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Supplement manufacturers march slow and steady toward Non-GMO Project verificationSupplement manufacturers march slow and steady toward Non-GMO Project verification

Supply and technical issues plague supplements trying to meet GMO labeling demands.

Melissa Kvidahl Reilly

February 1, 2014

3 Min Read
Supplement manufacturers march slow and steady toward Non-GMO Project verification

In the wake of mainstream media coverage, increased consumer awareness of food sensitivities and Whole Foods Market’s drive toward GMO transparency, demand for products free of genetically modified organisms is higher than ever. Traditionally, the dietary supplement industry has met this demand with self-verification. But now the Non-GMO Project, North America’s primary source of third-party non-GMO verification, offers the promise of uniting the supplement industry under one standard and one seal. Still, a number of roadblocks can hinder a product’s path to winning the certifier’s approval.

The first challenge in securing Non-GMO Project Verification lies in the inherent nature of supplements. “The project’s process was originally designed to verify, primarily, food products,” says Gerda Endemann, Ph.D., senior researcher at Source Naturals, which has attained certification for its tongkat ali product. “Applying this same process to dietary supplements is more challenging because of the greater complexity of our supply chain, the large number of vitamins and herbs in many products, and the current lack of GMO-free forms of some ingredients.”

But it’s not just manufacturers that are affected, says Lisa Lent, founder and CEO of Vitalah, which is in the process of certifying its Oxylent effervescent line. “The documents needed for verification don’t always go all the way back to the agricultural practices used to produce source crops, or all the way through the various processors,” she says.

If manufacturers aren’t willing to wait for suppliers to switch to non-GMO practices, they might fall down the rabbit hole of searching for new ingredient suppliers who, simultaneously, may be searching for new raw material suppliers. And at any step of this chain, if a supplier lacks proper documentation, the search must begin again. “For complex formulations with multiple ingredients, the process requires a great deal of time, research and documentation,” Endemann says.

Even if a product meets the Non-GMO Project’s standards, the next challenge comes with documentation. According to Bethany Davis, regulatory and research and development project lead at MegaFood, the standard is still relatively new when compared with other third-party verifications, and it is inconsistent with European Union standards, which the international supply chain has been following for years. “So far, the supply chain has been quite slow to provide the necessary documentation and statements composed in the specific language required by the Non-GMO Project for ingredient approval,” she says. “That’s due to both the extensive information required and the specificity of the required wording.”

Because of these challenges, many supplement manufacturers are putting just one or two products through this process at a time. Companies might begin verification on a category-by-category basis or start with the simplest products containing the fewest ingredients, as Endemann suggests. In the meantime, self-verification remains a popular choice among manufacturers as they adjust to meet the Non-GMO Project’s current demands. Therefore, retailers should expect some confusion from shoppers who spot different seals and claims on their shelves.

Ultimately, the biggest challenges (and opportunities) lie with retailers on the front lines of a growing trend, an industry in flux and increasingly demanding shoppers. “By interfacing directly with consumers, retailers play a crucial role in educating about the complexities surrounding this issue,” Lent says. “With such a strong response from so many citizens concerned about non-GMO labeling, manufacturers, retailers and consumers can make this happen together.”

About the Author(s)

Melissa Kvidahl Reilly


Melissa Kvidahl Reilly is a freelance writer and editor with 10 years of experience covering news and trends in the natural, organic and supplement markets. She lives and works in New Jersey.

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