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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:

    1. Major ingredients (making up 5% or more of the finished product)
    2. Considered high-risk for being GMO
    3. 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.

When GMOs were commercialized in the 1990s, few people knew about these novel organisms entering the food supply. Their development, testing and deployment had occurred with a startling lack of transparency. However, as early GMOs and their derivatives made their way into more and more common food products, folks in the natural foods sector started asking questions. Some of those folks went on to found the Non-GMO Project, North America’s most rigorous third-party verification for non-GMO food and products.

From time to time, people ask us why we do the work we do. What do we have against GMOs, anyways? The answer to that question is not short. From the unsettling origins of the GMO experiment, we've witnessed a complex web of negative impacts and downstream effects that start with this technology. The GMO food web and the technology driving it have evolved, and so do the consequences.

What's wrong with GMOs? We'll walk you through it.

Corporate consolidation and short-term studies

The first GMOs were developed by chemical companies with ingenious business plans. For example, Monsanto sold chemicals for decades before engineering herbicide-tolerant "Roundup Ready" soybeans in 1996. By creating herbicide-tolerant GMOs, they gained restrictive utility patents on a major commodity crop and sold a lot more of their signature weedkiller, Roundup, a companion product to the GMO soy. The plan worked so well that glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup have seen a 15-fold increase in use since Monsanto introduced its first GMO.

Very little was known about GMOs when they entered the food supply. Most people were unaware that everyday food products contained ingredients derived from novel organisms. Even fewer people knew that safety testing was mainly short-term feeding studies conducted by the same corporations who created GMOs and stood to profit from their adoption. 

Without independent safety assessments, the long-term impacts of GMOs are unknown. Meanwhile, those utility patents helped solidify agricultural companies' growing seed supply monopoly. Today more than 60% of the world's seeds are owned by just four corporations. 

Environmental antagonists

The dramatic spike in herbicide use is a sobering outcome of GMO adoption, but it's not the only one. There are significant downstream impacts from adopting this technology and the chemical inputs that go with it. That business plan to sell more weedkillers alongside patented GMO seeds worked like a charm. Farmers sprayed more glyphosate more often, and subsequently, "superweeds" with evolved resistance to those chemicals rose up in response.

Herbicide tolerance wasn't the only GMO trait. Genetically engineered corn was created to produce its own insecticidal bacteria. Because the insecticide was constantly present as the corn grew, insect populations developed similar tolerance as the superweeds. It's a case of be-careful-what-you-wish-for: If GMO manufacturers pictured pristine landscapes that produced only the GMO crops they designed, they were engineering a certain kind of doom. Landscapes aren't meant to be pristine or monotonous, and nature rebels against a lack of diversity. 

In the end, GMOs are antithetical to the kind of regenerative food system we desperately need to feed a growing population on a warming planet. Improving soil health, protecting biodiversity and curbing greenhouse gasses are critical initiatives to support human wellbeing. GMOs move us in the opposite direction, towards monocrops, homogeneity and chemical dependence.

The cultural impacts of GMOs

Some of the most damning impacts of an industrialized and engineered food system are cultural and social. Food is a basic human need. It's also a crucial element of the social fabric of communities worldwide. We gather for feasts and celebrations, expressing cultural identities through the food we share. Traditionally people ate globally diverse diets to reflect our cultural backgrounds. However, the types of foods we consume have consolidated over time to become more homogenous worldwide.  

Last fall, author Diane Wilson talked with the Non-GMO Project about her book "The Seed Keeper" as part of our Speaker Series. Her novel explores Indigenous food sovereignty through the stories of four Native American women and the loss of traditional foods and cultural practices after colonization. "A very important part of the culture was displaced when tribes were moved onto reservations" and lost access to their foods.

"You move people onto reservations, you give them commodity foods that come in a sack, so it's high starch high fat, and immediately you see a shift in both the spiritual and the physical health of people and the emotional wellbeing because it's very compromising to your sense of self as an Indigenous person to be living in this way."

Wilson is enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation, and she works as part of the growing movement to restore Indigenous food sovereignty. "We're reclaiming that old relationship… and we're rebuilding the health of our communities by returning to those traditional foods."

Respecting and restoring food's cultural and social significance and the stewardship of natural resources goes beyond Indigenous communities. "It actually impacts all of us," says Wilson. "The work we've been doing in Indigenous communities has some great teaching and lessons for all of us."

New GMOs, new risks

Since the Non-GMO Project was established in 2007, the field of biotechnology has changed. New GMOs created with emerging and evolving techniques such as gene editing and synthetic biology are flooding the market — and with new technology comes unique risks. 

Because these new techniques work in different ways than those used to produce traditional GMOs, they face fewer regulatory hurdles. Many products made from new GMOs won't require disclosure under the USDA's new bioengineered (BE) food labeling law, and that doesn't help keep shoppers informed about what's in their food. 

The technology behind some new GMOs is cheaper and more accessible than traditional biotechnology techniques — there are even DIY CRISPR gene-editing kits for the at-home enthusiast! With fewer barriers to entry, fewer hurdles in the regulatory field and massive investment from venture capitalists supporting new GMO research, our work at the Non-GMO Project is more important than ever.

Monarch Butterfly Non-GMO Project Precautionary Principle
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!

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