Eaters are choosing plant-based options more often than they ever have before. Their choices are motivated by health and climate concerns, affordability, animal welfare and more.
To meet the demand, hundreds of Non-GMO Project partner brands create Verified plant-based products using natural innovations. These are companies that turn to non-GMO or organic ingredients to emulate the plant-based movement’s origins in social justice and the natural foods industry. However, other brands rely on new GMO techniques to make their plant-based options, despite widespread consumer rejection of genetically engineered food and ingredients.
There’s a lot we don’t know about new GMOs, and it’s critical to ask the tough questions about something as important as our food supply. Are new GMOs safe for human consumption? Are products made with them labeled as bioengineered food? And, are products that are genetically engineered to be “nature identical” still vegan?
We’ll explore these tough questions below, and this infographic will bring you up to date on where new GMOs appear in plant-based foods. Remember, the best way to avoid GMOs is to look for the Butterfly!
Are ingredients made through synthetic biology techniques safe?
Synthetic biology, or synbio, is a genetic engineering technique that uses genetically modified microorganisms such as yeast, bacteria or algae to produce a range of compounds used in manufacturing food and other products. Synbio ingredients appear as flavorings, colorants, proteins, fats, and other additives. They can mimic naturally-occurring compounds, but they are still novel ingredients. Without long-term, independent feeding studies, there’s no way to know the ultimate health impacts.
Also, some people adopt a plant-based lifestyle for health reasons. However, when biotechnology is used to create a product virtually identical to its animal-derived counterpart, are the health concerns that drove the change in diet — for example, avoiding allergens or saturated fats — re-introduced?
Are “nature identical” GMO-derived plant-based foods vegan?
Biotech-friendly brands operating in the plant-based space are using genetic engineering to fool your taste buds into thinking you’re eating animal-derived foods. Their marketing efforts frequently target vegans. For example, Perfect Day’s synbio non-animal dairy proteins are used in a range of ice creams, cheese spreads, and prepared desserts — many advertised as vegan alternatives. However, the product’s origin story might not meet strict vegan standards.
Synbio uses genetically modified microbes to produce novel compounds — in this case, non-animal dairy proteins. The “instructions” for those microbes come from a digitized copy of a cow gene. That information is available from an open source database, but the genome mapping is based on an actual tissue sample from a cow. A strict definition of veganism excludes products that rely on animals anywhere along the development or production timeline.
Do plant-based foods made with new GMOs require a bioengineered food label?
At the Non-GMO Project, we support transparency in the food system — our organization was formed in part to educate the public and empower shoppers to make the best decisions for themselves. We also believe Americans deserve more transparency than the USDA’s Bioengineered food labeling law provides. The law includes exemptions and limitations that mean many products made with new GMOs are not labeled. The confusion compromises your right to choose whether or not to consume GMOs.
As biotechnology evolves and new techniques gain popularity, GMOs are becoming harder to spot. Because looking for the Butterfly is the best way to avoid GMOs, our work protecting and building the non-GMO food supply is more important than ever.
Join us for our month-long plant-based campaign in September. We’ll uncover the new GMOs that are showing up in plant-based foods and beyond, and we’ll celebrate the innovative ways our partner brands keep your favorite plant-based options naturally non-GMO.