While there are no genetically engineered sugar cane or sunflower varieties commercially available right now in the US, the Non-GMO Project stamp reassured customers that the ingredients had gone through robust traceability, segregation and testing protocols to avoid cross contamination with any GE crops [most sugar beet in the US is genetically engineered, while GM sunflower varieties are being trialed], said Mike Wagner, Cargill’s MD of starches and sweeteners, North America.
As for erythritol, which Cargill typically makes by fermenting a yeast strain in feedstock from genetically engineered corn, Cargill is offering a Non-GMO Project Verified version that uses liquefied cane sugar instead of corn, he told FoodNavigator-USA.
While the new cane sugar-based version is produced in the same facility in Blair, Nebraska, as the standard corn-based version, Cargill cleans and checks the facility before switching from one feedstock to another to ensure there is no cross-contamination, he added.
Cargill, which already offers non-GMO soy and corn products, said additional products would go through the formal Non-GMO Project verification process shortly.
Increased interest from conventional brands in going Non-GMO
Non GMO Project CEO Megan Westgate said Cargill’s move reflected a growing trend towards larger ingredients suppliers and food and beverage manufacturers to work with the Non-GMO Project, adding:
“Originally this was driven by natural and organic food companies, but in the past 12 months we’ve seen a really significant shift in terms of increased interest from conventional brands, which is why the partnership with Cargill is so significant.”
Right now, many large manufacturers are testing the water when it comes to sourcing non-GMO ingredients, which carry a price premium, but are perceived by many consumers to be healthier (although scientists dispute this).
According to Westgate: “The number one driver for seeking non-GMO products is health although consumers are also concerned about food sovereignty and ownership of seeds and the environment.”
Wagner said Cargill was not taking a position on the merits or otherwise of non-GMO, but was merely offering customers “choices and access.”
Is moving away from GM crops better for the environment?
Asked whether increasing acreage devoted to conventional, non-GMO crops would be better for the environment, and if so, why, given that GM crops have reduced insecticide use and soil erosion, a Cargill spokesperson said: “US farmers have widely adopted growing GM crops because of some of the environmental benefits they provide.
“For producers who choose to grow non-GM crops, there is access to many agronomic innovations and access to new chemistries and inputs they can use to minimize the environmental impacts and maximize their on farm profitability.
“Producers are good stewards of their land and will leverage the best tools available to them to minimize impacts on the environment, whether they chose to use GM traits or more conventional agronomic practices.
“Perhaps more than ever before, producers are highly motivated to address both changing consumer preferences and protecting the land that underpins their families’ livelihoods.”