How easy - and how expensive - is it to source non-GMO ingredients?

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

How easy - and how expensive - is it to source non-GMO ingredients?

Related tags Soy protein Soybean

With the debate over Prop 37 heating up, a new class action lawsuit over ‘all-natural’ claims on products containing GMOs filed every week, and Monsanto in the firing line following a damaging study on GM maize, more and more manufacturers are exploring how to avoid GMOs.

But given that 94% of all soy, 90% of sugar beet and canola and 88% of corn in the US is grown using GM seeds, is securing non-GM alternatives going to break the bank?

Not necessarily, says Anne Brown, senior manager of the food ingredients marketing group at Scoular, which claims to be the number one identity preserved non-GMO grain supplier in North America.

In some cases, it might even save you money, she says. “It just depends on the ingredients you’re looking for.”

Buying non-GM soy protein isolates from China will probably save you money

As for whether non-GMO corn, soy, sugar and other products are readily available, the answer is yes, given that many regions of the world - notably the EU - do not want to buy genetically engineered products and have strict labeling laws in place to which food manufacturers must adhere, she says.

As for the price, it all depends on the ingredients in question.

If you’re seeking out non-GMO soy products, she says, there are several identity preserved channels in the US, although for soy protein isolate, you are much better off sourcing from Asia.

“You can get a very competitive price if you source non-GMO soy protein isolate from China, in fact we can offer people savings ​[vs GM soy]. While not everyone wants to source from China, they meet European standards for identity preservation and they consistently come up clean in PCR tests.”

The price of specialty non-GMO products such as erythritol is also very competitive, she says.

But sourcing non-GMO sweeteners is much more expensive  

However, the big challenge is for US companies looking for non-GMO corn-based sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup or dextrose, which cost “substantially more​”, she admits.

The is chiefly because the US corn supply chain is huge, highly efficient, and completely geared up for handling genetically-engineered crops, she says, making it very difficult for non-GMO sweeteners to compete on price.

“The sweeteners are much more challenging, and non-GMO varieties typically come from Asia or Europe.​”

One option is to sidestep the GMO issue by switching from maize to wheat, or soya to sunflower, she says. But every product must be looked at on a case-by-case basis and this may not always be practical or any more cost effective than using new non-GMO corn or soy-based ingredients, she says.

Everyone is talking about Prop 37

So what kind of demand is Scoular seeing for its non-GMO ingredients in the US market?

While demand has been steadily growing in recent years, there has been a sudden surge in interest in the past few months as the Nov 6 deadline for the vote on California’s controversial Proposition 37 GMO labeling initiative gets closer, says Brown.

This - along with a flurry of class action lawsuits filed against firms that label products containing GMO ingredients as ‘all-natural - has served to focus minds, she says.

“Everyone is talking about prop 37 now. Enquiries have been pouring in in recent weeks.”

Why identity preservation is more important than testing

But what guarantees do firms buying non-GMO ingredients have that they do not contain GMOs?

Tests on finished products - which might seem to be the obvious approach - are in fact only one part of the picture, she says.

With a product like vitamin E tocopherols, she observes, PCR tests on the final product will not reveal whether or not it derives from GM soy or not, while tests on HFCS that was from 100% GM maize will most likely come out negative because there is no GM material left in the final product.

"Tests will also detect GMOs in products that are not from a GM source owing to cross contamination, which is why labeling schemes typically have a threshold for the adventitious presence of GMOs as ‘GM-free’ is just not realistic.

“What really matters ​[if you want to avoid GMOs - and prove that you have done so] is identity preservation throughout the supply chain.”

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Posted by Dave Manoulian,

"... no GM material left in the final product". If there were NO GM material I wouldn't care ,but that is not the case . There may be know scientific Measure but it is there and will pose a problem to some people .

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contamination by GMO

Posted by A curiae,

the admission its hard to vouch for absoluteley NO GMO contamination, makes an outright mockery of the claims that they are containable with clear areas around fields does'nt it? evenif you have an old heritage variety if the neighbour plants GMO you have a serious problem. LABEL IT! and better yet BAN IT ALL! let us eat decent food. and force the agribiz to publish ALL test Data on feeding trials AND run human ones.
I suggest the mon syngen dow staff BE the test humans, they create it, let them and their families prove how safe it is.

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Labels matter

Posted by DJ,

Those of us who are allergic to corn, and avoid GMOs, use organic cane sugar. Considering how corn and soy allergies are skyrocketing, safe non-GMO sources for them may be a moot point. So many people must avoid them anyway. I've been allergic to some foods for many years. Now, my husband gets hives any time he eats something with canola oil, and he has never had allergies before. Hopefully food companies that want to provide safe food products without GM ingredients, will be able to find a clean source like is done in other countries. Most of the corn, canola, soy and sugar beets in the USA is adulterated with GMOs and may be contaminated forever, due to out-crossing. So importing non-GMOs from safer countries may be the only solution for us, which is better then nothing. I can only hope that there will be less corn used for so many additives and food processing and packaging, so corn allergic people will be better able to avoid severe allergic reactions from hidden corn in our food supply.

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