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Growing GMO Consumer Awareness Fuels Eco-Labeling

LONDON—Growing consumer awareness about genetically modified organisms (GMO) is fueling the growth of products marked with eco-labels, such as "organic." In fact, increased consumer interest in food origins will push organic food sales to reach $50 billion by 2018.

North America is experiencing a surge in certified food product sales as consumers seek greater transparency. This development is leading to a proliferation in eco-labels, such as organic, Rainforest Alliance and Certified Humane.

The furor about GMO labeling has helped consolidate organic’s position as the dominant eco-label in the American food industry, while GMO-free labels are the fastest growing. As a result, organic food sales in North America have surpassed $34 billion, and are expected to reach $50 billion by 2018.

GMO-free labeled products are also experiencing a sales spike—the market for Non-GMO Project Verified products has grown from zero to $3.5 billion within a few years. More than 5,000 food products now carry the Non-GMO Project Verified logo in the United States.

Retailers are responding by providing greater transparency to consumers. Whole Foods Market is increasing its range of GMO-free products; it currently has more than 3,300 Non-GMO Project Verified products from more than 250 brands. The company has made a commitment that all food products with GMO ingredients will be labeled as such by 2018. Trader Joe’s states 80% of its products are GMO-free, while all its private label products are free from GMO ingredients.

Voluntary GMO-free labeling and third party certification appear to be the way forward for American food companies and retailers. Mandatory labeling however would bring the United States in line with over 60 countries that have such regulations. It would also benefit international trade: food exports to the European Union—the U.S.’s main trading partner—have been affected by the absence of GMO labeling regulations.

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