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Whole Foods Market yesterday formally committed to the Non-GMO Project -- a non-profit collaboration of manufacturers, retailers, processors, distributors, farmers, seed breeders and consumers -- to use the Non-GMO’s Product Verification Program (PVP) in connection with its private label products.
The PVP is designed to scientifically test whether a product has met a set of defined standards for the presence of genetically engineered organisms.
“From the moment GMOs were approved for use in the U.S., we recognized the need for transparency, but there was no definitive standard by which to evaluate or label products,” said Margaret Wittenberg, Whole Foods global VP of quality standards. “We searched high and low for years for a way to do this, and now, thankfully, the Non-GMO Project has answered that challenge by creating a standard and a practical system by which manufacturers may measure their products. At last, shoppers concerned about foods made with genetically modified ingredients will be able to make informed choices.”
According to FDA, as much as 75 percent of processed food in the United States may contain components from genetically modified crops. Despite the abundance of products with genetically modified ingredients, a Pew Initiative study on Food and Biotechnology shows that 59 percent of Americans are unfamiliar with the issue of genetically modified ingredients in food.
“In 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan and all of the nations in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs, due to environmental impact and concerns about GMO safety,” said Megan Thompson, executive director of the Non-GMO Project.
While federal law requires organic producers to comply with certain non-GMO requirements identified in the USDA organic standards, there is no standard for labeling GMOs in non-organic products.
The PVP uses a process that combines on-site facility audits, document-based review, and DNA testing to measure compliance with the standard. For a product to bear the seal, it must undergo a process through which any ingredient at high risk for genetic contamination -- soy or corn, for example -- has been shown to meet the non-GMO standard through avoidance practices and testing.
Once a product has been approved through the PVP, it can be described as being verified by the Non-GMO Project and/or be labeled with the Non-GMO Project’s compliance seal. The first Whole Foods Market private label products to bear this seal are expected to be in stores before the end of the year.
“Since there is no U.S. regulation regarding disclosure on products manufactured with GMO ingredients, we are committed to helping our shoppers make confident choices by knowing that what they are buying has been verified as meeting the standards of the non-GMO Project,” said Michael Besancon, senior global VP of purchasing at Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods. “We strongly encourage other manufacturers and retailers to act now and submit their products to the PVP as well. Taking a stand together will make a more significant impact on our overall food supply, which will help the environment and consumer choice in the marketplace.”
Early supplier partners of the project include The Natural Grocery Co., The Big Carrot Natural Food Market and Good Earth Natural Foods, and companies that have lent major support to the project and participated in the initial piloting of the PVP include Eden Foods, Organic Valley, Lundberg Family Farms, Nature’s Path Organic and United Natural Foods, Inc.
Whole Foods will host an educational webcast Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 1 p.m. CDT, to discuss the Non-GMO Project and the PVP. Webcast details are available at www.wholefoodsmarket.com/nongmoproject.
“As you can imagine, the level of diligence involved will require an enormous amount of effort at every step in the manufacturing process,” said Joe Dickson, Whole Foods Market quality standards coordinator and Non-GMO Project board member. “The more participation we have in the program, the more rapidly the industry will realize efficiencies. Economies of scale will ultimately have a real and lasting impact on the available supply of non-GMO ingredients.”