20% of snack, granola, energy bars feature non-GMO claims, reveals Label Insight

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Multiple LÄRABAR products are verified by the Non-GMO Project
Multiple LÄRABAR products are verified by the Non-GMO Project

Related tags: Nutrition, Non-gmo project

Data from Label Insight* shows that one in five (21%) snack, energy or granola bars in the US now makes a non-GMO claim of some kind – making it the leading category for non-GMO claims, compared with an average of 4.2% for all the grocery products in its database. 

If you break the category down further, more than a quarter (27%) of granola and trail mix bars make non-GMO claims, compared with 21% of nutrition and energy bars and 16.5% of protein and recovery bars.

Other food categories where non-GMO claims are prevalent are babyfood (14%); energy, protein & muscle recovery drinks (12.2%); and chips, pretzels & snacks (10.6%); whereas just 1.5% of pastas and 3.7% of ice creams and frozen yogurts in the Label Insight database make non-GMO claims.

37% of Non-GMO claims made in snack bar category are Non-GMO project verified

While the Non-GMO Project is rapidly gaining momentum, it currently accounts for just over a third (37%) of the non-GMO claims on snack bars in the Label Insight​ database, with the balance made up by non-GMO claims certified by other third parties and generic non-GMO claims [which presumably the companies can support with data if prompted].

What does Non-GMO mean?

"Mostly because the Non-GMO Project requires that dairy cows not consume any genetically modified corn, whey proteins are nearly impossible to verify as Non-GMO Project verified, despite testing negative for GMOs at the supplier level. For this reason, our Lean Protein & Fiber product is not Non-GMO Project-verified but is 100% non-GMO, which we designate with our own logo on our packaging. Our High Protein bars contain 100% non-GMO soy protein but are not Non-GMO Project​ verified.” 

 FAQ page, thinkThin website

Not all non-GMO claims mean the same thing…

And this – as we have reported at FoodNavigator-USA in recent weeks​ – can mean different things, as the standards underpinning non-GMO claims can vary (something that was thrown into sharp focus in a recent lawsuit vs Chipotle​).

As thinkThin points out in the frequently asked questions ​section on its website, for example, the non-GMO issue is something of a minefield: “Mostly because the Non-GMO Project requires that dairy cows not consume any genetically modified corn, whey proteins are nearly impossible to verify as Non-GMO Project verified, despite testing negative for GMOs at the supplier level. 

For this reason, our Lean Protein & Fiber product is not Non-GMO Project-verified but is 100% non-GMO, which we designate with our own logo on our packaging.​ Our High Protein bars contain 100% non-GMO soy protein but are not Non-GMO Project​ verified.”

Indeed dairy is an area of particular confusion, as firms can’t put a Non-GMO Project Verified stamp on products containing dairy ingredients from animals fed GM feed, but may choose to make their own non-GMO claims if their products have been tested and found to be GMO-free, as thinkThin is doing.  

thinkthin
ThinkThin highlights the challenges surrounding Non-GMO claims in the FAQ section on its website, adding: "Our Lean Protein & Fiber product is not Non-GMO Project-verified but is 100% non-GMO, which we designate with our own logo on our packaging."

GMA: We are confident that a bill will be introduced [in the Senate] and passed this year

As for what’s happening with GMO and non-GMO labeling from a legal perspective, all eyes are now on the state of Vermont (which is embroiled in a legal battle over GMO labeling Act 120) and Washington DC, where federal solutions are being explored.

The most advanced federal solution on the table is Rep. Mike Pompeo’s Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (H.R. 1599​) – dubbed the DARK Act ('Denying Americans the Right-to-Know') by its detractors - which would pre-empt state laws that mandate GMO labeling and set up a federal voluntary 'non-GMO' labeling system run by the USDA.

Under HR1599 - which has just passed in the House of Representatives - labeling of a food made with GE ingredients would only be required if two conditions are met:

1. There is “a meaningful difference in the functional, nutritional, or compositional characteristics, allergenicity, or other attributes between the food so produced and its comparable food​”;

2. The labeling is “necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label or labeling of the food so produced from being false or misleading”.

While no companion bill has yet been introduced in the Senate, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) told FoodNavigator-USA: “We are​ confident that a bill will be introduced ​[in the Senate] and passed this year.”

Claims on snack bars
What are the most popular claims on snack bars? Label Insight - which has collected data on almost 160,000 products on US grocery store shelves, including private label products - records multiple attributes, from nutrient content claims (good source of fiber), marketing claims (all-natural), and certifications (GFCO certified gluten-free), to ingredients (chia, spelt, citric acid).

UNPA: For us, it’s a hallmark separator of what the natural food industry stands for

However, even if HR1599 passes, manufacturers would still be under pressure to go Non-GMO, UNPA President Loren Israelsen told delegates during a United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA) legislative issues update this week:

Loren-Israelsen-UNPA
Loren Israelsen: “For us it’s a paramount issue, it’s a hallmark separator of what the natural food industry stands for relative to other packaged prepared foods.”

“Whether the Pompeo bill passes or not there will be a tremendous amount of commercial and supply chain pressure to supply consumers with what they are asking for ​[ie. non-GMO foods].

"The fact is that irrespective of the science​, or the safety of GMOs, a tremendous amount of consumers simply prefer not to buy them… and that is a durable trend…

“There is also the fact that the ethics and trustworthiness of a food brand may also be tied to whether it uses GMOs… Increasingly consumers may say, ‘You’ve had time to find non-GMO supply sources, yet you haven’t done so, are we to conclude that you’re not interested in offering non-GMO products to us?’ And I think a lot of companies are very concerned about that.”

If the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act becomes law, moreover, it would likely “galvanize many people in the core natural products industry who would see this as a true outrage”, ​he claimed.

“For us it’s a paramount issue, it’s a hallmark separator of what the natural food industry stands for relative to other packaged prepared foods.” 

*The Label Insight​ database contains almost 160,000 grocery products including store brands, large national brands and small, natural & organic brands. Attributes it records include ingredients, marketing claims, health claims, nutrient content claims, certifications, and nutrition facts information. 

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