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The GMO Show

With cloned meat, Monsanto sugar beets and the like making headlines these days, it seems GMOs are once again on the minds of consumers and the food industry. Judging by the buzz at this week’s Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, companies are looking to take action.

One organization that’s taking the lead is the Non GMO Project, a nonprofit working to establish a voluntary standard and label claim for GMO-free products. Right now they’re campaigning for retailer support and signing up manufacturers interested in completing the standard’s certification process, which they’ve posted for public comment until April 29th. The organization hopes to have a working standard in place by Fall 2009.

The Non GMO Project’s standard looks to address three areas: traceability, segregation, and sourcing. Each step focuses on keeping a product out of contact with genetically modified ingredients, and accredited labs throughout the country will do the testing to make sure that happens.

Supporters said that a certification like this can’t come soon enough. The majority of American commodity crops contain GMO ingredients, which the FDA has OK’d but have been linked to harmful health effects in some studies.

“I don’t believe we’re winning this war,” said Michael Funk, CEO of United Natural Foods and one of the founders of the Non GMO Project, during a presentation on the topic. He went on to tell audience members to “Educate consumers. Talk to your neighbors and make them aware of what’s going on.”

A lot of the top players in the natural and organics industry are behind the project: Whole Foods, Nature’s Path, Organic Valley, UNFI and White Wave Foods, to name a few. So the issue is definitely gaining momentum, not to mention publicity.

But for supermarket retailers, GMO labeling like this is a tricky prospect. After all, with so many products that do contain GMOs on shelves, how do you promote a label like the Non GMO Project’s without disparaging much of your inventory? And perhaps the most difficult hurdle is defining that term "GMO" for consumers.

Still, the organic industry had many of these same challenges, and look at where it’s ended up.