Frequently Asked Questions
Non-GMO Project Verification
Non-GMO Project Verification
1. What is the Non-GMO Project?
The Non-GMO Project is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization located in Bellingham, Washington. The Non-GMO Project is governed by a Board of Directors. We also work with a collaborative network of technical and expert advisors from a broad and diverse range of backgrounds and sectors to develop the Non-GMO Project Standard, which independent Technical Administrators use to evaluate products to determine if they are compliant with the Standard.
2. What does it mean when I see the Non-GMO Project Verified butterfly label on a product?
The Non-GMO Project Verified mark assures consumers that the product bearing the label has been evaluated for compliance with the Non-GMO Standard, which can be found on the Non-GMO Project’s website. The URL is also included as part of the verification mark so consumers can easily access more information about what the Non-GMO Project Standard encompasses. The verification mark does not state that a product is “GMO Free,” and it does not state that the product is safer, better or healthier. It simply states the product is compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard.
3. How do products become Non-GMO Project Verified?
The Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program is North America’s most rigorous third-party verification for non-GMO food and products. Third-party verification is the highest quality system when it comes to product labeling and certifications because it ensures products have been comprehensively evaluated by an independent party for compliance. The Non-GMO Project creates the Standard for what it means to be non-GMO, and then independent Technical Administrators evaluate products to determine if they are compliant with the Standard. Independent inspectors and accredited testing laboratories are also part of the Non-GMO Project Verification process, as are ongoing, annual renewal requirements for Non-GMO Project Verified products.
4. Why is there a URL on the Non-GMO Project Verified label?
The Non-GMO Project’s URL is included as part of the verification mark so consumers can easily access more information about what the Non-GMO Project Verified label means.
5. What does a single-color (e.g., all white) Non-GMO Project Verified label mean?
The full-color and single-color (e.g., all white) versions of our verification mark mean the same thing: the product is Non-GMO Project Verified and compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard. We allow brands to choose colors of the mark at their discretion. Allowing brands to choose the color of the mark can sometimes help them reduce printing costs.
6. Does the Non-GMO Project look at animal feed when evaluating meat or dairy products?
Yes. When you see the Non-GMO Project Verified mark on products made with meat, eggs, or dairy, it means the animals those ingredients came from ate a non-GMO diet compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard. This goes for honey and other apiculture products as well; the bees they came from must eat a non-GMO diet and live at least four miles away from the nearest GMO crops.
7. What’s the difference between Non-GMO Project Verified and Organic?
Organic certifications are run directly by the government in Canada and the United States. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency operates the Canada Organic Regime, and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service operates the National Organic Program (NOP). These government programs set rules for how animals are raised, how crops are grown, and how pests are treated. The U.S. has a list of prohibited substances; Canada has a list of permitted substances. Neither program allows synthetic pesticides or growth hormones. These programs do not allow GMOs either, but they also do not require ongoing testing for them. In contrast, Non-GMO Project verification does require ongoing testing, and the Standard itself is continually reviewed and refined as we learn more about GMOs.
The Non-GMO Project is an independent, non-profit organization. As a single-issue organization, the Non-GMO Project only evaluates products for GMO avoidance. The Non-GMO Project is designed to honor the NOP’s excellent guidelines for traceability and segregation and build on the work that certified organic companies are already doing, with the added measure of ongoing testing of risk ingredients at critical control points.
8. Are Non-GMO Project Verified products tested for chemicals such as glyphosate?
No. The Non-GMO Project is a single-issue certification; the only thing the Non-GMO Project tests for is GMOs.
9. Why does the Non-GMO Project verify products like orange juice and cat litter?
Many products that seem unlikely to come from GMOs can actually contain hidden GMO risks, such as exposure to GMOs based on the way a product is harvested or manufactured.
• Although GMO oranges are not yet approved for commercial production, the EPA has approved large-scale field testing of citrus trees that have been genetically engineered to resist citrus greening. There is a history of supply chain contamination from unapproved GMOs like these; the Non-GMO Project carefully monitors crop development and contamination events to ensure that products like orange juice with the Butterfly on it stay non-GMO.
• Cat litter is sometimes made from non-risk sand or clay, but many brands contain GMO corn.
• Some table salts contain additional ingredients, including anti-caking or stabilizing agents which can be made from GMOs. The Non-GMO Project verification mark ensures that any additional ingredients meet our rigorous Standard. Pure salt is unique in that it is an ingredient that the Standard requires to be removed from evaluation for GMO contamination. The salt market has changed considerably in the 10+ years since the Project started verifying products. With an increase in pure salt products now available on grocery store shelves, the Non-GMO Project has excluded 100% pure salt products from the Verification program. Salt products that contain additional ingredients will continue to be eligible for Verification, providing consumers with the information they need to make an informed choice while shopping. Unless the product is 100% pure salt, look for the Butterfly to avoid GMOs!
10. Why does the Non-GMO Project verify single-ingredient products, like fresh produce, that are not currently at risk for being GMO?
The Project verifies single-ingredient products that are not currently at risk for being GMO, like blueberries or grapes, so that consumers do not have to bear the burden of knowing which crops are currently being genetically engineered and which ingredients are derived from these GMOs. The average consumer may not be tracking the commercial availability of GMO products as closely as the Non-GMO Project, and may not have such information readily available, especially because this information may change as biotechnology evolves. For those consumers who want to avoid GMOs, the Project’s verification mark is a convenient and reliable way to distinguish quickly which products meet our Standard without having to study or analyze an ingredient list. The Non-GMO Project Verified mark, when used properly by a food supplier, assures consumers that a product bearing our mark has met all of the requirements to obtain Non-GMO Project verification.
11. Why might I see the words “modified” or “artificial” on an ingredient panel of a Non-GMO Project Verified product?
“Artificial” does not mean that an ingredient has been genetically modified, it means it is not found in nature and must be synthesized by humans in a lab. It is important to understand that while artificial does not inherently mean something is a GMO, some artificial ingredients do come from GMOs — especially products of GMO microorganisms. Those types of artificial ingredients are addressed in the Non-GMO Project Standard.
The “modified” in modified corn starch (and other types of modified starches) does not stand for “genetically modified.” In this context, “modified” simply means that the corn starch has been changed or altered in some way to make it more useful in food production. Corn starch is a GMO risk because it contains corn, NOT because it sometimes says “modified.” Rest assured, if a product bears the Non-GMO Project Verified mark, it has been found compliant with North America’s most trusted Standard for GMO avoidance.
12. How do you test for GMOs made with new techniques such as CRISPR?
Testing labs have not yet developed commercial tests for many of the products of the newer genetic engineering techniques. Until such tests are developed, the Non-GMO Project Standard requires affidavit evidence for inputs (ingredients) at risk of being products of newer techniques, like gene editing. It is important to note that these requirements are within the context of the Project’s rigorous verification program, which includes segregation and traceability measures and testing for major (testable) GMO risk ingredients. In this way, we help protect the supply chain from unchecked contamination by these ingredients. The Non-GMO Project is the only certification in North America that rigorously and specifically prohibits products of new GMO techniques like gene editing.
13. Are products bearing the Non-GMO Project Verified seal “GMO Free”?
Unfortunately, “GMO Free” and similar claims are not legally or scientifically defensible due to limitations of testing methodology and the complexity of supply chains. In addition, the risk of contamination to seeds, crops, ingredients and products is too high to reliably claim that a product is “GMO Free.” The Project’s claim (i.e., Non-GMO Project Verified) offers a true statement acknowledging the reality of contamination risk and the realities of the current food system, but assuring the shopper that the product in question is in compliance with the Project’s rigorous Standard. While the Non-GMO Project Verified seal is not a “GMO free” claim, it is trustworthy, defensible, transparent, and North America’s only third party verification for products made according to best practices for GMO avoidance.
1. What does GMO mean?
GMO stands for genetically modified organism. The most familiar genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are modified with transgenic techniques, which have been available since the mid-90s. These GMOs are essentially living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. Products of new genetic engineering techniques (e.g., CRISPR, TALEN, RNA interference, ODM, and gene drives) are also GMOs.
2. What modifications are made to GMOs and why?
Most GMOs have been engineered to withstand the direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. However, new techniques (such as CRISPR, RNAi, ODM) are now being used to artificially develop other traits in plants, including resistance to browning in potatoes, and to create new organisms.
3. Aren’t all crops genetically modified because they change over time?
No. Genetically modified organisms are distinct from crops that have been bred using traditional cross breeding methods. GMOs are only created through the use of genetic engineering or biotechnology, not through processes that could occur in nature. Regardless of whether foreign DNA is used, any process where nucleic acid is engineered in a laboratory is genetic engineering, and the resulting products are GMOs. This also includes what is sometimes referred to as “synthetic biology” or “synbio.”
4. What food is GMO?
Some crops have genetically modified versions that are widely commercially produced. These are corn, soy, cotton, canola, alfalfa, papaya, potato, sugar beet, and zucchini.
Many GMO crops are refined and turned into processed ingredients such as: corn starch, corn syrup, canola oil, sugar, molasses, soy lecithin, soy hemoglobin, citric acid, cellulose, maltodextrin, flavorings, vitamins, and anything that says “vegetable” but is not specific.
5. What is genetic engineering?
Genetic engineering, also called biotechnology or bioengineering, is the process scientists use to make GMOs (genetically modified organisms). It includes any process in which genetic material is artificially manipulated in a laboratory, and may involve creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. Genetic engineering also includes newer forms of biotechnology such as CRISPR, TALEN, RNAi, ODM, and gene drives.
6. What is biotechnology?
Biotechnology is another term for genetic engineering; it is the application of: a. in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and the direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles; or b. the fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family that overcame natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection.
7. What does non-GMO mean? What does Non-GMO Project Verified mean?
Non-GMO means a product was produced without genetic engineering and its ingredients are not derived from GMOs. Non-GMO Project Verified additionally means that a product is compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard, which includes stringent provisions for testing, traceability, and segregation. Only Non-GMO Project Verified products are allowed to use the verification mark. Importantly, the mark includes the Project’s URL, where consumers can look up the Standard to better understand what it means.
8. What does “high risk” mean? What crops are high risk?
When the Non-GMO Project says a crop (also referred to as an input or an ingredient) is “high-risk,” it does not mean that the crop is harmful or worse than other crops. It means a GMO version of that crop is widely commercially available, and that crop is therefore at “high risk” of being a GMO.
Example: Corn is high risk because over 90 percent of corn grown in North America is GMO corn — it is widely commercially available.
High-risk crops currently include alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, potato, soy, sugar beet, and zucchini. Find more information about high-risk crops and inputs here.
9. What does “monitored risk” and “low risk” mean? What crops or ingredients are being monitored or at low risk for GMO contamination?
Ingredients and inputs derived for which genetically modified counterparts are in the research and development stages, which have been developed but are not widely commercially available, or for which known GMO contamination has occurred are closely tracked and monitored by the Non-GMO Project, and thus are considered to be “monitored risk.”
Example: There are GMO varieties of crops, such as wheat, mustard, flax and rice, that exist, but are currently not being used commercially. The Non-GMO Project considers these crops to be “monitored risk.”
“Low-risk” ingredients, on the other hand, are inputs or ingredients that are at a low risk of being produced through genetic engineering or from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because no known GMO counterparts currently exist.
Example: Lentils are low risk because there aren’t any GMO lentils — they are not widely commercially available.
10. Do we need GMOs to feed the growing human population?
No. Nearly all GMOs are used to make animal feed or automobile fuel — not food for humans. When GMOs are in human food, they tend to show up as non-nutritious processed ingredients such as oils and sugars or preservatives and emulsifiers. GMO crops are not about feeding the world but about patented ownership of the food supply. After the Dow-Dupont and Bayer-Monsanto mergers, just three chemical companies now control about 60 percent of the world’s seed supply.
11. How do GMOs affect farmers?
Because GMOs are novel life forms, biotechnology companies have been able to obtain patents with which to restrict their use. GMOs, therefore, pose a serious threat to farmer sovereignty and to the national food security of any country where they are grown, including the United States and Canada.
12. How do GMOs impact the environment?
Over 80 percent of all GMOs grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance. As a result, use of toxic herbicides such as Roundup has increased 15 fold since GMOs were introduced. GMO crops are also responsible for the emergence of “superweeds” and “superbugs,” which can only be killed with ever more toxic poisons like 2,4-D (a major ingredient in Agent Orange). GMOs are a direct extension of chemical agriculture and are developed and sold by the world’s biggest chemical companies. The long-term impacts of GMOs are unknown, and once released into the environment these novel organisms cannot be recalled.