Non-GMO food, beverage and supplement products are assuredly here to stay—and grow.
Often, a new suit needs to be altered. Many people like to “trick out” their cars with after-market parts so that it looks distinguished from the original. In short, when something is changed from its original state, it much better and more adequately serves the individual.
Not so much with foods or supplement ingredients that begin life—as life. Although non-GMO (genetically modified organism) has its roots in the isolation of pure DNA by a Russian scientist in 1935, the “fruits” of this labor and practice first showed up in produce aisles in 1994 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a tomato called “Flavr Savr” which was a delayed-ripening tomato. And so the Frankenfoods generation was born.
In 1999, a scant five years following the launch of slow-dying tomatoes, there were in excess of 100 million acres worldwide that were sown with GMO seeds, according to www.gmoinside.org. But since the discovery that man-altered—genetically modified—foods may be harmful; the term non-GMO has tremendous value and meaning that is clear and concise, unlike the word “natural.”
There are many good reasons to formulate a non-GMO consumable, not to mention the sheer fact that food with its DNA twiddled with is downright unappetizing at the least, and fearsome at most.
Jeffrey Brams, senior vice president of product development for Garden of Life in Florida pointed to the impassioned educational articles about the need for non-GMO consumables, written by food activist Jeffery Smith. Among the multiple reasons cited by Smith, Brams finds the most compelling in order of significance are:
1. The continued cultivation of GM crops increases the use of toxic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, which leach into soil as well as circulates in the air. Studies show that herbicide use increased by 527 million pounds between 1996 and 2011; other studies project that number to increase 30-fold between 2011 and 2019. 2. While scientists may not fully understand the long-term health impact from consuming GM food, we do know that many of these chemicals do several things—corrupt and deteriorate the human microbiome, leading to heavy growth of unhealthy bacteria and the displacement of healthy bacteria; potentially linked to increasing rates of ADHD (glyphosate), and potentially linked to rising rates of neurological disorders (chlorpyrifos).
3. GMOs endure because their seeds can’t be removed from the environment and their spreading in the environment can’t be fully controlled.
“So, without any true long-term understanding on their safety to human and environmental health, we are recklessly forging ahead,” Brams commented.
Courtney Pineau, associate director of Washington-based Non-GMO Project, observed that from a market opportunity standpoint, there is significant demand from consumers for non-GMO choices and this is driving major growth in sales of Non-GMO Project Verified products. “Many supplement ingredients are derived from high-risk crops like corn and soy. Vitamins, probiotics and enzymes are other common examples of supplement inputs with GMO risk. Non-GMO Project Verified products provide consumers the transparency and ingredient integrity that they are seeking,” she said.
Randal Kreienbrink, vice president of marketing for California-based BI Nutraceuticals, asserted, “Supplement and functional food/beverage makers should use non-GMO ingredients whenever possible.” Most botanicals in the marketplace are non-GMO, he pointed out, because wildcrafted plants, by simple design of nature, are not GM.
Missouri-based RIBUS, Inc. produces natural and organic rice-based ingredients and excipients. Steve Peirce, company president, explained that while U.S.-grown rice is [currently] non-GMO, the rising consumer interest in non-GMO products plus the number of companies wanting to avoid international prohibitions on GMO ingredients makes this issue an important conversation for the supplier and its brand marketing partners. Consumers want to know what they’re ingesting “and be able to pronounce it,” he quipped, and therefore, using GMOs raises potential health concerns. “If there are ingredients out there that function the same, it makes sense for manufacturers to go the clean route while fulfilling the ever-growing demand,” Peirce advised.
Michigan-based NSF International’s Non-GMO True North protocol’s dietary supplement Annex (Annex D) was developed for those supplement and functional food and beverage manufacturers who want to assure the integrity of non-GMO claims, according to Sarah Krol, global managing director, food safety. The NSF Non-GMO True North certification combines elements of U.S., E.U. and global GMO labeling requirements, including compliance to requirements for segregation, traceability, supplier approval, monitoring and testing. “This program also adds risk assessment, chain of custody sampling and independent testing as part of the protocol,” she described. “It is up to the manufacturer to decide if they want to certify their product to this non-GMO standard based on their consumer targets. Many consumers are now looking for non-GMO certified supplements and products, so the NSF Non-GMO True North protocol provides manufacturers with a trusted third-party certification protocol.”
This protocol and certification is timely, as demand has skyrocketed for non-GMO products. “The wave of support and demand for non-GMO products is growing at a feverish pace, driven by consumer demand for more natural and organic products,” observed Hope Hanley, vice president of quality and regulatory affairs at Georgia-based Deerland Enzymes & Probiotics. “It is evident heavily in foods, beverages, and now in certain aspects of dietary supplements. I fully expect that the pace of the supplement industry will be just as feverish.”
Deerland has used non-GMO ingredients, enzymes and probiotics, which have been driven by consumer demand and market feedback, she added. The company has recently obtained Non-GMO Project Verification for its branded probiotic product, DE111, and its prebiotic, PreforPro.
RIBUS, according to Peirce, has recently worked toward gaining non-GMO verification via the Non-GMO Project. He said, “Non-GMO Project Verified is the fastest-growing label in the industry and gives additional assurance to consumers that third-party testing has taken place. Having this seal helps to speed up the process for many of our customers as they formulate and develop products.”
“Historically,” noted Pineau, “there is more complexity and less transparency in the supplement supply chain than we see with food, but that is starting to change thanks to the pioneering efforts of some industry leaders. Over the past few years the demand from manufacturers for non-GMO ingredients has driven innovation within the supply chain to develop non-GMO functional ingredient solutions.”
Pineau reported that more recently, the Non-GMO Project has been working closely with the Coalition for Supplement Sustainability and jointly, they have made “tremendous progress” in building a non-GMO supply chain for supplements. “The work is meaningfully impactful, as evidenced by the growing list of Non-GMO Project Verified vitamins and supplements,” she remarked.
Brams, however, said he generally doesn’t see more non-GMO ingredients available for supplement use. In fact, he related, “I still find that most ingredient manufacturers (and brands for that matter) make a self-affirmed claim of ‘Non-GMO.’ When that claim is not audited and vetted by a rigorous standard like the Non-GMO Project, it’s virtually meaningless.”
That said, Brams asserted he sees more suppliers are understanding that brand formulators and marketers such as Garden of Life are dedicated to Certified USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified products that require supreme levels of ingredient transparency. “For dietary supplement ingredients, this can be a very complex matter when you consider that, despite the very small dosage size of most supplements, the ingredients themselves can be very complex, utilizing complex processes like fermentation and extraction, with potential risk for GM exposure in many aspects of the supply chain.”
The increasing consumer demand and media conversation about the ills of GMOs have helped to elevate the demand for such ingredients into a megatrend, said Missy Lowery, MS, senior manager, marketing for Capsugel in South Carolina. As a result, more organizations have evolved to measure and certify non-GMO ingredients for the growing number of companies that now offer non-GMO supplements. “Companies that audited manufacturing facilities in various areas are now investing in procedures for non-GMO certifications. Some new non-GMO certification players on the scene are National Sanitation Foundation and Underwriters Laboratory (UL),” she reported.
In response to increasing consumer demand for transparency, Krol observed, retailers and brand owners have made significant efforts to identify the GMO status of ingredients throughout their supply chains. Non-GMO transparency services such as Non-GMO Project verification and NSF Non-GMO True North certification are two clear pathways to transparency and non-GMO sourcing. More recently, she pointed out, these verification pathways have proliferated availability of verified non-GMO ingredients; also, the Non-GMO Project’s program has 43,000 verified products for more than 3,000 brands.
“The biggest change in recent years has been the awareness of the Non-GMO Project Verified logo,” said Peirce. “It is something that many consumers do not understand, but they want to see it on their product label.”
Kreienbrink agreed, noting “most consumers are very confused by the nomenclature of non-GMO. Neither side of the GMO discussions has really explained the details of GMO. Clear, easy-to-understand information on GMO’s needs to readily available to the consumer. The consumer will then be able to make non-GMO purchasing decisions.”
Pineau has a differing observation. “Research consistently shows consumers are increasingly aware of the non-GMO movement, and are scrutinizing ingredients to source cleaner, healthier products; consumer demand for non-GMO ingredients and products continues to drive major interest in Non-GMO Project verification,” she said. In 2016, for example, Nielsen reported that 50 percent of people surveyed in North America try to avoid GMOs in the food they eat.
Lowery agreed, adding that consumers understand clearly what “non-GMO” means and it has increasingly influenced their purchase decisions over the years. According to the NMI Supplement Over-the-Counter Rx Data (SORD) studies in 2009, only a small percentage—if not zero—of supplement users indicated that non-GMO was somewhat important in their supplement purchases. By 2013, that percentage of users catapulted to 42 percent, and by 2015 (the most recent data available), that percentage jumped again to 59 percent. So, as you can see, they understand the meaning of “non-GMO” enough to purchase one brand over another brand.
According to Krol, NSF International’s Consumer Values Verified division has witnessed increasing popularity of on-pack claims such as Non-GMO Project and Non-GMO True North as well as Gluten-Free and True Source for honey. “Transparency is key for the modern consumer,” she underscored.
What to Ask
When seeking to include non-GMO ingredients, there are a couple of questions that should be asked. According to Lowery, requesting copies of the third-party certifications of the non-GMO ingredients serve as “objective verifications that provide the necessary credibility. Self-proclamations of non-GMO status carry very little weight, if any, these days.”
Kreienbrink advised to elaborate a bit, get more into the weeds. Ask to see if your non-GMO suppliers are physically auditing the growers. Are the neighboring fields growing GMO plants/crops—as to cause a cross contamination of non-GMO to GMO? Does the supplier routinely test for adulterants or contaminated material; and what types of tests are being run? “Trust but always verify all suppliers with your own third party auditing agencies, and testing methodologies,” he offered.
Asking a supplier if their ingredient is non-GMO is not enough, according to Pineau, because there is not yet an international industry standard for non-GMO. A goal for the Non-GMO Project is to create and bring standardization to the industry that will also help create clear consistency in the definition of a non-GMO product. “So,” she said, “be sure to ask suppliers if their source material—generally the grain or plant material—is tested and proven to be non-GMO in alignment with the Non-GMO Project Standard.”
Providing consumers with non-GMO products will help create brand loyalty and trust. NIE
For More Information:
BI Nutraceuticals, (310) 669-2101
Capsugel, (800) 845-6973
Deerland Enzymes & Probiotics, (800) 697-8179
Non-GMO Project, (360) 255-7704
NSF International, (734) 769-8010
RIBUS, Inc., (314) 727-4287