If you eat dairy, eggs, meat, or other animal products, choosing items that are Non-GMO Project Verified is the single biggest way you can help protect a non-GMO future. That’s because the majority of genetically engineered crop acres in the United States are used for animal feed, and the Non-GMO Project is the only seal in the marketplace that requires ongoing GMO testing of feed.

Why animal feed is important

According to the USDA’s last agriculture census, 60% of all cropland is used for three crops: corn, soy, and forage. More than half of that corn and soy is used for animal feed, and almost all of it is GMO. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, 92% of U.S. corn harvested in 2016 was genetically engineered, as was 94% of the soy. With the introduction of genetically engineered alfalfa in 2010, forage acres are also increasingly at risk for being GMO.

What all this points to is that animal feed is the key to a non-GMO future. When large-scale livestock and poultry farmers make the switch to Non-GMO Project Verified feed, the face of U.S. agriculture will change. While organic producers like Straus Family Creamery, Rumiano, Stonyfield and Organic Valley have long been committed to Non-GMO Project verification, larger mainstream companies are now joining the program as well.

Last summer, Dannon announced a major partnership with the Non-GMO Project, committing to sourcing Non-GMO Project Verified feed for the milk used to make Dannon, Oikos, and Danimals brand products. An estimated 65,000 acres of U.S. farmland was needed to cultivate the new non-GMO dairy supply for Dannon. The impact of this commitment marks a major milestone in the Non-GMO Project’s work in building and preserving our non-GMO food supply.  Animal product verification is one of the most active areas of inquiry to the Non-GMO Project’s Product Verification Program and the Non-GMO Project is excited to be working with the growing number of dairy and livestock producers working to provide consumers GMO transparency.

Why non-GMO feed is important

If you’re wondering why it matters what an animal eats, consider this: almost all GMOs are engineered for one of two traits, or a combination of both. These traits are 1) Herbicide tolerance, where a plant can be sprayed directly with a chemical pesticide like Roundup and survive, and 2) Insecticide production, where a plant produces the Bt toxin so that if an insect eats any part of the plant it will die. From a sustainability perspective, these traits may have serious consequences for the environment and for our food system.

Why testing is important

Right now, there is no way to test an animal’s products to find out how much of its feed was GMO. In other words, you can test milk from a cow that was fed a 100% GMO diet and get a “non-detect” result. If you want to know whether an animal is eating GMOs, you must test the feed itself, and that’s what the Non-GMO Project Standard requires. The challenges of securing non-GMO feed, doing ongoing testing, and keeping the supply chain segregated and traceable are significant, but increasing numbers of companies are stepping up to make this commitment. When you see the Non-GMO Project Butterfly on dairy, eggs or meat, you can be confident that the animal feed was tested—something no other label claim guarantees.

Looking ahead

Although meaningful non-GMO verification of animal products presents unique challenges and requires exceptional commitment, the consumer demand is clear. Shoppers everywhere are increasingly looking for transparency about how their food is grown and made, and concern with what animals eat is a central part of this trend. As people increasingly seek out Non-GMO Project Verified dairy, eggs, and meat products, we will see a significant change in U.S. cropland, with exponentially more acres being dedicated to non-GMO production.

Note: Total acres and cropland statistics based on 2012 Census of Agriculture, USDA, National Agriculture Statistics Service; GMO percentages from the USDA Economic Research Service, 2016.

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