SunOpta Inc. on Monday announced receiving approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to produce verified, non-genetically engineered corn and soybeans.
The Canada-based company said its manufacturing facility in Hope, Minnesota is the first one in the United States to receive USDA program verification for products that do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). SunOpta, which is focused on the sourcing, processing and packaging of natural, organic and specialty foods, was granted approval for a six-month period. It anticipates applying for an extension and bringing the non-GMO standards to additional facilities, according to a news release.
An increasing number of companies have placed non-GMO labels on foods through third-party certification programs such as the Non-GMO Project, but the federal government hasn’t created a certification program for non-GMOs—until now.
On May 1, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told employees that USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service developed the first Process Verified Program claim for non-GMO foods.
Through the same program, USDA has verified a number of different claims for companies ranging from antibiotic to grass fed claims.
“While the Process Verified Program is not a new program, this is the first non-GMO/GE claim to be verified by the program," said Sam Jones-Ellard, a USDA spokesperson, in an email.
Vilsack said in the letter to employees that “other companies are already lining up to take advantage of this service."
"Having USDA verify that we are complying with our standards ensures that our customers can be confident that they are getting the highest quality Non-GMO soybeans and corn," SunOpta CEO Steve Bromley said in a statement. “We look forward to implementing the USDA PVP program at other SunOpta facilities across our vertically integrated platform."
SunOpta announced the non-GMO verification program amid a vigorous debate in Washington, D.C. and across the nation over whether foods that include GMOs should carry labels.
"The voluntary certification gives certainty to consumers and is flexible enough that it doesn't put undue burdens on companies that choose to use GMOs in their products," U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat who represents Minnesota's 1st District, said in a statement issued by SunOpta. “This is the perfect example of the private sector and the public sector working in tandem to balance the needs of both industry and consumer."