Smart Balance has become the latest high-profile brand to make a commitment to sourcing non-GMO ingredients in its products, starting with its buttery spreads.
The process will result in the conversion of more than 20 million pounds of expeller-pressed oils to non-GMO versions, says parent company Boulder Brands, which says it will not raise prices in order to cover the costs of the move.
The non-GMO Smart Balance buttery spreads - which will bear a prominent ‘non-GMO’ label and pledge - will hit some store shelves in March, with full retail conversion expected by early summer, says the firm, which also makes mayonnaise, cooking sprays, cooking oils, milks, and popcorn under the Smart Balance brand.
“Smart Balance is evaluating opportunities to convert other products to non-GMO, including its mayonnaise dressing, cooking spray, and cooking oils.”
We aren’t taking a position on the GMO debate
Boulder Brands CEO Steve Hughes said the move was “another important step in the Boulder Brands’ commitment to provide innovative, more transparent, healthier food alternatives.”
Asked whether Boulder Brands is implying that non-GMO products are healthier, Hughes told FoodNavigator-USA that the move was all about transparency.
“With our Smart Balance products, we’re moving to a more transparent, pure and simple formula. We aren’t taking a position on the GMO debate, we’re answering our consumers’ desire for more transparency.
He added: "Consumers... think what we put in our food matters, and frankly, the same applies to what we leave out. We hear this echoed over and over by our consumers and we are committed to moving in this direction."
We will continue to offer vitamins A and D
Asked how challenging switching to a non-GMO supply chain had been, he said: "The oils are the main ingredients and it has been a challenge, but we managed through existing suppliers, plus some new. This was a several months process, and we had made commitments to the farming of non-GMO in the summer 2013.
"We have been able to work with suppliers to maintain our costs overall, which was also helped in part by our marketing strategy. The good news is we will not pass any costs on to our customers."
Asked whether recipes will remain the same, he said: "There will be some changes. In addition to making this move to be more transparent to our consumers, we’ve also made a move to simplify the ingredients. We will continue to offer vitamins A and D."
Consumers are communicating strong desire for more transparency in their food ingredients
Non-GMO Smart Balance is made from expeller-pressed oils from non-GMO seeds, while manufacturing facilities and production processes have been adapted to reduce risk of contact with GMO ingredients, said Hughes.
Asked about whether Boulder Brands is working with the Non-GMO Project, he said: "Many of our suppliers do have non-GMO Project verification. We will initially verify the final product, but will continue to work with the non-GMO Project for verification. Non-GMO Project does verify many Boulder Brands products and we plan to continue working closely with them."
We developed our verification process by modeling the EU Standard
In a new section on its website explaining what going non-GMO means, Boulder Brands says: “We developed our verification process by modeling the EU Standard and working with key suppliers and manufacturing partners.
"This verification includes certificates and guarantees that are provided and enforced by our suppliers and farmers. They are binding, and we require notification of any potential changes to non-GMO compliance. We also do on-site audits with our key oil suppliers to confirm the non-GMO guarantees.
“Finally all our ingredients are traced by lots, so we can ensure that everything is as it should be every step of the way.”
Professor: The implication that going GMO-free is healthier is misleading
While the move was welcomed by anti-GMO campaigners, critics said it sent out misleading messages to consumers.
While Boulder Brands says it is not taking a position on the GMO debate, by describing going non-GMO as part of its commitment to providing "more transparent, healthier food alternatives", and equating going non-GMO with removing harmful artificial trans fats (its press release references going non-GMO alongside its commitment to eradicating partially hydrogenated oils from its spreads in the late 1990s), Boulder Brands is clearly implying that there is something wrong with GMOs, said one academic.
Dr Bruce Chassy, professor emeritus of food science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told FoodNavigator-USA: "The implication that going GMO-free is healthier is a misleading statement. It is not healthier in any way shape or form."
He added: "I support GM crops because they are good for the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Apparently Boulder Brands, in their fervor to scare consumers into buying their products, doesn't care about the environmental benefits of GM crops.
"Fears of GM foods have been stoked by well-financed professional fear-mongers. They are often financed by the same companies that stand to benefit from the fears they instill in consumers."
Click here to read about Boulder Brands' ambitions in the gluten-free market.