GMO labeling - the tide is turning

Guaranteed GMO-free. Image: the Non-GMO project.
Guaranteed GMO-free. Image: the Non-GMO project.
While GM labeling is slowly gaining ground, the Non-GMO, GM-Free, and Organic labels are taking US health food markets by storm. Dr Mae Wan Ho reports ...
'Non-GMO' approved annual sales topped US$5 billion in 2013, with more than 14,000 products verified, including meat and liquid egg products.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed the first GMO labeling law in the US in December 2013, after voters approved the measure back in June.

But it will not come into effect unless at least 4 other neighbouring states in the region with a combined population of no less than 20 million approve similar acts. So far, Connecticut has found allies in only one adjacent state

For voters in Maine, the second state to have passed a very similar law in a region that includes Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, three other states must approve the same law before it comes into effect.

Surveys have found 80 to 95% of people wanting GMO labelling in the US as a whole; so this is definitely not a minority issue.   

Although GMO labeling bills were narrowly defeated in California and Washington, more are expected in over two dozen states; and the proposals are strongly opposed by biotech companies and agricultural groups.

FDA allows voluntary labeling and businesses are taking initiatives

However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says all GM food must meet the same requirements as traditional foods, and allows producers to voluntarily label food items as GMOs or not GMOs.

This has left businesses free to take the right initiatives without waiting for government action.

Whole Foods announced in 2013 that it plans to label GMO products in all its US and Canadian stores within five years; and General Mills recently said it would no longer use GMOs in its original Cheerios recipe.

Scott Faber, executive director of the pro-GMO labeling organization Just Label It, says he believes the US Federal Government will follow suit as a result of pressure from states passing their own laws. But pressure is also coming from a range of Non-GMO labeling.

The Non-GMO Project is booming

The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organisation offering America's only third party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and produce. It educates consumers and the food industry to help build awareness about GMOs and their impact on health and the food system.

And it works with food manufacturers, distributors, growers, and seed suppliers to develop a standard for detecting GMOs and for reducing contamination risk of the non-GMO food supply.

The Project began as an initiative of independent natural foods retailers wanting to provide customers with more information on the GMO risk of their products.

'Non-GMO' approved annual sales topped US$5 billion in 2013, with more than 14,000 products verified, including meat and liquid egg products.

It soon became clear that in order to have standardized labelling, a third party verification scheme was needed. With the help of technical consultants and "fuelled by a dynamic array of industry leaders", the Project began enrolling products in the fall of 2008.

The label has taken off!

The 'Non-GMO Project Verified' seal first appeared on products in 2010, and has become one of the fastest growing labels in the natural products industry.

Annual sales topped US$5 billion in 2013, with more than 14,000 products verified, including meat and liquid egg products. Also in 2013, a record 1,850 natural food retailers took part in the fourth annual Non-GMO month by educating their community about GMOs.

The Non-GMO Project is a powerful complement to the GMO labeling initiative, and its long term mission and vision is shared by both movements:

"Working at every level of the supply chain, all the way back to the seeds, the Project's role is to inspire and ensure viable non-GMO alternatives long into the future."

And others are joining the movement

Meanwhile, other eco-labels are also benefiting from the GM labeling fight. Trader Joe's, a leading natural food retailer in North America, states that 80 % of its products are GMO-free, while all its own brand products are free from GM ingredients. 

The Organic Monitor, a global research, consulting and training company, sees voluntary GM-free labeling schemes and third party certification as the way forward for American food companies and retailers.

The organic food sector, generally recognized as being free from GM ingredient, has consolidated its market share from the furore over GM labeling. Organic food sales in North America passed US$34 billion in 2013.

And that does not include local farmers' markets selling fresh non-GM or non-certified organic foods produced in more than 4,000 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms all over the USA.

With or without the help of their government, the American people are reclaiming their birth right and food sovereignty from the GM corporations.



Also in The EcologistUS food industry: labelling laws are 'unconstitutional'.

Dr Mae Wan Ho is the director of the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS), which campaigns against unethical uses of biotechnology.

This article was originally published on the ISIS website under the title 'GMO Labelling and Non-GMO Labelling a Win-Win'.

"Please circulate widely and repost, giving the URL of the original and preserve all the links back to articles on the ISIS website."

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