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Whole Foods Will Bear Risks, Rewards With Non-GMO Seal

Whole Foods Will Bear Risks, Rewards With Non-GMO Seal

Whole Foods Market announced that its private labels will bear a seal certifying that they do not, for the most part, contain genetically modified organisms.

The move is wise since it makes Whole Foods’ store brands, the first corporate brands, and the largest brands, period, to take such a step.

The retailer’s commitment is part of the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit collaboration of retailers, manufacturers, processors, farmers and others who believe there should be a standard way for consumers to identify whether the products they consume are, for the most part, free of GMOs.

Shoppers in European Union countries can easily identify when GM ingredients comprise more than 0.9% of a product thanks to disclosure laws. But here in the U.S., there’s been no standard way of knowing.

True, some manufacturers have had GMO testing programs in place for years, but those companies are generally small, and their efforts independent, Megan Thompson, executive director of the Non-GMO Project, told me.

Now after years of development, the Non-GMO Project’s Product Verification Program is the first standard way for companies to have their products verified through a third-party method that involves on-site facility audits, document-based review and, most importantly — DNA testing. To get a true read, ingredients are tested as close to the farm as possible (think corn rather than corn oil).

Products comprised of fewer than 0.9% GMO ingredients qualify.

Sure, Whole Foods will win points with its existing store-brand shoppers, and maybe even convert a few with the seal, but like most leaders, it’s assuming some risks.

It still remains to be seen, for instance, whether the retailer will explain to shoppers that foods bearing a seal that contains the words “Non-GMO” may contain trace amounts of GM ingredients. Less than 1% might not matter to some, but others may feel deceived.

Then there is the whole issue of available supplies.

When getting out ahead of the pack, economies of scale have yet to come into play. But Whole Foods has considered that.

Last week it invited members of the industry to attend a webinar so they can learn about the seal.

It makes sense since demand for the seal will create demand for non-GMO ingredients, and more inexpensive sourcing opportunities.

Suppliers of certified ingredients will also gain favor with manufacturers interested in bearing the seal.

Say, for instance, my product is comprised of ingredients previously certified under the PVP. I wouldn’t be able to automatically adopt the seal, but my certification process would be less expensive, since only the facility where my ingredients are combined would undergo verification.

Organic producers also get to skip some steps since organic standards don’t allow for the planting of GMO seeds.

“Our program recognizes that organic production systems already have excellent traceability and segregation,” said Thompson.

So why test organic foods at all? Accidental GMO contamination can sometimes occur, Thompson said.