Deciding whether or not to go non-GMO? Here are five points to consider.
When it comes to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), popularity is a relative term.
According to a USDA report released last year, American farmers planted about 169 million acres of genetically engineered corn, soybeans, and cotton in 2013 alone, citing increased yields as their primary motivation. These acres represent half of the total land used in America to grow crops. The result? According to the third-party certification program the Non-GMO Project (Bellingham, WA), about 80% of the conventional processed foods currently on American supermarket shelves are genetically engineered.
However, the popularity enjoyed by GMOs among farmers doesn’t quite seem to translate among consumers. Three-quarters of respondents in a 2013 poll by The New York Times expressed concern about genetically modified ingredients, mostly because of potential health risks. And a whopping 93% of respondents wanted GMO products to be labeled.
According to the Non-GMO Project, consumers are also wary of the herbicide tolerance of GMOs (which yield superbugs, superweeds...and super pesticides), as well as the social and economic implications of companies’ ability to sue farmers who grow their patented seeds-either willingly or unwillingly via inevitable drift from neighboring fields.
These shopper concerns are manifesting themselves in sales trends. Packaged Facts reports that sales of U.S. non-GMO food and drinks reached $200 million last year. And if GMO labeling were ever to become mandatory in the United States, non-GMO sales could skyrocket higher.But many companies aren’t willing to wait for federal or state regulators to develop GMO-labeling laws; instead, they’re taking matters into their own hands and voluntarily acquiring non-GMO certifications to meet consumer demand. Here are the business costs and benefits manufacturers and suppliers need to know before taking the plunge.
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The most obvious cost to businesses considering a non-GMO certification is, of course, monetary. The Non-GMO Project verification program’s costs, for example, vary depending on which testing lab is used, how many products are being verified, and whether those products contain any high-risk ingredients like corn, soy, sugar beets, or canola. Additional costs may also include facility inspections, if needed. When all is said and done, says Randy Kreienbrink, director of marketing at BI Nutraceuticals (Long Beach, CA), these costs can run upwards of 25%â45% more per kilo of ingredient for suppliers.
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The Upside: Inherently GMO-Free Crops
But not all products must undergo rigorous testing to meet demand. In fact, says Kreienbrink, many botanical ingredients are inherently non-GMO, either because of their countries of origin or because farming practices are confirmed to be GMO-free, as is the case with many botanicals in BI’s portfolio. “We know these ingredients are not genetically modified because, for example, our maca is grown in the high elevations of South America,” he adds. “These growers are just getting into the twentieth century, so forget about twenty-first century technologies like genetic modification.” This allows the company to keep their costs steady, while still offering non-GMO ingredients.
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The Filler IssueWhile many botanicals tend to be non-GMO, the story is quite different when it comes to the other ingredients in a capsule or tablet, like binders or fillers. “These products tend to come from corn-based sources,” says Kreienbrink, although they’re just as often refined or derived from other high-risk sources. “The supply is there, but it is an additional cost to source binders, fillers, and excipients that are verified to be GMO-free.” And that can increase costs to suppliers, manufacturers and, ultimately, consumers.
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Marketing SupportFor manufacturers who decide to make the investment in certification, it certainly has its perks-the first of which is being able to offer consumers the peace of mind that comes with third-party verification. But once a product is Non-GMO Project Verified, for example, manufacturers also gain access to the Project’s marketing team to collaborate on messaging, campaigns, social media promotions, and sales materials. And a specialized Participants’ Toolkit is provided to help companies come up with their own messaging about their verified products.Verified products are also featured in the Project’s online product directories and mobile shopping apps, and UPC data is shared with its registered retailers and distributors. The Project also announces newly verified products in a press release posted to its website.Photo Â© iStockphoto.com/muharrem Ã¶ner
Network and ResourcesThe Non-GMO Project also provides manufacturers of verified products with access to its trademarked campaigns, materials, hashtags, and targeted audience messaging. Plus, companies have access to all of the Non-GMO Project’s retailer and consumer channels, which are only available to brands with verified products. In that way, businesses can join a network of companies and brands committed to accurate labeling on the shelf and increasing consumer access to non-GMO foods and supplements.Photo Â© iStockphoto.com/exdez