Overheard at Expo East: non-GMO confusion persists

Overheard at Expo East: non-GMO confusion persists

An incident at Natural Products Expo East 2014 reveals that the mantra "organic means non-GMO" must still be enforced.

I witnessed something peculiar during Natural Products Expo East 2014.

I was meandering the show floor on the last day when I overheard an exhibitor at 22 Days Nutrition—makers of USDA Organic protein bars—chatting with a show attendee (I’m not sure how the attendee was affiliated with the natural industry, as I didn’t see her badge.)

The attendee asked the Expo East exhibitor if her products were non-GMO, to which the gal managing the booth replied “We’re not certified by the Non-GMO Project, but we’re USDA Organic. So our products don't contain GMOs because organic means non-GMO.”

Great answer, I thought, as I strolled by. Maybe we're getting the hang of this whole non-GMO thing.

But to this, the attendee threw up her hands, made a noise of complete disgust and stormed off, apparently offended. Surprised, the woman exhibiting the protein bars trailed off, “But organic means non-GMO…”

We looked at each other in disbelief. "That was weird," I said.

A call for more organic education

The exhibitor was correct. The USDA Organic certification is a strict standard containing protective requirements to reduce risk of GMO contamination. Though organic products are typically not tested for GMOs, the certification remains the national gold standard for food quality, sustainability, cleanliness and conscious sourcing.

Research indicates that non-GMO is growing more important to consumers than organic. Indeed, Google Insights comparing search terms “organic certification" and “non-GMO” reveal shifting shopper values. Plus, recent data from Nutrition Business Journal shows that sales of products containing the Non-GMO Project Verififcation garnered $7 billion in 2013.

But this was the first time I’ve actually witnessed not just the hierarchy non-GMO held over organic to an individual, but also the impassioned response and the radical confusion.

I sincerely doubt this attendee was a retailer—it’s quite possible that she was nascent to the natural industry. And it was just one person out of the 23,000-plus people who walked the show this year. I'm sure if you took a poll, most attendees would know that organic means non-GMO, and that non-GMO crops are likely grown with synthetic pesticides.

But this incident symbolizes non-GMO claim confusion. It still persists—even at the epicenter of the industry that founded the movement in the first place.

Your takeaway? The non-GMO agenda will progress as follows: awareness, education, action. As evidenced by my experience at the show, the awareness is here. As for education? We still need some work.

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