By Camille Frazier
Not enough is known about the environmental, social, and health effects of GMOs, and they remain an extremely controversial issue. GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are created by injecting DNA from one species into another, in a laboratory. The process creates combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional cross-breeding. The two most common traits are insect resistance and herbicide tolerance. So, genes are bred into the plants that make them produce their own pesticide, or withstand repeated high doses of chemicals like Round-Up.
What little independent research has been done suggests that GMOs have dangerous consequences for our health. For example, a long-term feeding trial commissioned by the Austrian government found mice fed on GM corn or maize had fewer offspring and lower birth rates than the control group. Other feeding studies in animals have shown potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, smaller brains, and higher death rates, among other things (for more details, please see http://www.nongmoproject.org/consumers/links-and-resources/). Clearly, more research is needed to fully understand the impact of GMOs on human health.
In more than 30 other countries in the world, including the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on GMOs, because they are not considered proven safe. In the U.S. on the other hand, the FDA approved commercial production of GMOs based on studies conducted by the companies who created them and profit from their sale. Many health-conscious shoppers find the lack of rigorous, independent, scientific examination on the impact of consuming GM foods to be cause for concern.
In the U.S., GMOs are in over 80% of the products in an average grocery store. Even though there are only a handful of crops that have commercially produced GMO varieties, they’re crops that get used in the majority of processed food (like corn and soy). In 2007, 73% of the U.S. corn crop, 91% of the U.S. soy crop, 87% of the U.S. cotton crop and over 75% of the U.S. canola crop were planted with GMO varieties. GMO Hawaiian papaya as well as several types of GMO squash were also grown, and Canada and Australia recently approved the commercial production of GMO wheat, beginning as early as 2010.
Despite these high levels of GMOs, Polls consistently show that a significant majority of North Americans would like to be able to tell if the food they’re purchasing contains GMOs (a 2008 CBS News Poll found that 87% of consumers wanted GMOs labeled). And, according to a recent CBS/New York Times poll, 53% of consumers said they would not buy food that has been genetically modified. This is where the Non-GMO Project comes in. The Non-GMO Project’s seal for verified products will, for the first time, give the public an opportunity to make an informed choice when it comes to GMOs. (perhaps a break here? Could say something like, “Look for more on the Non-GMO Project next week. In the meantime, please visit www.nongmoproject.org <http://www.nongmoproject.org> )”
The Non-GMO Project
The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization committed to ensuring the sustained availability of non-GMO options. Our shared belief is that everyone deserves an informed choice about whether or not to consume genetically modified products, and our common mission is to ensure the sustained availability of non-GMO choices.
The Project began as an initiative of independent natural foods retailers who were interested in providing their customers with more information regarding the GMO risk of their products. As the Project evolved, it became clear that in order for the initial vision of standardized labeling to be possible, a 3rd party verification program was needed that would identify products compliant with a uniform, consensus-based definition of non-GMO. With the help of technical consultants FoodChain Global Advisors, and fueled by the passion of a dynamic array of industry leaders, the Non-GMO Project has successfully created a collaborative non-GMO verification program that began enrolling products in the fall of 2008. Working at every level of the supply chain, all the way back to the seeds, the Project’s role is to inspire and ensure viable non-GMO alternatives long into the future.
Where we are today
For the last two years, we’ve been refining the technical details of the program, seeking input from as many stakeholders as possible. Products are assessed for compliance to the Non-GMO Project Standard, which includes criteria for traceability, segregation, and testing at critical control points. We’ve held 4 public comment periods on our Standard and have scheduled those to recur every fall and spring, so that there is consistent opportunity for everyone to give us feedback. Our Standard is available at http://www.nongmoproject.org/industry/non-gmo-project-standard/. The many years of collaboration have paid off, as starting this fall, the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal will begin to appear on packaging.
There are already over 800 products are currently enrolled in the Product Verification Program, and Whole Foods recently announced its plan to enroll its entire private label product line. You can find a complete list of enrolled products at http://www.nongmoproject.org/consumers/search-enrolled-products/ Finally, consumers will have an informed choice when it comes to GMOs!
The Non-GMO Project depends on the support and collaboration of manufacturers, retailers, processors, distributors, farmers, seed breeders and consumers. To learn more about how you can get involved, please visit our website, www.nongmoproject.org. From there, you can download our Shopping Guide, learn more about the Product Verification Program, or sign up as a Supporting Retailer. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to fill out an online questionnaire or contact me directly at email@example.com. We look forward to your partnership!
Camille Frazier is the Outreach Coordinator for the Non-GMO Project. She joined the Project in May after a semester as an intern and has been working on outreach projects such as the Supporting Retailer program, letters to seed companies, and follow-ups with manufacturers. You can reach Camille directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.