Whole Foods Adopts Non-GMO Verification
The Non-GMO Project is a nonprofit collaboration of North American organic and natural product manufacturers, retailers, processors, distributors, farmers and seed breeders, plus consumers. Its stated missions are to enable consumers to make informed choices and help ensure the sustained availability of non-GMO food options.
The group has worked with international non-GMO testing leader Global ID Group to create the first set of defined standards for non-GMO used in North America and a third-party, voluntary Product Verification Program in which products are scientifically tested for non-GMO compliance. Compliant products are entitled to carry the Non-GMO Project Verified seal.
The first Whole Foods private-label products to bear the seal are expected to be in stores before the end of the year. "Since there is no U.S. regulation regarding disclosure on products manufactured with GMO ingredients, we are committed to helping our shoppers make confident choices by knowing that what they are buying has been verified as meeting the standards of the non-GMO Project," Whole Foods Senior Global VP of Purchasing Michael Besancon said in a statement.
The safety of genetically modified foods has not been definitely proven or disproved. However, 30 countries -- including all European Union nations, Australia and Japan -- have restrictions or bans on GMO production due to concerns about health safety and environmental impact, according to the Non-GMO Project. U.S. federal law requires organic producers to comply with certain non-GMO requirements within the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's organic standards, but there is no standard for labeling GMOs in non-organic products.
The Food and Drug Administration has estimated that as much as 75% of processed food in the U.S. may contain components from genetically modified crops. The non-GMO Project cites U.S. Dept. of Agriculture data showing 91% of soy and 73% of corn grown in the U.S. as being GMO as of 2007, and nearly all the sugar beet crop and about 75% of canola as now being GMO.
Concerns about GMO may pose growing challenges for processed food marketers, in particular, in the years ahead. While a Pew Initiative study on food and biotechnology found that 59% of Americans are unfamiliar with the issue of genetically modified ingredients in food, nearly 90% of consumers polled by CBS News last year said they wanted GMOs labeled. Another recent poll, from CBS News and The New York Times, found 53% of consumers claiming that they would not buy food that has been genetically altered.
Georgetown University Medical Center gastroenterologist Dr. Robynne Chutkan recently told CBS Healthwatch that she advises concerned patients to "eat outside of the box, literally" -- meaning to avoid processed foods and eat locally produced, organic foods.
The Non-GMO Project was organized in 2005 by Berkeley, Calif.-based The Natural Grocery Co., Toronto's The Big Carrot Natural Food Market and Good Earth Natural Foods. Eden Foods, Organic Valley, Lundberg Family Farms, Nature's Path Organic and United Natural Foods, Inc. are also among the participating companies.