As we wrap up the calendar year, it’s time to look back at 2018. We celebrate our victories, we reflect on our hard work, and we express gratitude for the many people who helped us further our mission this year.
The number of Non-GMO Project Verified products grew to 54,000
The Non-GMO Project’s key mission and most important goal is to build up a supply of Verified non-GMO choices. Every product that switches to non-GMO is helping to convert farmland to non-GMO too. When farmers choose non-GMO crops, they help protect their neighbors’ crops from contamination. As contamination pressures weaken, it becomes easier and easier for farmers to grow non-GMO food. Every product makes a difference, and every consumer who chooses Non-GMO Project Verified helps drive this change.
The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard was released
A 2016 law—you may remember it as the DARK act—directed the United States Department of Agriculture to create a national GMO labeling program by July 29, 2018. In May, the USDA published the first draft of the resulting National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. The final rule was published in the Federal Register today: December 21, 2018.
This law means that some foods that contain GMOs will be required to have labels by 2022. These labels won’t say anything about GMOs; they will say foods are “bioengineered” or “BE.” Some products won’t even say that; they will have QR codes to scan or phone numbers to call to find out about GMO content.
Unfortunately, the labeling law contains so many omissions and loopholes that it fails to provide adequate transparency to the American consumer. For example, highly processed ingredients, many products of new genetic engineering techniques (such as CRISPR and TALEN), and many meat and dairy products will not require disclosure. Animal feed is not covered by this law; meat, eggs, and dairy from animals fed a GMO diet will not require a disclosure.
Overall, many products containing GMOs will not be labeled, meaning that the absence of a bioengineered (BE) disclosure does not mean a product is non-GMO. Based on the final rule, it is clear that the Non-GMO Project will continue to play a critical role in giving Americans the right to know what is in their food.
The Non-GMO Project moved potato to the High-Risk list
Genetically modified potatoes are now widely commercially available, so the Non-GMO Project moved the potato from the Monitored-Risk list to the High-Risk list of the Non-GMO Project Standard. This means that products made with potatoes will be subject to extra scrutiny before they can be Non-GMO Project Verified.
The Non-GMO Project evaluates key criteria to determine when a crop needs to be upgraded to the High-Risk list. These criteria include the number of acres planted, the degree of presence in the supply chain, and the potential for use in human food or animal feed. When these factors reach a predetermined threshold, the crop is recommended for addition to the High-Risk list.
The Non-GMO Project joined hundreds of stakeholders in calling for a global moratorium on gene drives
Gene drives are a type of genetic engineering that forces specific genes to be passed down by overriding Mendel’s’ laws of inheritance, effectively genetically modifying entire populations. This technology has the potential to irreparably harm species, and maybe even drive extinctions. It’s a threat to biodiversity and once released into the wild, these gene drives can never be recalled.
Our efforts paid off in November, when the United Nations Landmark Convention on Biological Diversity resulted in favorable guidance on the international governance of gene drive technology. While the convention did not call for the full moratorium that we had hoped for, the decision is certainly a step in the right direction. The decision requires governments to consult “potentially affected indigenous peoples and local communities” before releasing any gene drives—even smaller experimental ones.
Consumer Awareness of GMOs grew to 97 percent
Shoppers are more aware of GMOs than they ever have been before. A full 97 percent of American consumers know about GMOs, and 46 percent want to avoid GMOs when they shop. As more and more people choose to buy from companies that don’t support GMO agriculture, farmers respond by shifting to non-GMO acreage. Together, we are increasing the available supply of non-GMO choices and thereby reducing contamination pressure across North America.
The European Court of Justice ruled that products of new genetic engineering techniques are GMOs
In July, Europe’s highest court ruled that products of new genetic engineering techniques are GMOs and should be regulated as such. Products of new genetic engineering techniques will be subject to the same European GMO Directive safety regulations that already apply to older types of GMOs, such as consumer safety testing and mandatory labeling.
The impact of this historic ruling extends well beyond the European Union. Biotechnology companies around the world are attempting to avoid regulation and consumer backlash by insisting their new GMOs are not actually GMOs
Whole Foods Policy Update
You may remember that back in 2013, Whole Foods Market announced that it would require suppliers to label products that contain GMOs. Every item on a Whole Foods shelf would have to either be certified organic or Non-GMO Project Verified, or else it would have to be labeled with a GMO disclosure. This policy was due to kick in on September 1, 2018.
Last May, Whole Foods Market announced it would pause its looming deadline in response to the USDA’s National Bioengineered Disclosure Standard (NBFDS). This move made sense; Whole Foods needs to make sure their product policy aligns with the law. Now that the USDA has released the final NBFDS, consumers and food producers alike will be waiting to see what is next for Whole Foods Market.
Happy New Year from the Non-GMO Project
With new genetic engineering techniques emerging, new regulations taking shape, and new GMOs hitting the market, the non-GMO landscape is shifting quickly. In the face of all these changes one thing remains the same: Non-GMO Project Verified is North America’s most trusted seal for GMO avoidance. We are committed to providing consumers the transparency they demand and the information they need to keep track of the ever-changing non-GMO world.
image: Mariuswalter [CC BY-SA 4.0]