The debate about GMO labeling on food products drags on while behind the scenes, consumer interest in knowing which products don’t contain GMOs mushrooms. A cottage industry is meeting consumer demand, and the dollars changing hands just to verify whether or not products contain GMOs is staggering.
My first exposure to an existing, well-organized non-GMO verification program came when I noticed a label on a jar of couscous, a product made from durum wheat. A label on top of the jar read "Non-GMO Project Verified."
An internet search quickly turned up information about an economy few people in agriculture know about unless you’re raising organic products or supplying foodstuffs for the all-natural, non-GMO market.
Behind the scenes
Check out the website nongmoproject.org. Click on "About." You can find the board of directors. It reads like a who’s who of organic and natural food production, and environmental activism.
According to Wikipedia, the nonprofit was founded in 2008. It was created because of a demand in health-food circles to know for sure that products didn’t contain GMOs. The group created standards that products must comply with.
If a company submits a product, it’s tested. If it meets the standards, it can carry the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. The fine print about the standards says that due to cross-pollination and potential contamination, the product may still not be 100% GMO-free. However, the intent of the company is to produce a non-GMO food.
Check out the list of companies and products on the Non-GMO Project Verified list, and you’ll find a number of popular brands, including Beech-Nut and Gerber. Specific products under these brand names that are Non-GMO Project Verified are listed one by one.
Non-GMO Project may be nonprofit, but that doesn’t mean companies get products verified and can use the label for free. Testing costs money. Non-GMO Project uses SCS Global Services for testing. SCS Global Services claims to be an independent, third-party verification company that serves a wide variety of industries.
So just how big an industry is non-GMO testing? Again according to Wikipedia, by September 2013, $3.5 billion in food products in the U.S. were Non-GMO Project Verified. While that’s a big number, it still only represented 0.4% of all total food sales.
SCS Global Services claims that by 2017, 30% of all food and beverages sold in the U.S. will be eligible to carry the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. That’s a tall order based on September 2013 numbers.
However, the same September 2013 report cited that inquiries from companies to the nonprofit Non-GMO Project Verified group were up 300% over the same period one year earlier.
One thing is clear. A certain type of consumer wants non-GMO products and is willing to pay for them. Companies and nonprofits are willing to oblige and deliver non-GMO products. In this process, lots of money changes hands.
Don’t expect the demand for non-GMO products to go away anytime soon. Whether there is actually any difference between non-GMO and GMO products is still up for debate. What matters is often perception. In this case, perception is reality, and reality is measured in terms of cold, hard cash!