Many consumer groups have been pushing for mandatory labeling of GMO products recently and The United States Agriculture Department (USDA) is answering this call by offering a new government certification and labeling for non-genetically modified foods (Non-GMO).
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the new certification in a letter to his staff that was released on May 1. The letter stated that the agency’s Agricultural Marketing Service is developing a verification program for food products containing genetically modified ingredients.
There is a nonprofit group called Non-GMO Project who most companies have been using to label their GMO-free products. In fact, up until this point there have been no government labels that only certify a food as GMO-free. The USDA organic label certifies that foods are free of genetically modified ingredients, but many non-GMO foods aren’t organic.
On May 18th SunOpta Inc. identified themselves as “the first food manufacturing facility in the U.S. to receive USDA Process Verified program verification for Non-Genetically Modified Organisms/Non-Genetically Engineered products.” According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “other companies are already lining up to take advantage of this service as well.”
Why does this matter to consumers?
Many consumers are wary of GMO foods and question where they are in the food supply and whether they’re dangerous. There is no evidence that eating genetically modified foods poses a threat to health; however, more folks are avoiding them as a preventative measure.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association has been looking to the Food and Drug Administration to outline labeling standards that can be used voluntarily. Companies try to use GMO-free as a marketing advantage, because it is what their consumers are asking for. It’s clear that some companies are welcoming the USDA’s help with GMO labeling.
The new system includes the following:
- Companies that want to use the USDA’s Non-GMO Label will pay to participate.
- They will have to submit documentation from onsite audits.
- The USDA will also send auditors out to verify foods are not being produced with any GMO materials.
Possible Road Blocks
A House bill introduced earlier this year is designed to block mandatory GMO labeling around the country. The bill provides for USDA certification but would not make it mandatory. This bill would also override any state laws that require the labeling.
Vermont became the first state to require the labeling in 2014, and that law will go into effect next year if it survives a legal challenge from the food industry. For more on GMOs and food packaging labels consider reading the article “New GMO Labeling Update – Vermont.”