hungry child eating meal with a spoon

Why you should look for the Butterfly

When we first started developing the Non-GMO Project Standard in the summer of 2006, we made a commitment to always seek a balance between meaningfulness and achievability. In order to accomplish our mission of preserving and building a non-GMO food supply, we needed a standard that would push food producers to make real change, while also being reasonably attainable.

Admittedly, our first few years were an uphill battle as we tried to convince food companies that it would be worth the effort to change their supply chains and implement the testing required to earn the Butterfly. In the five years since the Non-GMO Project Verified label started showing up on store shelves, though, the conversation has changed dramatically. Thousands of companies with products in every category have done what it takes to comply with the Non-GMO Project Standard, and the results speak for themselves.

Going mainstream

The nearly 35,000 Non-GMO Project Verified products currently in the marketplace represent an annual $13.5 billion in sales. According to Whole Foods Market, products with the Butterfly are the fastest dollar growth trend in their stores this year at an impressive 16%. Now in its 13th round of public comment and revision, the Non-GMO Project Standard has proven its value and effectiveness.

That success comes with a price, though. With 80% of consumers now seeking out non-GMO products (LOHAS, 2014), non-GMO is going mainstream. In most ways, that is a wonderful thing. Shoppers in every type of store across North America are able to find Non-GMO Project Verified products, and that makes me very happy. Also, as more and more big brands commit to our Standard, the impact on the supply chain is becoming truly significant. More retail demand for non-GMO ingredients means more non-GMO acres planted. In this way, non-GMO shoppers are changing the face of agriculture for the better.

So what’s the downside? As non-GMO becomes a serious economic engine, competing labels with less integrity than the Butterfly pose a growing risk. Here are some things to watch out for:

The DARK Act (H.R. 1599). This sweeping bill would not only prohibit any current or future state law requiring GMO labeling, it would also direct the USDA to create its own non-GMO program. This government scheme would operate to a drastically lower standard than that of the Non-GMO Project—it wouldn’t even require testing.

USDA Process Verified. Companies can already seek USDA approval for non-GMO claims through the Process Verified Program. This program does not have any non-GMO standard; rather, the USDA signs off on a company’s own internal non-GMO practices, which are not made public. This leads to a total lack of transparency and is a disastrous recipe for consumer confusion.

Other labels. A handful of private non-GMO programs have cropped up, and more are sure to follow. None of these programs have anywhere near the integrity of the Non-GMO Project—they’re financially motivated rather than being mission driven. They don’t have third-party integrity, and they don’t have mature standards that are subject to public comment.

The final area of confusion is non-GMO claims that individual companies make themselves, about their own products. These claims have existed since before the Non-GMO Project, and they are one of the reasons we formed our organization. We believe that people have the right to know what’s in the food they’re eating and feeding to their families, and that requires consistency, transparency and third-party oversight.

Keeping the public informed

As a mission-driven 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the Non-GMO Project is determined to keep industry standards high and keep you informed. This blog is the first in a series designed to educate you about non-GMO standards. I look forward to sharing more with you—everything from the technical details of what it takes to make a credible non-GMO claim, to how political and market forces are impacting your choices.

As a mom, and as someone who has dedicated the last 10 years of my life to the non-GMO mission, I am profoundly grateful to all of you who are committed to looking for the Butterfly and helping to keep standards strong.

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