Non-GMO Project Newsletter

by Chris Keefe, Retailer Programs Manager, Non-GMO Project

For some, the phrase “non-GMO movement” conjures images of stalwart farmers defending their farms from biotech giants. Others imagine citizens or politicians standing up for our right to know what’s in our food. And it’s true — lawsuits have been filed against farmers, and groups in thirty-two states are working toward GMO labeling laws. But while the court cases grind on and the political battles are waged, we all keep eating. Our farmers keep growing crops, and weekly, we go to the store for greens and groceries.

And there, in the Thursday-morning quiet of your local natural food store, some everyday hero is working to support non-GMO producers, protect sources of non-GMO food, and help you choose non-GMO foods for your family. While they may not be in the spotlight, people like Jimbo Someck, of Jimbo’s… Naturally, Maureen Kirkpatrick of the Big Carrot, and Mark Fergusson of Down to Earth Organic and Natural, have created policies and initiatives in their stores that are changing the way food is produced in North America.

In 2011, Jimbo and his team took several bold steps to ensure that their store was living its non-GMO commitment. First they stopped purchasing products that contained high GMO-risk ingredients, like corn and soy. They also chose to no longer promote the high-risk products that were already on the store’s shelves, and began to give promotional preference to those products that were Non-GMO Project Verified. This sent a clear message to the store’s suppliers, and encouraged many companies to go non-GMO. His shoppers have strongly shown their support, but as Jimbo puts it, "I'm not doing this for our bottom line, but for my kids and kids all over the world.”

The Big Carrot’s approach has combined policy with a strong focus on outreach. The Carrot’s year-round non-GMO efforts ramp up to October’s Non-GMO Month celebration, with community events, promotions, and informational signage to help shoppers understand the issue and start making non-GMO choices. Other area stores have followed their lead — 32 Ontario retailers are now involved in non-GMO efforts, with 7 in Toronto alone. This kind of buzz encouraged manufacturers to verify nearly 800 new products in the four weeks leading up to Non-GMO Month 2012.

What is the impact of these endeavors? Here are the numbers: Since 2009, the Non-GMO Project has Verified over 9,000 products, and sales of Verified products have grown from roughly $0 to over $3.5 billion annually. The Project’s Megan Westgate says, “Every day we hear from companies seeking Non-GMO Project Verification because of requests from retailers. Natural food stores are passionate about protecting the quality of the products they sell to their customers, and their commitment is having a profound impact on protecting the non-GMO food supply.”

In March of this year, when Whole Foods Market pledged 100% GMO transparency, they raised a banner that many other retailers have rallied around. By 2018 Whole Foods, Hawaii’s Down to Earth, California’s New Leaf Community Markets, and others will require that all products they sell are Non-GMO Project Verified or certified Organic, or they will be labeled as possibly containing GMOs. Down to Earth and New Leaf have been community leaders on this issue for years — Down to Earth uses product policies similar to Jimbo’s (above), and New Leaf stocks a selection of almost 3,000 Non-GMO Project Verified products, which are specially tagged so that customers identify them more easily.

All of these individual efforts add up to create something huge: an important shift in the way we grow food in this country. When soymilk manufacturer Silk committed to sourcing non-GMO soybeans for all of their beverages, they joined Eden Foods and other leaders in supporting farmers who grow traditionally bred crops, dedicating between 18,000 and 27,000 acres of U.S. farmland to non-GMO production annually. This means lower risk of contamination to neighboring farms and a better chance that you’ll be able to find non-GMO products in your community.

With an ever-growing coalition of retail stores communicating the demand for non-GMO products, record numbers of brands are making non-GMO part of their identity. During April, 869 new products began the Non-GMO Project’s verification process. We are now seeing an average of 525 enrollments each month — more than twice what we saw this time last year! This transition to non-GMO sources can only mean good things for our health, and that of the world around us.

So take a moment today, or the next time you stop by your favorite market, to support their work on this critical issue. Learn more about what they’re doing to build a non-GMO food supply and help shoppers make reliable non-GMO choices. Try a new Non-GMO Project Verified product. And thank them, for supporting farmers, manufacturers, and community members who are committed to a non-GMO future.