Non-GMO Project Supports Truth in Labeling

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by Donna Mazzitelli

A new year represents new beginnings and the time to make changes in our lives, including our bodies. We may focus on dieting and exercise, but how often do we think about the ingredients in our foods, including GMOs? What are GMOs? They’re Genetically Modified Organisms that have been created through gene-splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering), allowing DNA from one species to be injected into another, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that don’t naturally occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. According to the USDA, in 2009, 93 percent of soy, 93 percent of cotton, and 86 percent of corn grown in the U.S. were GMO. It’s estimated that over 90 percent of canola grown is GMO and GMOs are now present in more than 80 percent of packaged products in the U.S. and Canada. For optimal health, GMOs should be avoided. The best way to avoid GMOs is to eat local, organic produce while avoiding processed foods, since in the U.S. and Canada, there is no government regulation or standard to list GMO foods and ingredients. The European Parliament voted in July 2009 to give their citizens the right to know by requiring labeling of all genetically modified foods and feed. As of 2010, manufacturers are required to provide labeling for foods sold in Europe. The USDA however still contends that “more than 300 million North Americans have been eating biotech corn and soybeans for years,” and that “no adverse health consequence has ever been reported.” It also says that the U.S. government is not trying to “force” foods on consumers and that “consumer choice is a fundamental tenet of U.S. policy.” But how can consumers choose when genetically modified foods aren’t labeled?

In October 2010, the Non-GMO Project kicked off the first ever Non-GMO Month. Throughout the month, the Project, participating stores, and manufacturers strove to bring awareness about the work they’re doing to make non-GMO food products accessible and easy to identify.

The Non-GMO Project is a “non-profit collaboration of manufacturers, retailers, processors, distributors, farmers, seed companies and consumers." Its stated belief is that "everyone deserves an informed choice about whether or not to consume genetically modified products," and its common mission is "to ensure the sustained availability of non-GMO choices."

The Non-GMO Project offers the first North American consensus-based Standard, third-party Product Verification Program, and a uniform Seal for products made following best practices of GMO avoidance. A spokesperson for the Non-GMO Project states:

The retailers who started the Non-GMO Project were motivated by a simple idea. They believed that consumers in North America should have access to clearly-labeled non-GMO food and products, now and in the future. A huge part of the challenge is that by the time the Project was created, GMOs had already been in production across U.S. and Canada for close to 10 years. Contamination risks to seeds, crops, ingredients and products had been steadily increasing without any standardized set of best practices in use to identify and stop contamination. …while our work on the Project’s consensus-based Standard and independent Product Verification Program continues to be incredibly complex, we have succeeded in establishing an industry-wide system for addressing contamination and a ‘Non-GMO Project Verified’ seal."

What this means is that even though our government doesn’t require companies to label their GMO products and ingredients, as of October 2010, you’re able to identify non-GMO products by the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal. 1,570 products were verified by the Non-GMO Project as of October 6, 2010, and that number is growing. It may take awhile for manufacturer’s packaging to include the Non-GMO verified seal, so check the Project’s website ( regularly to find out which companies and products have been added.

There IS one caveat. As stated on the Project’s website,

So what does ‘Non-GMO Project Verified’ mean? ...we want you to understand what it doesn’t mean. It is not a guarantee that the product is 100% GMO free. …our program is process-based, using a set of best practices to avoid contamination. We do require testing of all ingredients (everything being grown in GMO form in North America), but we don’t require testing of every single finished product. What our seal means is that a product has been produced according to rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance, including testing of risk ingredients. While you might see other claims regarding GMO status (e.g., ‘GMO free’), these are really not legally or scientifically defensible, and they are not verified by a third party. The Non-GMO Project is the only organization offering independent verification of testing and GMO controls for products in the U.S. and Canada.

Is the seal a perfect solution? Maybe not. We may not be able to find completely GMO-free products; however, we can minimize our exposure while supporting organizations and companies who are working towards the expansion of non-GMO seeds, ingredients and products. This is the best way to support the sustained availability of non-GMO choices in North America.

Donna Mazzitelli shares her passion for creating a greener lifestyle through her company, Bellisima Living, LLC. Her blog, Bellisima Goddess, focuses on creating a holistically healthy, joyful and green life. You can find Donna in Speaking Your Truth, published in August 2010.