A whopping 93 percent of consumers want to see genetically modified organisms (GMOs) labeled on their food products, according to a June ABC news poll. Fifty-seven percent also said they'd be less likely to buy foods labeled as genetically modified. If you are a food manufacturer, it’s clearly important, if not vital, that you are paying attention to this quickly evolving issue. While consumer packaged good (CPG) companies have been quick to line up for verification, ingredient suppliers have been slow to join in. With new federal legislation now in place, there’s more pressure than ever for suppliers to jump the hurdles to source and verify non-GMO ingredients.
GMO Labeling Goes National
After years of consumers and advocacy groups demanding that foods containing GMOs carry a label (and powerful anti-labeling entities such as Monsanto and Grocery Manufacturers of America lobbying for none) President Barack Obama passed a bill in July requiring labeling, though the details of the labeling are vague. His amendment to the Agricultural Marketing Act requires disclosure for any food containing GMOs, but just what those labels must contain remains in flux—it could be text, a symbol or an electronic link. The president gave USDA two years to establish the specific labeling rules.
Why Ingredient Suppliers Should Verify
While consumers have been focused on non-GMO verification of finished products, there is new demand from food and beverage manufacturers for individual ingredients to receive verification, as well. Individual verification helps streamline the non-GMO process for manufacturers and allows companies to know whether they can promote a product as non-GMO, in addition to creating more transparency in the ingredient industry.
“Third-party, independent verifications of ingredients help provide peace of mind to food and beverage manufacturers, and are a good marketing tool for consumers,” said Ivan Wasserman, partner, Amin Talati Upadhye. Purchasers (and the end consumer) are likely familiar with the verification seals, and thus being able to market as an independently verified non-GMO ingredient may be of great value to them. Verification can also save future headaches for food and beverage manufacturers as the law takes effect. “By having non-GMO ingredients, CPG companies may not need to add the disclosure—and consequently will not have to update any packaging/labeling when the GMO disclosure becomes effective,” Wasserman said.
Jennifer Adams, an associate with Amin Talati Upadhye, also pointed out current law will require the disclosure of GMOs, but went on to say a lack of disclosure would not necessarily mean a product was completely non-GMO. “This is because while all of the details have yet to be ironed out by the regulators, the law seems to hint that there will be a de minimis GMO level, i.e., a level of GMO presence that may not trigger a GMO disclosure on the label. Therefore, products that wish to market as non-GMO will still find value in third-party, independent verification so that they can use the verifier’s seal,” Adams explained.
While the benefits of third-party verification for ingredients are clear, “it’s important to keep in mind though that third-party verifications do not completely absolve a supplier (or anyone else that subsequently makes the claim) from ensuring it is truthful, not misleading and appropriately substantiated— there must still be proof, such as scientific research, kept on file that substantiates the claim,” Wasserman said.
Verification For Low-Risk Ingredients
Some ingredient suppliers may assume because their ingredient is low risk for GMO contamination that they don’t need to bother with verification. It’s more complex than that though, said Courtney Pineau, associate director, Non-GMO Project. “Some ingredients that seem low risk may contain less visible high-risk ingredients,” she said. For example, an oil coating on a dried fruit may contain GMOs. Additionally, “verifying only high-risk products puts a burden on consumers to know what crops are currently being genetically engineered and which ingredients are derived from these GMOs,” Pineau added.
Ganeden is raising the bar for ingredient transparency and probiotic verification with the recent announcement that its GanedenBC30 probiotic obtained the Non-GMO Project’s seal. Obtaining the verification assures products fortified with GanedenBC30 are using a non-GMO ingredient and setting a business example for other ingredients. In light of the legislation passed in July, this will also help manufacturers to meet the GMO labeling guidelines now and in the near future.
While the details of the new federal legislation are murky, it’s the ideal time for ingredient suppliers to take steps to obtain third-party verified non-GMO ingredients. While not a short process, it will ultimately help suppliers conduct better business and gain consumer and manufacturer trust.
As president, Mike Bush leads strategic business development for Ganeden, while overseeing sales and marketing activities. He has worked in the healthcare, biotech and bioinformatics arenas and has more than 20 years of experience in a variety of entrepreneurial busi-nesses. Bush also serves as executive board president of the International Probiotics Association and is a frequent media spokesperson and industry event speaker.