The subject of non-GMO (genetically-modified organism) food products has been in the spotlight constantly over the last few months. The recent phasing out of Chobani products at Whole Foods, due to the yogurt company's milk-producing cows' consumption of GMO, is a testament to the growing debate over GMO food products and increasing demand for non-GMO product development.
More broadly, the call for products that have less processing and modification has been significant in the last decade, and, thus, products like all-natural or organic have been sought after and are part of dynamic, high-growth industries.
The market for natural and organic products should exceed $78 billion in just another two years, according to Packaged Facts' analysts. We project non-GMO food and beverages were a market worth $178B in 2013.
The growth of such products has been influenced by many factors, including the regulatory adoption of mandatory labeling, which, in theory, would spur an increased appeal and production of non-GMO food.
“The FDA and USDA have accepted voluntary labeling of foods,” says Howard Waxman, author of a recent non-GMO market report for Packaged Facts, “and the Non-GMO Project (an organization that tracks genetic engineering and certifies food that has been voluntarily labeled as non-GMO) as a valid third party tester for GMO ingredients.”
He does not see the federal government stepping in anytime soon, but Connecticut and Maine have recently passed mandatory labeling laws. New Hampshire is another state that will soon address the debate in this year’s legislative session, according to the Washington Post.
Some core questions have surfaced as this debate over GMO food safety and benefits has continued, and there are implications for consumers, manufacturers and retailers of food industry products. Let’s take a look:
Is non-GMO food better for you?
The verdict is out, and that’s why the debate about GMO safety is all the more interesting. There is not a lot of science indicating negative reactions from GMO foods or any long-term effects on the health of human beings; however, there is a growing community of scientists, educators and advocates calling out the downside of genetic engineering.
A document found on the website of the Non-GMO Project asserts that the effects and results of genetic engineering in foods are neither predictable nor completely understood. Additionally, it contends that scientific reports that conclude that GMO foods are safe are actually bias or exist in an environment of research conflict of interest.
“Beyond the fear of corporate control of agriculture, perhaps the most cited objection to G.M.O.’s is that they may hold risks that may not be understood,” wrote Amy Harmon of the New York Times in August. “The decision to grow or eat them relies, like many other decisions, on a cost-benefit analysis.”
The piece discussed the overall debate around GMO foods and the Filipino debate over its crops of Golden Rice, a genetically engineered version of white rice. In the end, there’s a lot of research to review and absorb before consumers can draw definitive conclusions without the help of scientific expertise, and the choice is a personal one.
Are GMO foods better for the world?
That’s a tough one to tackle. What one can see now is the upside: genetic engineering does have benefits in creating crops that may yield foods that are lower in cost and are more plentiful. It’s not easy to discount the benefits of genetic engineering in the form of raising crop resistance to insecticides and the nutrition level of certain foods to combat disease and malnutrition.
This appears to be helpful across many cultures and populations around the world, but certainly, the debate will continue on whether genetic engineering has more of a downside than upside.
“A lot of the criticism of G.M.O.’s in the Western world suffers from a lack of understanding of how really dire the situation is in developing countries,” said Michael D. Purugganan, a genomics and biology professor and the dean of science at New York University in Harmon’s piece in the New York Times.
Is the non-GMO food and beverage market a big opportunity for the food industry?
Yes, the market is definitely growing, and Packaged Facts projects it will reach $265 billion by 2017, representing 30 percent of total food and beverage sales in the U.S. market. There’s a lot of interest in these foods and much debate around mandatory labeling, as well, so it won’t go away anytime soon.
As is the case with all products, the demand will dictate whether consumer adoption warrants increased product development and marketing of non-GMO foods.
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Food Research Editor,