Expected to Achieve Non-GMO Project Verification?

Originally Published: July 20, 2016
Last Updated: March 1, 2021
Expected to Achieve Non-GMO Project Verification? You must include ingredient traceability and risk assessment.

July 20, 2016—

Expected to achieve non-GMO project verification?  There are many things you need to know if you’re going to pursue non-GMO Project verification, including definitions, retail and consumer perception, the legislation surrounding them and the background of the Non-GMO Project organization, said Nancy Knight, Business Unit Manager for NSF International, which is a Technical Administrator to the Non-GMO Project, in her Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar-Business Highlights presentation titled “What to Expect When You are Expected to Achieve Non-GMO Project Verification.”

However, if there’s one key element one really must know, it is the food components. “Coming out of the food industry, and being on the technical side, I was used to the requirements of tracing your ingredients for food certifications, but the depth of knowledge required for Non-GMO Project verification was a real eye-opener on things you’d probably never thought about asking your suppliers,” said Knight. “Because traceability is key for determining non-GMO status, ingredients throughout the supply chain have to be verified.”

As Knight noted, the system “may seem complicated,” but as the fastest growing label in the industry, many companies are committed to pursuing this verification. A few points are offered here.

The three core components of the Non-GMO Project Standard are:
Testing. All major GMO risk ingredients must be tested prior to use in a verified product and be compliant with the action threshold.
Segregation. Segregation requirements ensure that, once tested, material is protected from contamination throughout the manufacturing process.
Traceability. Traceability measures ensure all high-risk inputs are tracked through to the final product.

The first step in obtaining verification is to separate your ingredients into non-risk, low-risk and high-risk. Each category undergoes different levels of testing. Non-risk ingredients are “not derived from biological organisms and are not, therefore, susceptible to genetic modification.” Examples include salt, lime and fossil-based products.

Items falling into the low-risk category are “species for which genetically modified versions have not yet been commercialized or for which there are no known or suspected instances of contamination.” Examples would be bell peppers or quinoa at this point in time. High-risk foods or ingredients include those that are commonly genetically modified, such as corn, soy, cotton, canola, papaya, sugar beet, summer squash, alfalfa, animal derivatives (honey, dairy, meat) and microorganisms/enzymes.

If it is a single, unprocessed ingredient under consideration, it’s relatively easy to decipher if it’s high or low risk. However, if it is a further-processed ingredient, determination of non-GMO status becomes more difficult. Examples of the latter include modified starch, dextrose and vegetable oil.

“Ask your supplier to disclose the source of the ingredient when there is a chance of it having come from a high-risk source,” Knight advised. After risk assessment, the next step is to classify ingredients as major (>5%), minor (between 0.5-5%) or micro (<0.5%) components of a product. “Defining ingredients” that appear as part of a product’s name are considered major and will be tested. All high-risk inputs that are major ingredients in the final product are tested using either genetic (Real Time or Digital PCR) or immunologically based tests.

For example, in the case of a corn chip where the finished product contains 97% corn and 3% oil, the certifiers will ask to see a sampling and testing plan for the corn. In the case of a meat-based product that is 99% beef and 1% spices, they need to see a sampling and testing plan for the feed the cows consumed.

“While the absence of all GMOs is the target for all Non-GMO Project standard compliant products, the Non-GMO Project knows that is not realistic and, therefore, it is not the requirement,” Knight said. She provided a chart that detailed permitted level of GM contamination in various products. (See chart “GM Contamination Action Thresholds.”)

“The Non-GMO Project asks that participants implement continuous improvement practices in their quality management systems,” Knight said. A key requirement of such quality management systems is to meet and always be below an action threshold. Inputs that do not comply with the testing requirements may not be intentionally used in verified products.

Nancy Knight, Business Unit Manager, NSF International, nongmo@nsf.org, 858-200-9722, www.nsf.org

The summary above is an excerpt from the “2015 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar Business Highlights Magazine.”