A couple weeks ago I published a post about titled What Does Organic Mean? and it dawned on me, I could do a similar post for the terms Non-GMO and Non-GMO Project Verified … so here we go!
Just like the term “Organic”, Non-GMO is popping up everywhere you look in marketing, on beauty products, and especially on our food product packaging. Aaaaand just like “Organic” companies are scurrying to be a part of the ridiculously huge Non-GMO package product sales. In the past year, I’ve noticed a surge in the number of products with prominent Non-GMO labeling and I expect the trend to continue as more and more of us demand transparency and information in our food choices.
Let’s do this …
What is a GMO?
A GMOs is a “genetically modified organism”, meaning it has been changed at the gene level.
Scientists manipulate the genetic structure of plants, animals, bacteria and viruses into things that do not naturally occur for a desired outcome. For example, the genes of a seed may be modified so the plant it produces is more resistant to pests, the genes of an apple may be changed so it doesn’t brown as quickly, or the genes of a pig may be modified to in hopes of reducing feed costs and pollution.
So what does Non-GMO mean?
When you see the word “Non-GMO” on packaging the manufacturer is implying that they did not use any genetic modification while creating their product.
Ok, but what does “Non-GMO Project Verified” mean?
The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit third-party organization created to “preserve and build the non-GMO food supply, educate consumers, and provide verified non-GMO choices”. Non-GMO Project Verification means a product has successfully completed their verification process meeting the following criteria:
- Ongoing testing of all at-risk ingredients (ingredients being grown commercially in GMO form)
- Action Threshold of 0.9% (any product containing more than 0.9% GMO must be labeled)
- Traceability and segregation practices to ensure ingredient integrity through to the finished product
- Review of ingredient specification sheets to determine absence of GMO risk for low-risk ingredients
- Annual audit and onsite inspections for high-risk products
Legally the Project cannot declare a product “GMO free”, so their seal is a way of identifying the risk of GMO contamination based on a standard set by committee.
I see … so can a product be labeled “non-GMO” without being verified?
Yes, because verification is only available in North America via the Non-GMO Project. If there is no verification sticker (pictured above), it is not verified.
So there you have it. Non-GMO basically means “not gentically modified” in layman’s terms.
Growing up on St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. I have memories of my father “grafting” two mango trees together to create “grafted mangoes“, a very common and very delicious mango variety. Beyond that, I don’t know if I ever heard of or ate a product containing GMOs until I moved to the mainland U.S. at age 17 (although some packaged food may’ve snuck them in there). Just like my switch to USDA Organic products, over the past year, I’ve found myself purchasing products with the Non-GMO Project Verified seal over conventional products and, combined with other changes, have seen a huge improvement in my health, feeling of well-being and overall quality of life.
Hopefully this post simplified the concept of “Non-GMO” for you. If you need more detail information check out the Non-GMO Project page.