For many of the main active ingredients, such as botanicals and marine ingredients, GMO technology has made barely a dent. For the bulk of botanicals, most of the markets are too small to make the investment in GMO technology viable. In the marine realm, the sole penetration thus far has been the AquaBounty variety of genetically-modified, faster-growing salmon, which has yet to come to market. Even if the fish does one day achieve commercial viability, there is no plan at the moment to harvest the leftover viscera for omega-3s.
“A significant portion of botanicals are wildcrafted, so they would be non GMO by definition,” George Pontiakos, president and CEO of ingredient supplier BI Nutraceuticals, told NutraIngredients-USA. Pontiakos is agnostic on the issue of genetic modification, saying that BI is ready to supply what the market asks for. But he did note that the technology from his point of view offers powerful benefits, benefits which mostly accrue to the producers. But it does mean that agricultural producers can offer those ingredients at a lower price.
“There are benefits to GMO. There is less water usage and less pesticide usage,” Pontiakos said.
Bit player on large stage
BI, based in Irvine, CA, is a large enough supplier that it can influence markets within the small sphere of botanicals. But the dietary supplement industry as a whole is a bit player in the world of agriculture. One argument that the advocates of mandatory GMO labeling have put forth to address manufacturers’ supply concerns is that market demand will drive the development of these supply chains. But Pontiakos said that at the moment, potential demand for non GMO excipients that could be used in the dietary supplement industry is not even a drop in the bucket. That drop of demand evaporates before it even hits the surface.
Going Non-GMO in Supplements
NutraIngredients-USA is hosting an online forum titled Going Non GMO in Supplements to air this Thursday at 11 am Eastern. Speakers include Loren Israelson, president of the United Natural Products Alliance, Bethany Davis, director of regulatory affairs for FoodState, Inc.; Graham Rigby, senior vice president of science, innovation and R&D for New Chapter and Alan Lewis, director of special projects for Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage. To register for the event, click here.
“We don’t move the needle in corn or soy. We are not even a rounding error. For the customer that is GMO sensitive, you can run into problems,” Pontiakos said.
Nevertheless, alternatives are available, he said. It’s just that some customers, especially those with mid market brands aimed at a particular price point, might not like those alternatives.
“Maltodextrin is a very big excipient that we use. There are lots of alternatives for binders besides GMO corn, but it is the most cost effective. Everyone happy talks this thing until you see the price and then the customer recoils in horror,” he said.
In the short run, Pontiakos said the niche market for non GMO excipients will mean a premium price.
“The GMO people have done a terrible job of marketing the benefits of the technology. With non GMO, you will be dealing with a grower that has lower yields. He has higher costs because he has to use more water and more pesticides and he knows he’s in a niche market so he can charge accordingly,” Pontiakos said.
Natural products sphere
Hame Persaud, executive vice president of Bradenton, FL-based HP Ingredients, says that the market has been slow to awaken both to the challenge of non GMO supply but also to the opportunity that being an early adopter might mean.
“We are in the natural products business so non GMO and organic is the way to go. All the European regulatory bodies all say you need non GMO so we may as well as comply and go for the widest market possible,” he said.
“I think part of it is that people have become lazy. They do the things they’ve always done because they are saving a buck. You can look at things like non GMO rice flour an excipient, or non porcine gelatine. I think people are missing a huge opportunity by not toeing the line on organic, non GMO, kosher and halal. When the consumer starts saying this is what we want that’s when we walk up,” Persaud said.