Proposed Non-GMO Labeling and Certification Options

2018 PTT fwp/Proposed Non-GMO Labeling and Certification Options - Nancy Knight

Non-GMO Project is a highly recognized and trusted verification process. Of noted importance is that some of the newer technologies, such as CRISPR-Cas9 (gene editing), will not be able to be certified under the impending bioengineered standard.

WHILE NON-GMO claims are fast growing, the regulatory land- scape is unclear. Nancy Knight, Director of Quality and Regulatory Compliance, Orgain, Inc., discussed current challenges, as well as options for non-GMO labeling in her presentation “Non-GMO Transparency: Understanding Your Options.”

The final rule for the National Bioengineered (BE) Food Disclosure Law is expected to be issued later this year. The Agricultural Marketing Service of USDA comment period ends July 3, 2018. Federal law preempts state law. Knight encourages companies whose brands might be affected to read the lengthy rule.

USDA is silent in the regulation regarding third-party, non-GMO certifications. The proposed rule requires GMO ingredients to be labeled if they ARE in the product. Third-party certifications indicate that GMO ingredients AREN’T in the product. Whether the two approaches to labeling will align is still a grey area.

FDA’s guidance for voluntary labeling was issued November 2015. Certain terms are recommended, such as “not genetically engineered,” “not bioengineered” or “not genetically modified using modern biotechnology.”

The guidance emphasizes avoidance of “GMO-free” claims and to avoid intervening material in the list of ingredients, such as “non-GMO corn.” Knight reasoned that FDA views this as a gateway labeling violation. “In (and of) itself, it’s not that big of a deal,” she said, “but it may indicate that you have people on your staff who don’t know much about labeling.”

Companies seeking non-GMO verification have choices. The nonprofit Non-GMO Project is highly recognized. Their logo has earned consumer trust and retail promotion. They stand by their standards. “The Non-GMO Project thought it important that I state that they are looking at new technologies [used by the industry],” she said. CRISPR and novel technologies will not be able to be certified under the standard.

The process to achieve certification begins with selecting a technical administrator (TA) who is affiliated with an outside agency. The Non-GMO Project requires a license agreement. The TA will complete a product evaluation. Once verified, products will be eligible for marketing. Verification is renewed annually. She cautions it can take four weeks or (up to) a year and a half to get through the process.

“I can’t stress enough how the key to success is partnering with the right TA. Everyone has a different competency. If you [use] citric acid, for example, see if they have certified citric acid before.” TAs must understand how products are made, so it can avoid a lot of education and loss of time if they’ve worked with the product before.

Food Chain ID, NSF, Where Food Comes From and SCS Global are all TAs. Food Chain ID has the longest history of verification. She recommends interviewing the TAs, getting pricing and negotiating. “If you’re big enough, say you want a project manager. Tell them your timeline. The flip side is, make sure someone in your organization is up to speed on the standards and knows what type of documentation is required,” she said.

Other options to the Non-GMO Project include USDA Organic and USDA Process Verified. NutraSource I-Gen, a testing lab, is another alternative with fewer documentation requirements. NSF True North was created in collaboration with Whole Foods. Available to other companies, its advantage is ease of certification if already organic.

Some companies do not follow a certification route and use their own logos. This is acceptable, as long as it meets FDA’s definition of what is truthful and not misleading. Some retailers require third-party certification.

Nevertheless, USDA guidance is coming. “You don’t want to go down the path of a third-party certification that may be inconsistent,” she cautioned. “Some companies, like Whole Foods, are pausing until the rule is clear. They still want third-party verification, but ingredient statements might be affected by the rule.”

“Non-GMO Transparency: Understanding Your Options,” Nancy Knight, Director of Quality and Regulatory Compliance, Orgain, Inc.

This presentation was given at the 2018 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Protein Trends & Technologies Seminars at

Posted on:January 8, 2019

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