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 Newest Non-GMO Project Standard is Out Now!
You already know that the Non-GMO Project is a nonprofit organization committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. We believe everyone has a right to know what is in their food and deserves access to non-GMO choices and we work hard to give families the power to change the way their food is grown and made just by making informed choices in the grocery store.
Efficient supply chain transformation requires consistent, uniform standards. That’s why we created our Product Verification Program and the Non-GMO Project Standard. The Standard sets the rules for what it means to be non-GMO and what it takes to get Non-GMO Project Verified. Every product is subject to the same set of rules and products must meet all of the compliance requirements laid out in this document in order to use our butterfly mark. These requirements center on three foundational ideas: testing, affidavits, and segregation.
Testing: Major, testable, high-risk inputs need to be tested in a lab before they can become part of a Non-GMO Project Verified product. These tests are usually quantitative. Not only can they tell whether there is GMO DNA in a sample, but these tests can also tell exactly how much contamination occurred.
Affidavits: There are some GMOs that laboratories can’t test for yet. When testing is not a feasible way to prove something is non-GMO, the Project uses a process-based approach that includes comprehensive affidavits as an alternate validation tool.
Segregation: Non-GMO inputs need to be kept completely separate from GMOs all the way through the supply chain in order to prevent commingling. This means food producers need to have systems in place for cleaning out equipment and keeping non-GMO inputs pristine.
Why Does the Non-GMO Project Standard Change?
The Non-GMO Project Standard is a living document. It changes biennially in order to remain current and address new threats to the supply chain. As new types of GMOs emerge, we update the Standard and its High-Risk List to make sure we are positioned to protect our food supply most effectively. For example, Version 15 tightens up rules for products that are derived from microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria. Genetically modified microorganisms are common, and new types of them are entering the food supply all the time. The Non-GMO Project Standard changes to stay ahead of emerging GMOs like these.
The Standard must be both meaningful and achievable in order to effectively build a non-GMO food supply. If it were too easy to get Verified, the supply chain wouldn’t be forced to change enough. If it were impossible to meet our Standard, then no products would get Verified and suppliers would have very little incentive to switch to non-GMO sources. Revising the Standard helps the Non-GMO Project make sure that this delicate balance is always achieved.
Regular updates also allow the Standard to be as collaborative as possible. We couldn’t have made North America’s most rigorous Standard for GMO avoidance in a vacuum—we needed input from farmers, food producers, legislators, brand partners, technical experts, and shoppers. You can help too! We always want to know what you think about the Non-GMO Project Standard. The more specific your feedback is, the more helpful it is. Submit a comment online any time.
The Same Butterfly You Know and Trust Just Got a Little Bit More Rigorous.
The Butterfly won’t look any different when you see it on your favorite products, but now you can rest assured that North America’s most trusted label for GMO avoidance is even better. The Non-GMO Project Standard is available online for free. You can read it in its entirety anytime you want! You can also check out the new Summary of Changes to find out what’s different this time around.
Have questions about the Non-GMO Project Standard? Post them in the comments!
The updated Non-GMO Project Standard offers North America’s most meaningful system for GMO avoidance
Contact: Hans Eisenbeis
Phone: 360-255-7704 x107
Bellingham, WA—July 26, 2019—The Non-GMO Project published the fifteenth version of the Non-GMO Project Standard today. The most rigorous standard of its kind, the Non-GMO Project Standard is a consensus-based document crafted with insight from dozens of industry experts, reflecting a dynamic range of perspectives. As new GMOs continue to enter the supply chain at an increased rate, the Non-GMO Project Standard remains current through a robust biennial revision process.
The Non-GMO Project Standard v15 was created with broad stakeholder input gathered across three public comment periods. Commenters submitted feedback on critical topics, notably including proposed changes to the compliance requirements for livestock and poultry feed rations as well as proposed changes to the testing and affidavit sections. Accordingly, Standard v15 includes updated requirements for feed rations, sampling and testing, affidavits, inputs derived from microorganisms, and overall product evaluations. Version 15 also features improved organization and numbering, making it the most accessible Standard yet.
“Maintaining a balance between meaningfulness and achievability is a complex process that requires input from a wide range of industry partners,” said Non-GMO Project Executive Director Megan Westgate. “The newest Standard includes improved specifications for affidavit pathways, which complement the comprehensive testing requirements.”
The board-appointed Standards Committee addressed all comments from stakeholders and proposed changes to the Standard. The Non-GMO Project then held two further open comment periods to allow for comments on proposed revisions. “The Non-GMO Project is fully committed to equity and transparency throughout the revision process,” Westgate said. “We want to ensure the Standard is as collaborative as possible.”
As products of new genetic engineering techniques begin to enter the supply chain, the Non-GMO Project will continue to update the Standard to efficiently preserve and build sources of non-GMO products. The updated Standard, Information about the Standard revision process, and an outline of changes from v14.3 to v15 can be found on the Non-GMO Project website.
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.
About the Non-GMO Project Standard
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. This important work is largely accomplished through our Product Verification Program, the foundation of North America’s most trusted and meaningful label for GMO avoidance.
Consumers trust our label because it is a third-party verification program backed by the most rigorous Standard for GMO avoidance. If you’d like to help make the Standard even stronger, you can get involved by giving us your feedback during the public comment period—it is open now!
What is the Non-GMO Project Standard?
The Non-GMO Project Standard sets the ground rules for the Product Verification Program and lays out requirements for achieving verification. It controls what can be verified under the program, which inputs must be tested and when, the action thresholds for demonstrating compliance of tested material, and requirements for protecting the identity and integrity of products in the program. To this end, the Standard was crafted with the insight and expertise of stakeholders who present a diverse range of perspectives. The Non-GMO Project continues to include a wide range of viewpoints by reviewing public comments at set intervals.
Help Make the Non-GMO Project Standard Version 15 Our Most Meaningful and Rigorous Standard Yet
Biennial revisions help keep the Non-GMO Project Standard rigorous, current, and collaborative. Prior to each revision, an initial public comment period is held for 60 days beginning in April of even years. Comments are submitted online during the public comment period. However, we welcome feedback via email at any time.
The Standards Committee will conduct an in-depth review of comments after the close of the first comment period and use the submissions to inform their decision making over the span of several meetings. The committee will then propose changes to the Standard, which will be published as a redline for a second round of public comments specific to those changes. After the second round, the Standards Committee will review comments again and create a new proposed version of the Standard.
From there, the Standard goes to the Non-GMO Project Board of Directors for final ratification. While the Board has the final decision-making authority, achieving a full consensus between the Board and the Standards Committee is always a priority.
We Want to Know What You Think
At the Non-GMO Project, we believe that consumers hold the power to collectively change the way our food is grown and made. We encourage you to vote with your dollars every day; now we encourage you to make your voice heard during the public comment period.
- Learn more about the revision process in this infographic
- Check out the Non-GMO Project Standard version 14.3 before you comment! Be specific—what changes are you suggesting?
- Inform yourself—read up on the Terms of Reference.
- Support your claims by submitting well-researched comments.
- Share your story. How will the proposed changes impact you?
- Constructive comments, whether in agreement or disagreement, are the most effective.
- The public comment period is open—submit your feedback now!
The USDA issued its final rule for the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) today, to be published in the Federal Register on December 21, 2018. The Non-GMO Project is disappointed by the content of the final rule, which jeopardizes GMO transparency for Americans. The NBFDS demonstrates that only the Non-GMO Project provides the transparent labeling consumers have been demanding for more than 20 years.
In its current form, categorical exemptions prevent this law from delivering the meaningful protections Americans deserve. Highly processed ingredients, many products of new genetic engineering techniques such as CRISPR and TALEN, and many meat and dairy products will not require disclosure. Animal feed is not covered by this law; meat, eggs, and dairy from animals fed a GMO diet will not require a disclosure. Overall, many products containing GMOs will not be labeled, meaning that the absence of a bioengineered (BE) disclosure does not mean a product is non-GMO. In light of these developments, the Non-GMO Project will continue to listen to consumers and provide North America’s most rigorous label for GMO avoidance.
Despite these shortcomings, the law will permit voluntary non-GMO claims such as Non-GMO Project Verified. The final law explicitly states that Non-GMO Project participants are not expected to incur costs in association with this law according to a previously conducted regulatory impact analysis. This further suggests that Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program materials fulfill the necessary requirements to avoid disclosure.
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 every shopper make that right a reality. Based on the final rule released today, Non-GMO Project Verified will remain the most trustworthy and accessible way for consumers to avoid GMOs. The USDA’s final rule is not good enough and we believe consumers deserve better—the Non-GMO Project is committed to providing transparent labeling and meaningful non-GMO choices to all Americans.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS)?
The NBFDS is a federal rule published on December 21, 2018 that requires mandatory disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients in certain foods. The rule uses a very narrow definition of “bioengineered,” which exempts many ingredients that consumers widely consider to be GMOs. For example, under the rule, a cooking oil made from GMO canola is not considered “bioengineered,” and is therefore exempt from labeling, simply because the finished product isn’t testable.
How is the NBFDS perceived by the public?
Consumer groups have largely rejected the rule as insufficiently meaningful and transparent. Commonly cited concerns include the narrow definition of bioengineered food, the allowance of inaccessible disclosure methods (such as QR codes), and the use of opaque terminology.
Are Non-GMO Project Verified Products automatically exempt from the NBFDS?
While Non-GMO Project Verified products are not automatically exempt, the Non-GMO Project is confident that Verified products will meet and exceed the requirements for compliance with the NBFDS. In its commentary on the final rule, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) states that “USDA has tried to minimize the impact the NBFDS will have on...voluntary absence claims.”
Will the NBFDS generate expenses for my Non-GMO Project Verified products?
The final rule explicitly states that Non-GMO Project participants are not expected to incur costs in association with this law according to a previously conducted regulatory impact analysis. Thus, it appears that the rule has been drafted with the intention that documentation related to Non-GMO Project Product Verification will fulfill the necessary requirements to avoid disclosure.
How do I tell if the NBFDS applies to my products?
Applicability rules are very complicated, especially for products that contain meat or eggs. Please review sections B and C under Applicability for full details.
- Examples of products the NBFDS applies to: Human food, chewing gum, vitamins and supplements, some wine and beer, and enzymes.
- Examples of products the NBFDS does not apply to: Meat, eggs, multi-ingredient food with meat or egg as the first ingredient, prepared food, pet food, animal feed, GMO-derived products without intact DNA, untestable GMOs, distilled spirits, some wine and beer, and non-food items.
Will products of new genetic engineering techniques such as CRISPR or TALEN require a disclosure?
The NBFDS limits its definition of bioengineering to recombinant techniques that result in detectable modified material in the finished food. It appears unlikely that products of techniques like gene editing would be subject to disclosure under NBFDS, but the final rule is not explicitly clear.
Is there an exemption for my small food manufacturing business?
Very small food manufacturers, defined as those with annual receipts of less than $2.5 million, are exempt from the NBFDS. Such manufacturers may choose to make a voluntary disclosure if desired.
What is the penalty for failing to comply with the NBFDS?
The NBFDS does not provide for civil penalties such as fines. If a problem is discovered during an audit, regulated entities have the opportunity to have a hearing. The AMS can publish the results of an audit after such a hearing.
Will the Non-GMO Project help my brand demonstrate compliance to the AMS?
Individual brands will be responsible for submitting documentation to AMS if they are audited. It appears that the law has been drafted with the intention that documentation related to Non-GMO Project Product Verification materials will fulfill the necessary requirements to avoid disclosure.
If one of my products has a BE disclosure and another is Non-GMO Project Verified, can I advertise them together?
This is currently permitted as long as the Non-GMO Project Verified mark is only used in association with Verified products and/or the advertisement contains a disclaimer as to which product(s) are Non-GMO Project Verified. As a reminder, all marketing materials utilizing our trademarks must be sent to our marketing department for review and approval. If the advertisement needs to be altered in any way, our marketing team will let you know.
Can I write “Non-BE” or “Not bioengineered” on my Non-GMO Project Verified products?
No, this type of language is not permitted on Non-GMO Project Verified products or related marketing materials. The NBFDS states “the focus of the NBFDS is on BE claims and not on absence claims.” Non-GMO Project participants do not need to make claims using the AMS' confusing language because their Verified products already communicate a higher-level commitment to GMO transparency. The Non-GMO Project Verified mark means a product is compliant with North America’s most trusted and rigorous Standard for GMO avoidance—a significantly more meaningful designation than “non-BE” or similar.
When do my products need to be in compliance with the NBFDS?
Implementation begins January 1, 2020; some companies will choose to start using a BE disclosure at this time. Mandatory compliance takes effect on January 1, 2022. All applicable food products must bear a bioengineered disclosure by this date.
Why should I remain in the Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program if the United States government is labeling bioengineered ingredients?
Non-GMO Project Verified remains the most technically rigorous and the most trusted label for GMO avoidance. The USDA’s law does not cover most refined ingredients, products of new genetic engineering techniques, meat products, pet food, animal feed, or personal care items. The consumers who care about true ingredient transparency will continue to look for the Non-GMO Project Verified seal.
According to Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumer Reports, “The overwhelming majority of consumers want genetically engineered food to be clearly labeled, but this rule fails to give consumers the information they deserve. Consumers can, however, rely on labels such as ‘Non-GMO Project Verified’ which will tell them if a food does not contain GMO ingredients.”
We are grateful for your commitment to providing consumers with the highest quality third-party verification for non-GMO food and products. Together, we will keep working to provide consumers with a meaningful way to know what is in their food.
The Non-GMO Project’s biennial public comment periods are foundational to our third-party integrity and fulfillment of our nonprofit mission.
From August 20th through October 18th, 2018, public comment is being accepted on changes made in response to comments submitted during round one of the 2018 comment period, which was held from April 16th through June 14th, 2018.
The intention of the second round of comment is to alert stakeholders to potential changes to the Standard, allowing an opportunity for further input that informs the Standards Committee’s and Board’s final decision. A new version of the Standard is generally ratified following the second comment period. However, for the 2018 revision, we have determined that, as allowed for by the Project’s Terms of Reference , we will hold a third round of comment prior to ratification.
The primary reason for a third comment period is the significance of potential changes to section 8.1, Livestock and Poultry. At this time, the Standards Committee has determined that additional information and input must be collected prior to being ready to propose final changes. Comments submitted during round 2 (between now and October 18th, 2018) will therefore be incorporated into a new redline version of the Standard, which will be presented for additional public comment in January of 2019.
During round 2, public comment is accepted on all proposed changes and questions. In addition, the Standards Committee is seeking specific input in several areas. Please see below for a list of linked forms with which to submit your comment. You are encouraged to comment in any and all areas.
Livestock and Poultry
Includes questions on annual averaging for feed Action Threshold, Dry Matter vs. As-Fed, Exempt Minors in feed rations and High-Moisture crops.
Sampling and Testing
Includes questions on annual averaging for feed Action Threshold, 6-month averaging on Action Threshold for some inputs and Limit of Detection for qualitative PCR.
Includes questions on the Made With claim, and blending as a corrective action.
To submit comments on any other proposed changes, please use the General Comments form.
Biennial revisions help keep the Non-GMO Project Standard rigorous, current, and collaborative. Learn more about the Standard revision process! View the full version of this infographic.
The Non-GMO Project seal has been compliant with FSIS standards since June 2013.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has announced new compliance guidance on “how companies can make label or labeling claims concerning the fact that bioengineered or genetically modified (GM) ingredients or animal feed were not used in the production of meat, poultry, or egg products.”
For brands seeking the Butterfly seal or those who already have Verified products, this new guidance does not impact Non-GMO Project Verification. The Non-GMO Project seal was first approved by FSIS in 2013, and that approval remains in effect.
The Non-GMO Project Standard's requirements remain the most rigorous in the world, and we will continue working to preserve and build a non-GMO food supply, educate consumers and provide Verified Non-GMO choices.
To date, consumer demand has driven more than 1,000 meat, egg and poultry products to meet the highest standard in the industry and achieve Non-GMO Project Verification. Shoppers’ trust in the Butterfly seal has pushed annual sales of Non-GMO Project Verified products to over $19 billion.
The new compliance guide takes effect immediately, but the USDA will hear comments via the Federal Register for sixty days. We will follow up soon with suggestions for comments.