NFC, which already offers USDA organic certification, kosher, vegan, and gluten-free certification, says there is room for more than one player in the non-GMO certification market and that it can offer firms a more cost effective proposition than the Non-GMO Project.
NFC director Rabbi Reuven Flamer told FoodNavigator-USA that NFC could offer manufacturers a one stop shop: “By offering multiple certification programs we are offering cost-effective, simultaneous, turnkey solutions for food manufacturers seeking to assure their customers of certified organic, non-GMO, kosher, vegan and/or gluten-free products.
“NFC is offering special rates to new and existing customers, who can easily add the GMO Guard Verification Program to existing NFC certification programs for their products.”
We’re not saying that GMOs are the devil, but people want a choice
While the National Organic Program (NOP) identifies genetic modification as an excluded method, many firms that are certified organic still want to make specific claims about excluding GMOs, said Flamer.
“I’m not personally convinced that organic products need to double up, but there are mixed views on this and we've had a lot of inquiries about it.”
He added: “We’re not saying that GMOs are the devil, but people want a choice, and schemes such as GMO Guard help make it easier for consumers to make that choice.”
Any program that says that it can guarantee that there is no trace of GMOs in any given product is false in its claim
NFC had picked the term 'GMO Guard' rather than 'GMO-free' or 'Non-GMO' deliberately, added Flamer, who launched NFC in 1997 and became the first Rabbinic-led kosher agency to certify organic under the USDA National Organic Program in 2002.
“The organic farmer certainly does not use GMOs in his farm system. But wind-drift from neighboring farms cannot be prevented and the reality is that the DNA testing science cannot test for zero DNA.
“It's probable and an unfortunate reality that some foreign DNA may have entered the ecosystem, and so it is impossible to classify anything completely GMO free.
“For these reasons, NFC has chosen to call its program the NFC GMO Guard Verification Program.
"Our program verifies that the percentage of GMOs detectable in the food do not exceed .05 %. Any program that says that it can guarantee that there is no trace of GMOs in any given product is false in its claim.”
Asked whether consumers would understand what ‘GMO Guard’ meant, and whether there would be supporting information elsewhere on a package to explain it, he said this was up to manufacturers using the logo, but that there was not typically room “for a dissertation on someone’s package”.
However, consumers can refer to the NFC website to see exactly how the scheme works, he said.
How it works:
The GMO Guard program has a tolerance level for the accidental presence GMOs of 0.05%, and requires firms to maintain their facilities in a manner that minimizes cross-contamination and provide assurances that their suppliers are doing the same.
Meanwhile, all employees must receive documented training in NFC’s GMO Guard program.
To get started, applicants will need to submit a preliminary non-binding application for certification to assess feasibility, costs and time frames, said Flamer.
"The process may include, but is not limited to, a request and review of the ingredient deck including country of origin and certificate of analysis, as well as inspection of manufacturing facilities."
NFC will then advise clients of the next steps and costs of obtaining a seal, he said.
Steven Hoffman, managing partner of health food marketing agency Compass Natural Marketing, said that the GMO Guard scheme offered an alternative to the Non-GMO Project scheme that could also be trusted in the marketplace, adding: “Rabbi Flamer feels that there is room in the market for more than one seal.
“NFC is very seasoned in developing assurance schemes and is well-known in the natural and organic market.”
Non-GMO Project: It’s not surprising that other players are entering this space
Courtney Pineau, assistant director at the Non GMO Project program, did not wish to comment on the NFC’s seal, but told us that it was “not surprising that there are other players entering this market”
However, the Non-GMO Project verified label - which was launched in late 2009 - was trusted by manufacturers, retailers and consumers, and was growing strongly, she said.
In fact, inquiries have "increased significantly" in recent months amid the wave of publicity surrounding GMO labeling initiatives such as Prop 37 and the recent pledge by Whole Foods Market to label all products containing GMOs by 2018, she added.
“In December 2011 there were 4,000 products featuring our seal, and by December 2012 there were more than 9,000 products and 600 participants in the US and Canada."
More than half of participants are also USDA certified organic, she said.
“While the National Organic Program identifies genetic modification as an excluded method, GMOs are not a prohibited substance, and no testing is required to be USDA certified organic, whereas to meet our standards, where this is relevant, products have to be tested at the appropriate stage in the supply chain.”
How the Non-GMO Project scheme works
The Non-GMO Project scheme requires ongoing testing of all ‘at risk’ ingredients (ie. ingredients from crops that can be grown commercially using genetic engineering) and has an action threshold of 0.9%, which aligns with EU law (where any product containing more than 0.9% GMO must be labeled). Rigorous traceability and segregation practices are also required.
For low-risk ingredients, it conducts a paper-based audit.
Verification is maintained through an annual audit, along with onsite inspections for high-risk products.
High-Risk Crops include alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beets, zucchini and yellow summer squash; while common ingredients derived from GMO at risk crops include amino acids, aspartame, ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, vitamin c, citric acid, sodium citrate, ethanol, flavorings, high-fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lactic acid, maltodextrins, molasses, monosodium glutamate, sucrose, textured vegetable protein, xanthan gum, some vitamins and yeast products.
Click here to read more about the NFC's GMO Guard verification scheme.
Click here to read more about the Non-GMO Project verification scheme.