Harvest Market is a Retail Supporter of the Non-GMO Project because we share that belief that everyone deserves an informed choice about whether or not to consume genetically modified organisms. Every October, in recognition of Non-GMO Month, we host a 5% day in support of The Non-GMO Project’s work (this year it’s scheduled for Saturday, October 26). It was a pleasure having the opportunity to speak with their Retail Support Team ahead of our annual celebration of Non-GMO Month.
Harvest Market: What is a GMO?
Non-GMO Project: GMO stands for genetically modified organism. GMOs are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. The most familiar GMOs are modified with transgenic techniques, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. These types of GMOs have been available since the mid-90s. Products of new genetic engineering techniques such as CRISPR, TALEN, and gene drives, are also GMOs and are just entering the marketplace.
Harvest Market: What does the Non-GMO Project do?
Non-GMO Project: The Non-GMO Project is a mission-driven nonprofit organization dedicated to building and protecting a non-GMO food supply. We do this through consumer education and outreach programs; marketing support provided to Non-GMO Project Verified brands; training resources and merchandising materials provided to retailers. We also offer North America’s most trusted third-party verification for non-GMO food and products.
Harvest Market: Please tell us about how the Non-GMO Project got started.
Non-GMO Project: The Non-GMO Project was founded by a pair of concerned retailers, Natural Grocery Company in Berkeley, California and The Big Carrot Natural Food Market in Toronto, Ontario, back in 2007. Both retailers had begun to educate their shoppers about GMOs and to require increased GMO transparency from manufacturers. They ultimately combined their efforts to form a nonprofit, intending to create a standardized definition for non-GMO products in the North American food industry. What began as a small grassroots movement gained momentum as more stores and brands joined forces to provide consumers with the non-GMO choices they wanted.
Harvest Market: How can consumers use your verification process to guide their purchases?
Non-GMO Project: First and foremost, look for the Non-GMO Project Butterfly when shopping. When shoppers see our seal, they can trust that the product is in compliance with North America’s most stringent standard for GMO avoidance.
The Non-GMO Project also has a team of researchers monitoring changing labeling regulations and new genetic engineering techniques, so you don’t have to. The GMO landscape is more confusing than ever for the average person. Most shoppers don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of GMO crops, the National Bioengineering Food Disclosure Standard, or the latest CRISPR news at their fingertips when they’re buying dinner for their families. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for shoppers to make informed purchasing choices.
Harvest Market: What does your butterfly symbol represent?
Non-GMO Project: The butterfly in the symbol is a Monarch, one of the most recognized and beloved butterflies in North America. Monarchs are currently a threatened species: huge population loss started in the 1990s when herbicide tolerant GMO crops decimated the wild milkweed that Monarch caterpillars rely on for food. In this way, they were one of the first casualties of the introduction of GMO crops.
Despite the current state of the Monarch, the symbol itself is a hopeful one. Monarchs are beautiful creatures that appear fragile but have the endurance to complete a 2,500-mile migration. The checkmark leaf symbolizes the approval process that is used to verify products as non-GMO, and the bright colors are cheerful and positive. The logo is simple and clear, with an emotional charge that’s accessible to everyone, just like healthy food choices should ALSO be accessible.
Harvest Market: Share with us some of the challenges you face in your work.
Non-GMO Project: For years at the Non-GMO Project, we referred to our team as “small, but mighty.” In part, because there were so many challenges, we became adept at addressing them as opportunities. One of our biggest challenges was helping to grow consumer awareness about GMOs. There has been a great deal of misinformation about GMOs, even from people who were in support of the Non-GMO Project’s mission. We are very diligent about trying to give people the facts so that they can make informed purchasing choices. It has been awesome to see how much awareness has grown over the past ten years.
One of the current challenges we are facing is the influx of products created by new genetic engineering techniques. The biotech industry wants people to believe that these are not GMOs, and yet according to the EU, the UN’s Codex Alimentarius definition, and the Non-GMO Project, they absolutely are.
Harvest Market: Why do you think the issue of genetic modification is so controversial?
Non-GMO Project: The issues surrounding genetic modification are complex. Consumers hear messaging from biotech companies that GMOs are safe and are needed to feed a growing world population, despite ongoing reports about concerns related to GMOs for years. From the increase in the usage of chemicals like Roundup on herbicide-tolerant GMOs to the off-target impacts on DNA of genetic engineering, the aspirational promises of GMOs have not aligned with the reality. This clash between the supposed potential and the present-day negative impacts of GMOs on our health and the environment is just one of the reasons there is so much controversy.
Harvest Market: What’s the biggest accomplishment you’ve achieved?
Non-GMO Project: We verified our first product in 2010 and now have more than 50,000 Verified products from 4,000 brands. While this is a huge achievement, we feel even more excited by the ongoing impact of the Non-GMO Project’s education mission. We work with shoppers, brands, and retailers every day to help increase awareness of the importance of GMO transparency.
Harvest Market: October is Non-GMO Month. How can people get involved in this yearly celebration?
Non-GMO Project: Learn more about what goes into your food by:
- Reading our blog posts or downloading educational materials from our website.
- Joining the conversation by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
- Most importantly, choosing Non-GMO Project Verified products and supporting the brands and stores that have committed to providing non-GMO choices. Many of our retail partners will have in-store displays and promotions during Non-GMO Month. You can even vote for your favorite displays on Instagram.