Did you know plant-based foods are one of the fastest-growing grocery categories? Shoppers are picking more plant-based options than ever before. As the plant-based category grows, so does biotechnology's interest in it.
Traditional, transgenic GMOs — including herbicide tolerant soybeans and corn engineered to create its own pesticide — have threatened the plant-based movement since they first entered the market in the 1990s. More recently, ingredients made through new GMO techniques such as gene editing and synthetic biology are popping up in some plant-based options — this infographic will show you where.
But, there is hope! For each product made with new GMOs, there is a wealth of non-GMO and organic options. The Non-GMO Project is proud to partner with more than 300 brands with Verified plant-based options.
Here are just a few of the companies embracing non-GMO innovation to make delicious and natural plant-based products. Enjoy!
Mouthwatering meat alternatives
Seattle-based Field Roast has been making delicious plant-based "loaves" since 1997, proving that plant-based products don't follow trends, they start them. Field Roast even journeyed into the natural habitat of some of America's most passionate hot dog consumers: stadiums and ballparks.
Good Catch offers a fresh plant-based take on seafood. The company's goal? To raise awareness of overfishing and reduce pressure on the world's oceans while delivering delicious plant-based options. In a few short years, their product range has grown to include crab cakes, salmon, tuna, fish sticks and fish burgers — all crafted from a magic blend of six different types of legumes.
Delectable Dairy Replacements
For the perfect addition to your morning coffee or cereal, Califia Farms has a plant-based option for every dairy need. From take-home plant-based milks and creamers to barista-ready blends that froth just like the real thing. There's even a range of creams suitable for cooking, to keep your favorite recipes animal-free.
Misha’s Kind Foods makes real cheeses and spreads "in the traditional way — just without the dairy." This Black-owned company is backed by some serious star power. Jay-Z and Chris Paul are both investors and Lizzo brought one of her favorite recipes made with Misha's ricotta to her 25.3 million Tik Tok followers.
Puris is a family-owned company in search of the perfect protein. Through cutting edge non-GMO crop genetics, Puris has developed high-yield, disease-resistance legumes and pulses — and a compelling vision for the future. They take great pride in working with farmers to ensure regenerative farming doesn't cost the farm or the earth.
…and for dessert?
For scrumptious sweets and tasty treats without animal-derived ingredients or GMOs, Divvies goes the extra mile, providing desserts free from major allergens such as peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and dairy. The company's name reflects their philosophy of creating a product for everyone to enjoy and share. From the frozen foods aisle, Nada Moo dairy-free ice cream is made with organic coconut milk. It's Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free, vegan and fair trade certified. Nada Moo is also a certified B Corp, proudly considering the impacts of all their business decisions on people, communities and the environment.
The original plant-based foods are, of course, plants. For thousands of years, humans have been enjoying fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, legumes and nuts, and combining them to create plant-based milks and patties. The brands highlighted here are some of the latest innovations in the plant-based space — but there are many more to explore. Visit our Verified Product listings to find more excellent plant-based options, and stay tuned for more planet-friendly plant-based foods!
Throughout September, we're celebrating the growing popularity of plant-based foods and the non-GMO innovation driving it. To help you keep GMOs out of your shopping cart, we're also shining a light on how genetic engineering shows up in this fast-growing food category.
Last week, we explored the rise of new GMOs in the plant-based space — you can read the blog here or explore this handy infographic.
In case you missed it, here's a quick refresher: New GMOs differ from traditional GMOs because they rely on emerging techniques such as CRISPR gene editing or synthetic biology. New GMOs can take many forms, including flavors, colorants, proteins, genetically engineered animals, etc. Traditional GMOs — sometimes described as "transgenic" because they combine genes from different taxonomic families — are made up of a handful of commodity crops engineered to withstand herbicide applications or to produce their own insecticide. Think soy, corn, canola and sugar beets. While the list of traditional, transgenic GMOs is relatively short, ingredients made from them are used in up to 75% of the products on grocery store shelves.
Traditional GMOs can show up in plant-based products, too. You can protect your right to choose by knowing what to look out for. When in doubt, look for the Butterfly!
Recipes calling for plant-based protein often use soybeans. Soy is a protein powerhouse in the plant-based world. It was also one of the first GMO crops in the United States.
Soy was the base ingredient for some of the first non-dairy milk alternatives. These days, soy milk shares shelf space with other popular plant-based milk products made from rice, oats, almonds and more. Soy is also the cornerstone of several meat alternatives, including tofu, tempeh and veggie burgers.
Today, at least 94% of soy is genetically modified to withstand multiple applications of weedkillers, produce an insecticide, or both.
A corn-ucopia of GMOs
More than 91 million acres of farmland are planted with corn in the United States. Most of that corn ends up in livestock feed or biofuel, while the remainder is processed for food manufacturing or used in industrial applications.
At the grocery store, corn and corn by-products are incredibly common. Corn can be the main ingredient, sweetener, starch, texturizer, or some other additive. A 2015 article in the Washington Post reported that corn is present in nearly every product in the grocery store. With 92% of corn genetically modified, the vast majority of those corn-derived starches, sweeteners and additives used on unverified products — or non-Non-GMO Project Verified products — come from GMOs.
Added oils and sweeteners
Oils and sugars are common in many processed foods, including plant-based options. Depending on what crops they're made from, they might be GMOs.
For example, canola oil is a widely available plant-based oil made from rapeseed. Canola oil is a common ingredient in prepared foods, including meat analogs and snacks, and some brands of vegan mayonnaise list canola oil as the first ingredient on the label. At least 95% of the rapeseed grown in the U.S. is genetically modified.
Sweeteners come in many forms. Genetically modified forms can include corn, which is processed into one of the most common sweeteners in food manufacturing — high-fructose corn syrup. Sugar also comes from sugar beets — and nearly all sugar beets grown in the States are genetically modified. GMO sugar cane is a recent development that's being cultivated in Brazil, and making its way through American regulatory systems. Sweeteners can appear in plant-based milk products, creamers, yogurts, processed foods and sweet products such as snacks and desserts.
At the Non-GMO Project, we often discuss new and traditional GMOs as two distinct categories determined by the technology that produced them. To be clear, both new and traditional techniques result in GMOs; they just go about it in unique ways which can impact their testing, labeling and regulation.
As the biotechnology industry continues its explosive expansion, we'll see more GMOs enter the market and more techniques developed to create them. And as our appetite for plant-based products continues to grow, our work protecting natural ingredients and non-GMO innovation in this space becomes more important than ever.
Stay tuned throughout September as we explore the products, ingredients and people driving the plant-based movement!
Eaters are choosing plant-based options more often than they ever have before. Their choices are motivated by health and climate concerns, affordability, animal welfare and more.
To meet the demand, hundreds of Non-GMO Project partner brands create Verified plant-based products using natural innovations. These are companies that turn to non-GMO or organic ingredients to emulate the plant-based movement's origins in social justice and the natural foods industry. However, other brands rely on new GMO techniques to make their plant-based options, despite widespread consumer rejection of genetically engineered food and ingredients.
There's a lot we don't know about new GMOs, and it's critical to ask the tough questions about something as important as our food supply. Are new GMOs safe for human consumption? Are products made with them labeled as bioengineered food? And, are products that are genetically engineered to be "nature identical" still vegan?
We'll explore these tough questions below, and this infographic will bring you up to date on where new GMOs appear in plant-based foods. Remember, the best way to avoid GMOs is to look for the Butterfly!
Are ingredients made through synthetic biology techniques safe?
Synthetic biology, or synbio, is a genetic engineering technique that uses genetically modified microorganisms such as yeast, bacteria or algae to produce a range of compounds used in manufacturing food and other products. Synbio ingredients appear as flavorings, colorants, proteins, fats, and other additives. They can mimic naturally-occurring compounds, but they are still novel ingredients. Without long-term, independent feeding studies, there's no way to know the ultimate health impacts.
Also, some people adopt a plant-based lifestyle for health reasons. However, when biotechnology is used to create a product virtually identical to its animal-derived counterpart, are the health concerns that drove the change in diet — for example, avoiding allergens or saturated fats — re-introduced?
Are "nature identical" GMO-derived plant-based foods vegan?
Biotech-friendly brands operating in the plant-based space are using genetic engineering to fool your taste buds into thinking you're eating animal-derived foods. Their marketing efforts frequently target vegans. For example, Perfect Day's synbio non-animal dairy proteins are used in a range of ice creams, cheese spreads, and prepared desserts — many advertised as vegan alternatives. However, the product's origin story might not meet strict vegan standards.
Synbio uses genetically modified microbes to produce novel compounds — in this case, non-animal dairy proteins. The "instructions" for those microbes come from a digitized copy of a cow gene. That information is available from an open source database, but the genome mapping is based on an actual tissue sample from a cow. A strict definition of veganism excludes products that rely on animals anywhere along the development or production timeline.
Do plant-based foods made with new GMOs require a bioengineered food label?
At the Non-GMO Project, we support transparency in the food system — our organization was formed in part to educate the public and empower shoppers to make the best decisions for themselves. We also believe Americans deserve more transparency than the USDA's Bioengineered food labeling law provides. The law includes exemptions and limitations that mean many products made with new GMOs are not labeled. The confusion compromises your right to choose whether or not to consume GMOs.
As biotechnology evolves and new techniques gain popularity, GMOs are becoming harder to spot. Because looking for the Butterfly is the best way to avoid GMOs, our work protecting and building the non-GMO food supply is more important than ever.
Join us for our month-long plant-based campaign in September. We'll uncover the new GMOs that are showing up in plant-based foods and beyond, and we'll celebrate the innovative ways our partner brands keep your favorite plant-based options naturally non-GMO.
Here comes the school year! And with it, the creative challenge of what to put in your kids' lunchboxes. Day after day. For the next 10 months, give or take. It's no wonder many caregivers struggle to come up with fresh combos of healthy, tasty meals that travel well without refrigeration.
We've got some fresh ideas and product recommendations to get you started.
Plant-based ideas for back to school
With several initiatives supporting vegan and plant-based choices, it's the perfect time to explore lunchbox options without the usual animal-derived products. For example, the Non-GMO Project is running a September campaign celebrating non-GMO innovations in plant-based foods. We'll outline best practices to avoid GMOs popping up in this category all month — follow our social media channels for handy infographics and future articles!
Meanwhile, the good folks behind Veganuary are in the midst of a back-to-school campaign. They're presenting a wealth of ideas and recipes through the Vegan School Lunch Challenge website to anyone who's curious about plant-based or just plain hungry.
Guaranteed access to plant-based options in schools has never been more critical. Dairy milk has been a staple of school meals for decades — much to the distress of the many lactose-intolerant kids who receive it. Did you know the ability to comfortably consume dairy is essentially a genetic quirk, common among people with northern European ancestry but rare in communities of color? VegNews recently reported that "up to 80 percent of Black and Latinx people, up to 95 percent of Asian people, and more than 80 percent of Indigenous Americans cannot digest lactose." With health and educational impacts disproportionately impacting children of color, plant-based options are necessary for all school cafeterias.
To build out a plant-based main course, choose from these Non-GMO Project Verified sidekicks.
Sweet treats and salty snacks
The best snacks are both good for your child and tasty enough that they don't get traded away at recess. That's precisely the problem that motivated 180 Snacks founder to launch their own line of wholesome squares and bars. High-energy and high-nutrition tree nuts are combined with dried fruit, seeds and rice for just the right amount of sweetness and crunch. 180 Snacks products are Non-GMO Verified and free from peanuts, gluten and dairy to keep them classroom-friendly and shareable.
For a savory snack, there's a seaweed option your kid will love just as much as chips! SeaSnax Grab n Go Packs boast a delightfully spare ingredient list: Organic seaweed, organic extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. That's it. The only problem is that SeaSnax products are so addictive, they might disappear before school starts.
Choosing a dessert treat is pretty easy in late summer when fresh seasonal fruits are still available. However, once fall settles in and those options become harder to find, that's when YumEarth shines. YumEarth prides itself on using non-GMO ingredients for their allergy-friendly fruit snacks and candy — which means these treats are always welcome in the classroom.
What do you look for in a lunchbox beverage? The Non-GMO Project staff generally prioritize juices with no added sugars. We also (unsurprisingly) look for the Butterfly to ensure the apple juice that's added to many juice formulas comes from non-GMO apples. As always, a combination of Non-GMO Project Verified and Certified Organic is considered the gold standard for clean foods.
We recommend Apple & Eve juice boxes, available in non-GMO and organic lines. Canadian shoppers have another option, Kiju organic juice. From classic apple to antioxidant-rich pomegranate-cherry, Kiju celebrates the many benefits of non-GMO and organic products — better for you, better for farmers and better for the planet!
Whether your child is trying out Meatless Monday or following a vegetarian lifestyle, you'll find a range of Non-GMO Project Verified options on our website. Plant-based options are growing in popularity — recent initiatives in Illinois, New York and California have expanded access to plant-based foods in school lunches. However, the rise of plant-based means we're also seeing a surge in GMO ingredients made from new genetic engineering techniques. Looking for the Butterfly when sourcing plant-based options for the whole family is more important than ever.
Together, we can protect the legacy of the plant-based movement, encouraging innovation while keeping it true to its roots.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks to learn what the evolution of plant-based means for you!