Industry Leaders Put a Focus on non-GMO at Natural Products Expo West 2009

This Friday morning, the world’s largest natural and organic products trade show will start off with an Educational Session on international efforts to secure a non-GMO food supply. The session, titled “GMO's: Gettin'M Out of our Food” (8:30 to 10 am in Anaheim Convention Center Room 207A), brings together prominent speakers from the fields of science, policy, and natural products.

According to Michael Funk, Board Chair and Founder of UNFI, “There is no greater threat to the natural and organic industry than GMOs.” GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are created when DNA from one species is inserted into another species in a laboratory, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional cross-breeding. Funk will bring an industry perspective to the session, discussing how GMOs affect natural products manufacturers, retailers, processors and growers, and encouraging industry members to join efforts addressing contamination risks. The primary solution he will be suggesting is participation in the Non-GMO Project.

The Non-GMO Project (, which was first launched two years ago at Expo West 2007, brings together stakeholders across North America in a collaborative effort to ensure the sustained availability of non-GMO options. As a Board member of the Project, along with top executives from Eden Foods, Lundberg Family Farms, Nature’s Path Organic Foods, Organic Valley, and Whole Foods Market, Funk is committed to supporting the Project’s strategy of product verification and uniform “Non-GMO Project Verified” labeling (the label will start appearing on products in October 2009).

Funk says that UNFI’s support will include highlighting “Verified” products: “We look forward to promoting and identifying items that have gone through the verification process in our catalogues, web site and other sales materials. Our focus will be on continuing to provide this critical information to retailers and consumers, giving additional integrity to the products we sell.” Funk would like to see “all companies in the natural products industry begin to enroll their brands through the Non-GMO Project’s verification process. By doing so,” he says, “we can ensure that we keep GMOs out of our food supply.”

The session’s other speakers, Michael Hansen, Ph.D, of the Consumers Union and John Fagan, Ph.D, of FoodChain Global Advisors, will speak about GMO science and policy, both in this country and internationally. Hansen, who will be focusing on the health implications of GMOs, says, “Recent scientific studies raise questions about the safety of GE (genetically engineered) foods.” He adds, “People are always shocked to learn that the FDA does not require safety testing of GE foods before they are allowed on the market. In fact, except for the FlavrSavr tomato, FDA has never made a conclusion about the safety of any GE crop.” Fagan will offer an update on the European Union’s GMO policies (the EU requires labeling on any product containing more than 0.9% GMO, and in most EU countries no GM crops are grown), and will also talk about GMO struggles in India, Brazil, and elsewhere across the globe.

Following the session, the show floor at Expo West will provide an opportunity for the 15 brands that currently have products enrolled in the Non-GMO Project’s Product Verification Program to promote their leadership to retailers and buyers. Attendees will see signs stating Project support and participation across the floor. The Project is also working with retailers at this show to help get more companies enrolled. “We’re forming a Retailer Battalion of sorts,” says Project Executive Director Megan Thompson. “Retailers initially started the Non-GMO Project, and at this show they’ll be continuing to lead the charge by letting manufacturers know that non-GMO verification is important to them. We want manufacturers to feel supported and encouraged to put the effort into non-GMO.” Thompson will also be meeting with manufacturers of all product categories during the show. “At every show there is more and more interest in the Non-GMO Project,” Thompson says. “This one is no exception, and our meeting calendar is booked solid. It’s really encouraging to see how awareness is building around the need to protect natural and organic products from GMO contamination.”

The Project will be exhibiting at the UNFI booth, #3838

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