Nothing modified: Meet the most popular label on the shelf

Non-GMO Project Verified is catching on with food manufacturers

A few years ago, if you’d mentioned “G-M-O” in conversation, people might have thought you were referring to General Motors. "Is that what they’re calling the new Oldsmobile?"

Today, most of us know that GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. Foods with GMOs contain ingredients whose genetics have been altered in one way or another.

Some people don’t like GMOs. They want mandatory labels slapped on products that contain them. Others say no way. Major food companies and groups, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and more have contributed big money to stave of mandatory label laws in the U.S.

READ: Non-GMO food and beverage market to reach $800 million by 2017

No such laws exist in Canada, either. Indeed, Ottawa may expand the number of GM crops that can be grown here.

In the absence of GMO label laws, many North American food companies are turning to a relatively new seal. The Non-GMO Project Verified label assures shoppers that their foods haven’t been scientifically messed with, so to speak.

Three years ago, the number of products verified by the Bellingham, Wash.-based Non-GMO Project, a not-for-profit, stood at close to zero. Today more than 10,000 products can carry the label and there appears no stopping its march.

Over a six-day period in the spring, the Non-GMO Project received 900 new enrolment inquiries. The natural foods research firm Spins calls Non-GMO the fastest growing label in North America.

Non-GMO is so popular that some brands are choosing it over organic certification.

Kasey Moss, senior marketing manager at For Enjoy Life Natural Brands, says her company opted to go the non-GMO route because making sure that every last one of the Schiller Park, Ill.-based company’s gluten-free and allergen-friendly cookie and snack ingredients were organic would have been difficult.

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Marc McCullagh, brand manager for Kettle Brand potato chips, says his company has a line of organic chips. But enough customers asked for non-GMO products that, last fall, the Salem, Ore.-based company complied. Feedback from chip eaters, McCullagh says, has been entirely positive.

It isn’t just food makers getting involved, either. The Non-GMO Project’s executive director, Megan Westgate, says, “every day we hear from companies seeking Non-GMO Project Verification because of requests from retailers.”

Some retailers are pushing even further on the GMO issue. Last March, Whole Foods Market announced that all products sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores containing genetically modified ingredients must be labelled by 2018.

That same month several conventional grocery chains, including Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Giant Eagle and Meijer, announced they would not sell a new genetically engineered salmon when it receives approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Among the Non-GMO Project’s founding members in 2005 was Nature’s Path of Richmond, B.C. Marketing director, Maria Emmer-Aanes, says consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. “Genetically engineered foods should be clearly labelled so we can all make an informed choice.”

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Canadians don’t appear up in arms about GMOs at the moment. Nor do they seem thrilled at the prospect of any genetic smooshing of their food. If anything, they’re confused.

A survey last year by the B.C. Fruit Growers Association found 76% of Canadians think the federal government hasn’t provided enough information about genetically modified foods.

With that in mind, the Non-GMO label’s popularity makes perfect sense

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