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.
Zucchini, a delicious type of summer squash, is one of the lesser-known GMO risk crops. It is almost exclusively grown in the United States. There are only about 2,500 acres of GMO zucchini—that's ten small family farms worth. While there are well over 200 different varieties of GMO corn, there are only two known GMO squash events.
Despite its comparative lack of prevalence, GMO zucchini is widely commercially available in both Canada and the United States. This makes it a high-risk crop under the Non-GMO Project Standard, meaning zucchini and products containing zucchini are subject to particularly stringent requirements—including testing for GMO DNA—before they can become Non-GMO Project Verified.
Zucchini and Mosaic Viruses
While most GMOs are meant to tolerate an herbicide or produce an insecticide, GMO squash is meant to be resistant to certain types of viruses. Zucchini yellow mosaic virus is the most prevalent of these. This virus is transmitted primarily by aphids and causes infected plants to grow small, unhealthy fruit. It is closely related to the ringspot disease in papayas.
As it turns out, these genetic modifications do not do much to protect this summer squash from viruses. GMO zucchini only mitigates mosaic viruses; the plants still get infected and symptoms, albeit less severe symptoms, still appear. Additionally, zucchini remains vulnerable to several other types of viruses that GMOs offer no protection against. Once again, the world's largest chemical companies have failed to deliver on their promises to farmers.
It's not surprising that GMO zucchini is not in high demand. Farmers still need to use proper pest-management techniques in conjunction with their virus-resistant crops. This usually means deterring aphids by removing the weeds that host them and introducing natural predators such as ladybugs. It also means planting barrier crops that appeal to aphids. These techniques are just part of a healthy and biodiverse agricultural system to which GMOs are adding nothing but risk. We don't need GMOs to solve our food system challenges, but we do need effective farming practices! You can help support the farmers who work hard to grow non-GMO zucchini and summer squash by choosing Non-GMO Project Verified squash.
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.