NSF's new GMO certification leverages companies' existing systems, exec says

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Genetically modified organism

NSF's new GMO certification leverages companies' existing systems, exec says
Demand for GMO certification services has been growing faster than supply, and NSF has responded to that demand with its new True North certification program, said the scheme’s director.

Jacklyn Bowen, director of NSF’s Consumer Values Verified division, sat down with FoodNavigator-USA at the recent Expo East trade show in Baltimore to discuss the new program, which was announced last week. The leader in the GMO certification free game, indeed the entity that can be said to have created the category, is the Non GMO Project. Bowen said NSF’s new certification is an addition to the Non GMO Project Verified seal.

“We have already been the technical administrator for the Non GMO Project.  The Non GMO Project Verified is the fastest growing label in North America.  It’s a coveted logo on brands that families love every day,”​ Bowen said.

Bowen said NSF’s experience working with companies on certifications of all kinds, and looking at their facilities in audits to verify procedures and documentation practices, all figured in to the new program, making it both robust and expeditious.

“If someone can achieve the requirements of the Non GMO Project, that’s great. But there are sectors within the industry that were finding a route to non GMO status difficult under the present circumstances.  We have been doing standards development for more than 70 years in the food sector, so it was a natural fit for us,”​ she said.

 The new certification, known formally as NSF Non-GMO True North, utilizes elements of global and domestic GMO labeling regulations, including EU and Vermont GMO labeling requirements. The certification gives credit for food safety quality system best practices including segregation, traceability and supplier approval and monitoring programs. Additionally, to ensure consumer confidence and transparency, NSF Non-GMO True North requires risk assessment-based unannounced audits, unannounced chain of custody sampling and independent testing. It also requires manufacturers to perform routine testing.

Leveraging existing systems

Bowen said the program takes into account things many manufacturers are already doing, making compliance easier, rather than requiring an entire separate chain of documentation.

“The certification can work for companies looking to leverage their existing system for regulatory compliance.  For example they may already be complying with the certified organic standard.  Or they may have SQF Level 3 certification, which would include identity preservation.  We are looking to leverage existing sytems for segregation, traceability and supply chain assurance,”​ Bowen said.

Bowen said the new certification can give additional heft to a non GMO positioning for sourcing and production claims on packaging and in marketing materials at a time when non-verified and never inspected claims for “Non-GMO” or “GMO-Free” are increasingly commonplace in the absence of federal oversight.

Bowen said research reveals a gap between what American consumers report they want in GMO transparency and how U.S. manufacturers and the supply chain are keeping pace. According to a recent Consumer Reports study quoted by NSF, “…GMO labeling isn’t required in the U.S. Yet our survey found that 92% of Americans want genetically modified foods to be labeled.”

“NSF Non-GMO True North is an expansion in non-GMO certification services that will help consumers make an informed decision about the food they eat, as more products in the marketplace are able to be independently certified by a trusted third-party certifier,”​ Bowen said. “As consumer demands for non-GMO products grow, NSF Non-GMO True North offers producers (including ranchers and farmers), processors and manufacturers a solution that utilizes fundamentals of other current and emerging regulatory and food safety requirements.”

Bowen said the conversation around non GMO certification has heated up with the introduction of a bill by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-KS, called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act​. Additionally, the state of Vermont GMO regulation requires the labeling of food products containing genetically engineered ingredients effective July 2016. 

Bowen said NSF intends to further develop the program to apply to dietary supplements, which often have more ingredients and more complicated supply chains than many foods.  The goal is to have a supplement component of the certification program available sometime in 2016, she said.


Click HERE​ to read more about the True North standard.

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