states, and consumers in Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont successfully passed statewide labeling legislation. Unfortunately, the NBFDS took those hard-earned wins away from consumers by rolling back existing state laws and preventing any future state-level GMO labeling.
The Non-GMO Project was founded on the simple idea that everyone has the right to know what is in their food, and we are committed to helping make that right a reality for every shopper. The Project has always supported mandatory labeling legislation and even spearheaded efforts to help the USDA make the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard meaningful and intuitive for all consumers.
Consumers like you have been asking for transparency, campaigning for labeling, and voting for non-GMO options when you shop. Your hard work created the Non-GMO Project and helped bring more than 57,000 Verified non-GMO choices to consumers across North America. The USDA’s final rule is not good enough and we think you deserve better—so let’s continue to stand together in support of meaningful GMO labeling and Verified non-GMO choices.
What is in this new GMO labeling law?
The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law requires some products that contain GMOs to bear a GMO disclosure. Some food products will start to include a disclosure in 2020, but food producers are not required to be in full compliance until 2022.
Unfortunately, this law:
- Exempts most GMO foods that have been processed and refined, which represent the majority of GMO foods. A product can have many different highly refined GMO ingredients and still not be labeled under this law.
- Largely exempts GMO ingredients developed through techniques such as CRISPR or RNAi because many will not contain detectable GMO DNA.
- Mandates the use of the new term bioengineered instead of the familiar “GMO” in disclosures. If you’ve never heard of “bioengineered” food, you are not alone!
- Allows an unreasonably high five percent per ingredient threshold for GMO contamination. For context, the European Union uses a 0.9 percent threshold for most foods—so does the Non-GMO Project.
- Falls behind the rapid introduction of new GMOs by only updating its list of GMO foods once per year.
- Fails to include any technical requirements to ensure that GMO testing is meaningful (e.g., testing method, accreditation of labs, sampling plan requirements.)
- Has no penalty at all for failing to comply with the law. This is in stark contrast to the USDA’s National Organic Program, which levies fines of up to $11,000 per violation.
Some GMO foods will be labeled “bioengineered” or “BE”
It is important to understand that GMO foods won’t say they contain GMOs, they will say they are “bioengineered.” While 97 percent of consumers are familiar with the term GMO, most people do not understand what bioengineered food means. Typically used only as a medical term, “bioengineered” is not even included in the USDA’s Agricultural Biotechnology Glossary, highlighting the fact that it was invented for this purpose. Using intentionally confusing terminology misleads consumers and keeps them in the dark.
It is clear that using “bioengineered” instead of “GMO” or “genetically engineered” is an attempt to distance labeled products from the overwhelming consumer rejection of GMO foods. This is unacceptable and the Non-GMO Project feels it shows a great disregard for the American public. Unfortunately, the labeling confusion does not end there. The NBFDS does not even require products that need a BE disclosure to have a plain-text label. Consumers will need to scan QR codes, visit websites, send text messages, or make telephone calls while shopping in order to find out if some of their food contains GMOs.
The good news in the face of this disappointing law is that the Non-GMO Project’s mission is unchanged. We are still committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. A product without a bioengineered disclosure could still contain GMOs, but the Non-GMO Project Verified mark always means a product is compliant with North America’s most trusted and most rigorous Standard for GMO avoidance. You have the right to know what is in your food—without needing to memorize regulatory loopholes or jump through hoops in the grocery store.
Do you have questions about the NBFDS? Post them in the comments below or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read part two of this blog
It has come to the Non-GMO Project’s attention that a producer of soy and soybean oil (Calyxt) is entering into contracts to sell a new high-oleic acid soybean variety developed with the gene editing technique TALEN. Though this TALEN soy variety does not contain transgenes in the finished product, it was developed using biotechnology and is therefore a GMO. Products made with this soy are not eligible for Verification under the Non-GMO Project Standard. The Project will be ensuring compliance through legally-binding affidavits.
The Project's definition of GMO aligns with the one used by Codex Alimentarius, which is the most authoritative international definition for biotechnology. This definition encompasses new techniques such as gene-editing and aligns with a recent ruling by the highest court in the European Union that the products of such techniques are GMOs and are subject to the EU GMO Directive.
As products of biotechnology continue to enter the market at an accelerated rate and with virtually no regulation, the Non-GMO Project will continue to lead the way in addressing the supply chain risks from new GMOs and preserving non-GMO choices for the public.
Non-GMO Project addresses supply chain risks caused by new techniques like CRISPR and RNAi
Contact: Kristin Wheeler
Phone: 360.255.7704 x131
BELLINGHAM, WA—October 31—The potato has been added to the High-Risk list of the Non-GMO Project Standard because a GMO potato variety is now “widely commercially available” in the United States. To determine when a crop needs to be moved from the Monitored-Risk list to the High-Risk list, the Project uses an established set of criteria related to the likelihood of GMO contamination in the conventional and non-GMO supply chain. As a result of today’s move, products made with potato will now be subject to extra scrutiny before they can become Non-GMO Project Verified.
On the market since 2015, the GMO potato developed by J.R. Simplot has been engineered through a method of gene silencing called RNA interference (RNAi). This genetic engineering technique results in a potato that hides the symptoms of blackspot bruising. Currently, GMO potatoes are being marketed under the Simplot Innate brand, found under the trademark White Russet.
“Browning is nature’s most visible way of letting you know a product is rotting. GMOs that use RNAi to mask the signs of bruising could lead consumers to unknowingly ingest an unhealthy, toxic product,” says Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project.
The Non-GMO Project also announced today that a new variety of soy, produced with a type of gene editing called TALEN, has been added to its High-Risk list. Developments in biotechnology are happening so fast that the Non-GMO Project now has two full-time research staff dedicated to monitoring.
“The supply chain risks we’re now seeing from new GMOs are unprecedented in the decade we’ve been verifying products,” according to Westgate. “Not only are new GE techniques being used, but in some cases biotechnology companies are using unscientific arguments to deceive the public into thinking their products are non-GMO.”
The Non-GMO Project holds a firm position that anything produced with genetic engineering, like RNAi, TALEN or CRISPR, is a GMO. Although unpopular with biotechnology companies, this position aligns with a July 2018 ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union, which determined that these new GMOs are subject to regulation under the EU’s GMO Directive.
“Our research team continually monitors approximately 250 companies involved in genetic engineering—not only how the techniques are evolving, but also what specific products are being created and how they are impacting the supply chain,” said Westgate.
The Non-GMO Project is committed to ensuring that everyone has the information needed to make an informed choice in order to avoid all types of GMOs. As the gold standard for shoppers looking to avoid GMOs, the Non-GMO Project will continue to lead the way in addressing the risks posed by new GMOs.
For more information view the Frequently Asked Questions.
ABOUT THE NON-GMO PROJECT
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.
The right to know what’s in your food continues to ring true with consumers. According to the Hartman Organic and Natural Report 2018 consumer awareness of GMOs is almost universal at 97%. The growth in consumer awareness also aligns with an increasing amount of consumers seeking to avoid GMOs. Hartman reports that 46% of shoppers deliberately avoid GMOs when shopping.
This finding aligns with the continued growth of sales of Non-GMO Project Verified products which is now estimated to be at $26 billion. Hartman noted that 36% of shoppers say that they are buying more non-GMO products in comparison to a year ago and that of the consumers seeking to avoid GMOs 42% seek out Non-GMO Project Verified products.
As North America’s most rigorous standard for GMO avoidance, the work of the Non-GMO Project is more important than ever. Shoppers are looking for meaningful GMO transparency. In a rapidly changing regulatory and technological landscape the Non-GMO Project is working closely with brands to provide them the insights they need to navigate many of these unknowns. Through collaboration with brands and retailers, the Non-GMO Project is fulfilling its mission of building and protecting the non-GMO food supply.
According to Hartman consumers prioritize fresh, clean, and real foods when shopping. They have an inherent mistrust of what is being done to their food and are concerned about the potential ramifications for their health and for our environment. The Non-GMO Project’s butterfly provides transparency, meaningfulness, and trust, both for the shopper and for the brand with Verified products.
Read what consumers are saying about GMOs:
When we launched the first Non-GMO Month in October 2010, our intention was to start an annual month-long celebration to educate the public and spotlight Non-GMO Project Verified choices on shelves. Now in its seventh year, Non-GMO Month has more than quadrupled in size. Nearly 2,400 retailers have registered in 2016 to support the Non-GMO Project’s mission of preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers and providing verified non-GMO choices.
Thousands of brands and retailers across North America are helping the Butterfly land on dinner tables every day. Each autumn, we come together for 31 days to spotlight our expanding non-GMO future. We have a lot to celebrate this October: the Non-GMO Project Verified product count has soared past 40,000, the number of brands offering Verified products has climbed beyond 2,700, and the ever-increasing number of retailers offering those foods means more non-GMO choices for more people. The annual sales of Non-GMO Project Verified products are approaching $20 billion, and this success has helped drive the first-ever decrease in genetically modified crop acreage since GMO agriculture was introduced two decades ago. Thanks to your help, the Butterfly is flying high across North America!
To kick off this year’s Non-GMO Month, we hosted a special real-time event for our 1.2 million social media followers. Watch our Facebook Live video broadcast from the Community Food Co-op here in Bellingham, one of our local and long-time supporting retailers. In the video, I showcase a Non-GMO Month endcap and share tools and tips on how to make Non-GMO Month a success for your community. To help inspire your network of friends, family and fellow shoppers, please share our blog on your social media outlets: Ten ways you can get involved with Non-GMO Month 2016. Help us celebrate our biggest Non-GMO Month event yet!
Non-GMO Project Executive Director