Bethany Davis, director of regulatory affairs of FoodState, the maker of the MegaFood brand of whole food vitamins, said the Non GMO Working Group started two years ago at the Expo West trade show in Anaheim, CA. The group originally came together to investigate the questions that the rising tide of GMO labeling initiatives posed for industry.
Davis said from the start the group has had a pragmatic focus. What might the labeling requirements be? How difficult would it be to comply? And where to find compliant ingredients, and what categories of ingredients, such as excipients, might need some sort of waiver as the market ramps up to meet the demand?
NutraIngredients-USA recently hosted an online forum in which Davis participated on the topic and a number of questions came in regarding how to join the group and how to get more information on its activities. Davis said the members decided that the time has come to step beyond the group’s current existence in conference rooms at trade show halls. The initial information gathering and sharing period is over; now the group wants to start helping to form policy, and to do that it needed a higher profile. And money in the form of dues, Davis said.
“It has started to evolve over time and just recently we decided to formalize the group. One of the biggest initiatives is we want to have a consultant write a white paper about what is the most appropriate standard for GMOs for dietary supplement companies,” Davis told NutraIngredients-USA.
Davis said the group is in the process of formalizing a membership structure which will be followed in short order by launching a website that will feature findings and resources. To do that and to accomplish some other goals, the organization will have to start collecting dues, she said.
“Going forward there are going to be two levels of memberships. We want to continue the dialogue and share as much information with the industry as we can,” Davis said.
“Anyone can be a member and be on the e-mail list. Then there is a full membership that will be $5,000 a year. We have about 70 companies on the e-mail list now and we have about 15 so far that have said they are interested in becoming full members,” she said.
Davis said the group tries to keep its focus on the pragmatic questions of how to comply with the developing standards and how best to influence how those standards might evolve.
“We want to become very specific about what our objectives are so that we don’t become one of these working groups that fizzle out over time,” she said.
Pull from consumers
What the group hasn’t done and won’t do is spend time debating the relative merits of genetic modification technology. While the group includes influential members like FoodState that are true believers in consumers’ right to know about the inclusion of GMO ingredients and that there are better ways to advance agriculture than through the use of GMOs, the focus of the group is on the how, not the why.
“This group specifically is very focused on feasibility and third party certification. These are companies whose consumers have come to them and said this is what they want,” Davis said.
“The goal really is to find alignment from all of the various standards that have been proposed. We want to hear from everyone so that we can come up with a reasonable and functional standard.”
Then there will be the matter of how to demonstrate a company is complying with that standard. To that end, one of the first initial tasks for the group in addition to the white paper will be to create a system to evaluate the various third schemes such as those offered by the Non GMO Project, which is more of an audit-based system, or NutraSource Diagnostics, which is based on testing.
“There are a number of new non GMO verification programs. We want to investigate these other programs to see if they are meaningful and comprehensive enough for our members to pay attention to. We want to make sure that companies can be in compliance if they want to be,” Davis said.
In light of the strong interest in the group, NutraIngredients-USA will follow the story forward and keep industry informed when the group’s member enrollment process is ready for prime time. In the meantime, interested parties can hear the recent Going Non GMO in Supplements forum by clicking here.