The Law of Unintended Consequences – GMO Edition

Non-GMO Project

Poor General Mills. In January they announced that original Cheerios would be Non-GMO. However, getting there wasn’t easy, according to an article by Reuters – “U.S. food companies find going ‘non-GMO’ no easy feat

U.S. food companies are rushing to offer consumers thousands of products free of genetically modified ingredients but are finding the effort costly and cumbersome in a landscape dominated by the controversial biotech crops.

The hurdles are so high that the growing “GMO-free” trend could result in a price spike for consumers, industry experts say. Eighteen years after GMO crops were introduced to help farmers fight weeds and bugs, they are so pervasive in the supply chain that securing large and reliable supplies of non-GMO ingredients is nearly impossible in some cases.

According to the article, General Mills spent a year tracking down the ingredients they need – particularly corn and sugar, there are few GMO oats grown – to make Cheerios non-GMO free.

General Mills said it spent millions of dollars installing new equipment for processing non-GMO ingredients and setting up distinct transportation and handling facilities to keep non-GMO supplies from mixing with biotech supplies.

This says a lot about how pervasive these GMO crops have become. When a company with the buying clout of General Mills has to spend a year to find the ingredients it needs, no wonder the average consumer has a hard time finding and verifying non-GMO food – and why we need a national, mandatory verification and labeling standard.

Absent a national standard, many companies are using the Non-GMO Project‘s verification standards. According to the Project, the number of verified products has grown quickly.

The number of such non-GMO “verified” products surged to 14,800 in 2013, up from 4,000 in 2011, and 1,000 more products are in the verification pipeline, according to the Non-GMO Project Executive Director Megan Westgate. Sales last year of verified products hit $5 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 2011, she said.

“We get about 80 new companies enrollment inquiries every week. People want non-GMO,” Westgate said.

One driver for this is the announcement by Whole Foods that all products on their shelves will need to be labeled for GMO content by 2018. Other companies like Chipolte and Post Foods are moving to more non-GMO products.

While it is great to see companies reacting to consumer demand for non-GMO foods – although General Mills said they came to this decision independent of pressure from consumers and non-GMO advocates – it is frustrating to think that there will be a premium paid by consumers for these products – while Monsanto and other GMO seed companies keep pushing their products to more and more farmers.

More than 90 percent of the corn and soybeans now grown in the United States are GMO strains. This means the pipelines for harvesting, storing, transporting, mixing and purchasing the commodities are awash in the biotech supplies.

To supply conventional crops, farmers must plant non-GMO seeds, prevent pollen or other contaminants from drifting in from neighboring fields, and store and transport the grain separately from GMO crops. The separation must be maintained all the way to the finished product.

As consumers, we need to vote with our wallets and buy non-GMO products and ask the stores where we buy our food to push their vendors to make their products non-GMO. It is the only way we’ll be able to loosen the grip on the food market by Monsanto and the other GMO seed producers.

The tide is starting to turn, let’s keep it going.


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