What are GMOs?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. Also referred to as GE (genetically-engineered), genetic modification utilizes gene-splicing to overcome natural laws. Genes from different species are combined to create agricultural products that are more resistant to certain exogenous factors such as herbicides, fungus and pests, or that have other reputed benefits over their natural counterparts. While genetic engineering promises higher crop yields, more research is needed to gauge the true long term impact of these types of products. Because non-GMO ingredients are more natural, we’ll continue to prefer non-GMO ingredients in our products
What is NOW’s position on GMOs?
Since 1968 NOW Foods has been committed to providing natural products of the highest quality. We firmly believe that natural products are better than synthetic products, which is why we’ve always sought to use organic and non-GMO ingredients whenever possible. These ingredients are produced using methods that preserve their natural identity and integrity, which we feel better supports our mission of empowering people to lead healthier lives. NOW is working with its suppliers to obtain more non-GMO ingredients. We are committed to offering as many non-GMO products as possible.
Why are GMOs controversial?
GMOs are controversial for a number of reasons including:
- Monocropping: A lack of biological diversity leading to higher risks of crop failure.
- Ecology: Many GE crops may be designed to require the use of higher levels of agricultural chemicals that cause loss of natural habitats.
- Pollution: Agricultural chemicals used in higher levels can get into the water table and also may leave more residues on the crops.
- Toxicity: Chronic exposure to low levels of agricultural chemicals may cause neurological and hormonal damage to children.
- Nutrition: Some researchers have reported higher levels of anti-nutrient compounds and lower levels of nutrients in certain GMO than conventional crops.
- Allergies: A study on the relation of GE foods to allergies hypothesized that GE foods can cause food allergies.
- Monopoly: Patented seeds may be restricted: farmers can be prohibited from saving seeds to replant next year’s crop; plus they may cost the farmer more both for seed and agricultural chemicals.
- Water: GE seeds often require higher amounts of water to thrive than do some traditional varieties.
- Unintended consequences: Some GE crops have reportedly had major problems by causing loss of protection from drought, insects, soil pests, changes to the plant structures, etc. Additionally, GMOs can be a threat to organic foods since very often there is drift from the spraying of adjacent fields with pesticides, or co-mingling of organic and GMO crops.
- Religious and other dietary restrictions: How does one faithfully follow dietary rules, such as kosher, vegetarian, and others, if different species’ genes are intermixed without labeling? GE plants, animals, viruses, and other organisms have been proposed and produced. Fish genes have been placed into tomatoes, for example, and production of GE Salmon is being hotly debated now.
- Lack of transparency: The Bush Administration in 1992 decided that GMOs were not substantially different from conventional crops, and the federal government since then has accepted most GMO crops without requiring extensive safety testing or labeling. In addition the U.S. FDA has stated there are no significant differences between genetically engineered foods and non-genetically modified foods. This has been controversial, with growing demands to both label and restrict the growing of GMO crops.
- Not Natural: Even though some claim that there are no chemical, nutritional, or biochemical differences between GMO and non-GMO crops, most natural products consumers believe that GMO crops are not natural.
When did GMOs become common and what are the most likely GMO crops?
During the past two decades, the number of crops grown by GE methods in the United States has been slowly increasing and high-risk crops now include some varieties of these plants (source: The Non-GMO Project):
- Papaya (Hawaiian)
- Sugar Beets
- Summer Squash
Unfortunately, many traditional health foods were affected by the widespread conversion of crops like corn and soybeans to GMO seeds starting in the mid-1990s, and it took literally years before a variety of non-GMO options became available again. Some of these are still not available in guaranteed non-GMO form as supply chains and documentation trails are slowly being rebuilt.
Why not just replace GMOs with non-GMO alternatives?
This is actually easier to achieve with simple whole foods, and at NOW Foods we are almost there. This is much harder to achieve with the numerous dietary supplement ingredients that are derived from crops like corn and soy which contain no detectable GMOs. A world-wide supply chain produces purified materials on a large scale, drawing from many farms without a system in place for documenting the agricultural practices used to produce the crops. Unfortunately, the supply chain documentation for such purified supplement ingredients does not always extend all the way to the farm level to allow full non-GMO verification or certification. For some dietary supplement ingredients, their source crop may be soy or corn, which may be GMO. We try to weed these out and use only non-GMO sourced ingredients, but this is not always feasible in the short term. New and separate sources of ingredients with full documentation of non-GMO status, from conversion and certification of farms through various handlers and processors all the way to the finished product manufacturers, are required for non-GMO verification or certification and these usually take years to develop. Unfortunately, it's much more difficult than most consumers think. It’s a very slow and complicated process, but we are working on it every day. While extending documentation of existing raw materials, we are actively rejecting any new raw materials lacking proper assurances of their being from non-GMO sources.
For example, pure natural vitamin C is produced from corn by only five production facilities in the world. None are in the United States, where GMO corn is all too common. All are from Europe and the Far East, situated in countries that (to date) have restrictions that do not allow GMO food corn to be grown there. Our producers have given us statements to confirm that their corn sources are non-GMO, but the documentation doesn’t extend back to the farm level. Testing for GMOs has not found that any is detectable in vitamin C. We have done all that is currently possible to assure that our vitamin C is non-GMO, and continue to monitor the situation to ensure this is maintained in the future.
How has NOW promoted non-GMO?
- We’ve supported The Non-GMO Project for years by providing scientific experts to serve on its Technical Advisory Board.
- We have supported other non-GMO proponents, including the Organic and Non-GMO Report and the Institute for Responsible Technology.
- We support national and uniform labeling of GMO foods and continue to work with industry groups on finding feasible ways to achieve this.
- We have publicized data showing that GMO crops can be inferior nutritionally and agriculturally to their related conventionally grown strains.
- We are working with ingredient suppliers and asking them to put more effort and resources into non-GMO sourcing.
- We continue to expand our Certified Organic and non-GMO verified (by The Non-GMO Project) offerings. See the attached certifications.
- We are working with various organizations to improve the availability of non-GMO dietary ingredients.
What does it mean when NOW puts “non-GMO” on the label?
Please see our product labels. We are very particular about our label information. When our product label says “non-GMO” this means that the main ingredients of the product are either Identity Preserved as non-GMO or we have other supporting documentation confirming that the source crops are non-GMO.
Prominent members of the non-GMO community have recognized us for requesting, sourcing, and introducing non-GMO alternatives as they become available. We are proud to now have many non-GMO products for sale, including non-GMO vitamin C, vitamin E, soy lecithin, soy protein and texturized protein.
To date, out of the more than 1,400 products NOW offers, we have supporting documentation that about 75% of our products are GMO-free. We are actively working with suppliers to step up their research, development, and sourcing efforts to address and document the remaining products. However, as much as we want to be completely GMO-free, please understand that the supply chain in today’s world is very long and complex and it is not a switch that can just be turned on
We are committed to providing GMO-free products, and have accordingly committed substantial resources to achieve and promote that goal.
See our Non-GMO Project Verified Real Food, Supplements, Better Stevia, Real Tea and Healthy Foods.
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