You probably already know that the Non-GMO Project requires GMO testing all the way back to animal feed—it’s one component of our program that sets it apart from the new federal GMO labeling law and other GMO avoidance programs that don’t check out what animals eat. This is important because most GMOs are large-scale commodity crops such as soy and corn. These crops are grown primarily for animal feed or biofuel—not for human consumption. It takes a lot of corn, soy, alfalfa, and other commodity crops to feed animals. Since we all want to increase access to non-GMO choices and reduce contamination pressure, animal feed is an important leverage point in our food system.
At the Non-GMO Project, we believe that we have the power to change the way our food is grown and made. If you choose to eat animals or animal-derived foods, choosing Non-GMO Project Verified is one of the biggest ways you can help support a non-GMO future. However, reducing or eliminating your consumption of products that come from animals is another powerful way to impact our shared food system.
The market for meat alternatives is exploding—more and more of these products are landing on grocery store shelves every month. It can be hard to keep track of which of these products are actually vegan or vegetarian, and harder yet to tell which ones contain GMOs. We’re here to help give you GMO transparency, but the ethical decisions surrounding animal welfare and meat consumption are up to you.
Author’s note: The next section discusses some of the harsh realities of the meat industry. If you don’t want to read about animal suffering, you might want to skip ahead.
A New Way to Make Meat
“Clean” meat has been all over the news in recent months. Also known as lab-grown meat, in vitro meat, craft meat, cell-cultured meat, cellular meat, or cell-based meat, this is actual meat that has been cultured in a lab instead of grown inside an animal. Some people are excited about this technology because it could mitigate the negative impacts of animal agriculture without requiring meat eaters to stop eating meat. Animal welfare aside, there are some strong environmental arguments to be made for a reduction in animal consumption. Factory-farmed animals require significantly more farmland, water, and energy than plant-based foods do. They also produce a disproportionate share of the emissions that contribute to climate change. For these reasons, meat consumption has been identified as one of the key factors contributing to the sixth mass extinction.
To make lab-grown meat, cells are taken from a live animal in a procedure that resembles a biopsy. These cells grow in a solution that includes both nutrients and fetal bovine serum (FBS). FBS is made from the blood of cow fetuses after they have been harvested from butchered pregnant cows. Many people have ethical concerns about this type of meat, which is decisively not vegetarian. The creator of the first lab-grown burger estimated that a single burger requires 50 liters (that’s more than 13 gallons) of FBS. At an estimated average of 300ml per fetus, that means about 160 cow fetuses per burger.
More FBS math for the curious
Are These Clean Meats Made with GMOs?
We don’t know yet. Many companies around the world are working on different types of lab-grown meat, and they are all being fairly secretive about their ingredients and processes right now. It is possible that some of these clean meats will not involve GMOs, so there may be Non-GMO Project Verified lab-grown meat in the future. However, it’s likely that some of these products will involve GMOs, so our team of full-time researchers is keeping a watchful eye on clean meat around the world. We carefully track the moves of hundreds of biotech companies so you don’t have to!
None of this “clean meat” is on the market in North America yet—you won’t accidentally buy it while trying to find a veggie burger at your local retailer. Most of these foods are only available at select restaurants in places like NYC or LA. However, they are poised to enter our food system soon, as it appears the American USDA and FDA are likely to fast-track in vitro meats. These agencies have publicly announced their intent to avoid legislation around clean meat and plan to “foster these innovative food products.”
The meat alternatives that are available at grocery stores are made from plants, not animals. Many of our readers and engaged shoppers have written to us asking for clarification on the differences between the internet sensation the Impossible Burger and its most similar competitor: the Beyond Meat burger. Let’s compare!
GMO: Impossible Burger
The Impossible Burger doesn’t use FBS or animal cells—it is entirely plant-based. We’ve talked about the Impossible burger before, so you may remember that it uses GMO-derived heme to make a veggie burger that “bleeds.” Heme is the iron-rich compound that makes meat look red and taste metallic. Essentially, it is what makes meat...meaty.
Heme is found in blood and muscle tissue, but it can also be found in the roots of soy plants. It would take a lot of naturally-growing soy to make enough heme for commercial use, so Impossible Foods uses GMO yeast instead. Putting the soy genes that make leghemoglobin into yeast results in a GMO yeast that excretes heme.
Since animal welfare is a key concern for many veggie burger fans, it’s important to note that Impossible Foods tested its heme on animals. Many people do not consider a product to be completely vegan if animals were used or harmed during its creation—we’ll let you decide for yourself. Ultimately, Impossible Foods’ argument that animal testing was necessary to advance animal welfare falls flat because plenty of other companies create great meatless foods without using animals at all. For example:
Non-GMO Project Verified: Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger
Beyond Meat makes the Beyond Burger, which is Non-GMO Project Verified and completely vegan—absolutely no animals or animal testing involved. The Beyond Burger gets its 20 grams of protein from peas and its red color from non-GMO beets and annatto instead of heme. The Beyond Burger is free of both soy and gluten—good news for anyone who is sensitive to those ingredients.
Beyond Meat products have been dominating the headlines in recent months, but Tofurky, Hilary’s, Sweet Earth Natural Foods, Big Mountain Foods, Gardein, MorningStar Farms, Yves Veggie Cuisine, Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods, Maika Foods, Lightlife, and Quorn also make excellent meatless burger options that are Non-GMO Project Verified.
Find more Verified meatless treats
These fancy new meat alternatives are great, but we’d be fools to forget the classics. These traditional vegan protein sources are delicious, inexpensive, and can be made at home without wasteful packaging:
- Tofu is soybean curd pressed into a block. It’s a versatile food that’s been around for more than 2,000 years. Tofu is a GMO risk because it is made from soy. About 94 percent of the soy grown in North America is genetically modified, but there is non-GMO soy too! Look for Non-GMO Project Verified tofu next time you shop—there are over 200 Verified choices.
- Tempeh is also typically made from soy, but it is more nutritious than tofu. This cultured soy product uses a special fungus to create a dense soybean cake that is absolutely perfect for slicing, marinating, and pan frying. One serving of tempeh has over 30 grams of protein—well over half of what most people need in a day.
- Seitan is a chewy and protein-rich food made by cooking wheat gluten in broth. It’s the basis for many bacon substitutes, chicken alternatives, and mock duck—an international favorite. While it’s wheat-based, seitan can also contain GMO risks such as nutritional yeast and soy sauce. The best thing about seitan is that it can be made at home quickly and easily.
Whether you’re a dedicated vegan, enthusiastic carnivore, or somewhere in-between, you have the right to know what is in your food and you deserve access to non-GMO choices. “Clean meat” is not particularly clean yet, but there are plenty of meatless non-GMO choices available. We’re here to help you make informed choices—what you eat is up to you!
If you have a favorite meat alternative or meatless recipe, post it in the comments!
- Beyond Meat cements commitment to creating delicious products using simple, plant-based ingredients, without GMOs
- After completing a rigorous 1-year review process, Beyond Meat’s entire portfolio of products receive Non-GMO Project verification
Furthering Beyond Meat’s commitment to transparency and simple ingredients, the plant-based category leader has announced the completion of a rigorous 1-year review process to secure non-GMO verification from The Non-GMO Project’s Product Verification Program-- North America’s only third-party verification for non-GMO food and products.
“Our goal is to be on the center of the plate for the entire family,” said Ethan Brown, Founder and CEO of Beyond Meat. “And we believe the best way to serve the family is through a commitment to all-natural, non-GMO ingredients when building meat directly from plants. Though these tough guardrails make it harder for our scientists, we feel it is the right long-run decision for Beyond Meat and our consumers.”
The Non-GMO Project’s stringent verification process includes a comprehensive review of a product’s ingredients, supply chain and manufacturing facilities to ensure end-to-end transparency. “The Non-GMO Project celebrates Beyond Meat's tremendous achievements in verifying their entire line of products and their commitment to providing shoppers a transparent choice in the marketplace,” said Courtney Pineau, Associate Director, Non-GMO Project.
This news comes on the heels of Beyond Meat’s July 19th opening of an expansive new innovation campus, dubbed The Manhattan Beach Project, where over 50 scientists and engineers are working to crack the code on meat and recreate it directly from plants. Dr. Dariush Ajami, Beyond Meat’s VP of R&D explains, “Though not easy, we believe it is entirely possible to replicate the taste, texture, and appearance of meat using simple, non-GMO ingredients. To deliver on the hallmark taste, texture and appearance of a beef burger, we employ simple plant-based ingredients in fresh ways: peas provide the protein, beets provide the meaty red hue, and coconut oil and potato starch ensure mouthwatering juiciness and chew.”
All of Beyond Meat’s US-based products—including the game-changing Beyond Burger and Beyond Sausage, both of which are merchandised alongside meat in grocery aisles nationwide—are now Non-GMO Project Verified. Consumers can look for the iconic butterfly seal to appear on Beyond Meat’s in-store packaging in the coming weeks and months.
The Beyond Burger: O-M-G not G-M-O
The Beyond Burger is the world's only burger that looks, cooks, and satisfies like beef, but is made entirely from plants, without GMOs, soy, or gluten. Since its debut in 2016, more than 25 million Beyond Burgers have been sold. Along with being available in the meat case at more than 10,000 grocery stores, it is also sold on the menu at more than 10,000 restaurants including TGI Fridays, BurgerFi, Bareburger, Epic Burger and A&W Canada. For the latest list of places to find The Beyond Burger, click the where to find button on the Beyond Meat website.
ABOUT BEYOND MEAT
Based in Los Angeles, California, Beyond Meat is a privately held company founded in 2009 with a mission of building meat directly from plants. Spanning frozen and fresh, Beyond Meat’s portfolio of cutting-edge plant-based proteins are sold at more than 30,000 retail and food service outlets nationwide. Investors include Bill Gates, actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio, Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, Kleiner Perkins, former McDonald's CEO Don Thompson, Honest Tea founder Seth Goldman, Humane Society of the United States, and Tyson Foods. To stay up to date on the latest, visit www.BeyondMeat.com and follow @BeyondMeat, #BeyondBurger and #FutureOfProtein on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.