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Report: Label GMO Foods
A Year of Progress
The past year has shown that food producers and retailers are listening to consumers’ desire for information and choices when it comes to GMOs. It’s smart business to give customers what they want, and some companies are beginning to build the transparent marketplace that consumers deserve.
One year ago – on March 8, 2013 – retail giant Whole Foods announced a commitment to GMO labeling. Citing customer demand, the company set a deadline of 2018 to label all products in their stores with GMO ingredients. The retailer has independently labeled its store-brand products since 2009, and is now working with its suppliers to build towards the switch.
Burrito chain Chipotle last year took a step towards labeling by making GMO information about its ingredients available on its website. It also stated a long-term goal of reducing or eliminating the number of GMO ingredients in its food. Despite speculation that these moves could increase costs or that GMO transparency would scare off customers, Chipotle has seen profits and sales increase since the announcement, with industry analysts citing the company’s stance on GMOs as one factor in the increase.
Ben and Jerry’s
Ice cream maker Ben and Jerry’s is taking a similar route – it’s committed to labeling its products by the end of 2014, and is working to phase out GMO ingredients this year as well. Its website currently allows consumers to see which flavors are GMO-free, though it does not note which ones do contain GMO ingredients.
Cheerios and Grape-Nuts
Iconic breakfast cereal brands Cheerios and Grape-Nuts took action on GMOs early in 2014. In January, food manufacturer General Mills dropped GMO ingredients from its regular Cheerios recipe, meaning that consumers would have a non-GMO option when buying cereal. Post soon followed suit by announcing a GMO-free version of its Grape-Nuts cereal.
Non-GMO Project Labeling
Because many food manufacturers are retailers do not have the expertise or capacity to themselves determine whether the ingredients in the foods they produce or sell contain GMO ingredients, they often turn to the Non-GMO Project, which offers third-party GMO labeling and verification. Their GMO-free label requires testing of ingredients that may pose a risk of GMO content, with a threshold of less than 0.9% GMO content – it also requires ingredient segregation and traceability to ensure that GMO and non-GMO ingredients stay separate.
In the absence of mandatory labeling laws, this third party approach can help give consumers more information about the food they’re buying – and customers are responding. According to Whole Foods, products they sell that have Non-GMO Project labeling see 15-30% sales increases. And the number of food producers interested in labeling their products via the Non-GMO Project saw a year-over-year tripling from the second quarter of 2012 to the second quarter of 2013.
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