“Non-GMO Project Verified” has become the fastest growing label in the natural products industry, representing $6 billion in annual sales and more than 16,000 verified products. But some groups, like the Organic Trade Association, worry that the growing number of non-GMO claims has led many consumers to forget the very meaning of organic.
“All of a sudden, you are walking down the aisle in the grocery story and you see two very prominent label claims on the front panel: the certified organic USDA seal and now the Non-GMO Project seal or another non-GMO claim,” Gwendolyn Wyard, regulatory director for organic standards & food safety at the OTA, told FoodNavigator-USA. “We became concerned that organic was beginning to lose part of its meaning. What we want to make sure is that consumers don’t think that non-GMO means organic, because non-GMO doesn’t mean organic. It’s one of many, many benefits you get when you purchase an organic product.”
(Indeed, the impetus for this very article was this journalist’s own misreporting that a product must be grown according to organic methods to be considered non-GMO; when in fact to be certified organic, a product can’t be genetically modified.)
You can say something that’s accurate but still not give a complete picture of the meaning
Such confusion coupled with the increased consumer demand for non-GMO labels prompted the OTA to take an official stance on organics and non-GMOs earlier this month, proclaiming that third-party certification under the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) is sufficient for non-GMO label claims.
“Organic regulation is not that complicated, but there are a lot of pieces and parts to it. In trying to explain what organic means, everybody tries to come up with clear messaging, but the danger there is it can become too simplified. You can say something that’s accurate, but it doesn’t give a complete picture. As a trade association, we have to consistently be educating everyone out there on what organic means,” Wyard said.
NOP-certified organic farmers must not use genetically modified seed, and they must have procedures in place that prevent GMO drift from adjacent farms. NOP-certified organic processors must have practices in place to separate organic seed, feed, crops, ingredients and finished products from non-organic (potentially GMO) forms during post-harvest activities, processing, storage and shipping. A third-party USDA-accredited certifying agent inspects a certified operation at least once a year. On the other hand, the Non-GMO Project is also third-party verified, though it doesn’t require USDA oversight.