With the recent announcement that Kaleb’s Organic Dog Treats have earned Non-GMO Project Verification, this product joins at least two other pet food or treat brands earning independent verification that they do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In July, Castor & Pollux (owned by Merrick Pet Care) earned the verification for its Organix wet pet foods made with organic chicken, and in August, Wet Noses Organic Dog Treat Co., also achieved that status for all of its US Department of Agriculture (USDA)-certified organic treats.
Given consumers’ interest in non-GMO foods and pet foods, we likely will see more of these announcements in the coming months and years. The Non-GMO Project, which claims to offer “North America’s only independent verification for products made according to best practices for GMO avoidance,” lists on its press room page 26 brands or products, both human and pet food, achieving verification just from June 1 through October 13 of this year, including Organix and Wet Noses. (The Kaleb’s Organic announcement has not yet made it on the page.) Previously the Project has provided data estimating GMO-free volume in the US in 2014 at US$8.5 billion in sales and more than 22,000 products from over 1,500 companies; it says it has verified more than 31,000 products since its standard was developed in 2007.
The rise in non-GMO products is happening globally, too. Data from Innova Market Insights on new food and beverage products show that the fastest-growing label claim worldwide is GMO-free, with more than a 40% rise in new product claims from 2010 to 2014.
This is apace with consumer sentiment. According to a 2014 study of 16 major consumer markets by Health Focus International, a market research firm, 87% of consumers worldwide believe non-GMO foods are “somewhat” or “a lot” healthier. The study also found that GMOs are the fifth top food concern among consumers globally, at 48%, just behind food preservatives and irradiation of fruits and vegetables, each at 49%, as reported on FoodNavigator.com. (The top two concerns were pesticides in foods and contaminated food ingredients, each at 58%.)
US research this year from Mintel supports that finding, with 37% of consumers surveyed saying they are interested in non-GMO foods. Among US consumers whom Mintel identifies as “free from” consumers (those seeking products free of certain types of ingredients; the method of identification is not clear in the report overview), 58% said GMO-free claims are important to them, and 35% ranked that as among their top three most important claims.
Specific to pet food, at least pet treats, Packaged Facts data indicate 9% of cat owners and 10% of dog owners in the US have purchased treats labeled non-GMO this year, and 15% of cat owners and 21% of dog owners said they have purchased organic pet treats. (Because products certified as organic cannot include GMOs, this aligns with non-GMO purchasing preferences.)
Other validation programs, possible legislation
In addition to the Non-GMO Verification Project, USDA also offers a certification program for labeling of non-GMO ingredients in products. The Process Verified Program is voluntary and has existed for some time, with companies paying to have their products verified to have followed specific manufacturing processes. As of May, the program also now offers a Non-GMO/GE Process Verified Seal, which to date, at least one food company (SunOpta) has received.
More like what the Non-GMO Project offers, NSF launched a Non-GMO True North program at the end of September, according to Non-GMO Report.com. The program includes a standard with requirements for traceability, segregation and GMO testing. Author Ken Roseboro also reported that “some organic certifiers are extending their organic claims to include non-GMO with labels that say ‘Organic is Non-GMO and More.’”
On the US legislative front, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1599 in July. According to Steve Kooperud, executive vice president of Policy Directions Inc., reporting on the bill for the American Feed Industry Association, H.R. 1599 would allow USDA to pre-empt state labeling mandates for GMO ingredients; create a voluntary USDA program setting standards by which companies wishing to label for the presence or absence of GMO ingredients must operate (possibly building on the current Process Verified Program?); require USDA to define the label claim “natural”; and clarify and enforce the cooperative safety evaluation of GMO ingredients by USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Critics of the bill, including the Non-GMO Project, have dubbed the bill the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act. They likely don’t need to worry about it progressing very quickly; while Kopperud reported that the bill was expected to be introduced to the Senate this fall, little action seems to have happened to date. With 2016 being a US federal election year, members of Congress, especially those up for re-election, are not likely to push to consider a hot-button issue.
Update: On November 19, two days after this was posted, FDA issued guidance documents for human food manufacturers who want to voluntarily label their products as not containing any ingredients from genetically engineered (GE) sources, including GE Atlantic salmon and GE plants.