Biotech Gallery

Non-GMO Project: Pro-organic group wants to ‘shrink’ market for conventional foods, kill biotechnology

Last Updated: March 27, 2017

Non-GMO Project

Keywords: Non GMO Project, Megan Westgate

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Non-GMO Project

The Non-GMO Project—a non-profit founded in 2008—certifies that a company’s product has no genetically modified ingredients. It charges companies from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of a product’s supply chain.

The group’s mission statement reads: “The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices.” But its oft-admitted goal since its incubation has been to remove GMOs from the marketplace, with the non-GMO label seen as a tool to make that happen.

Executive Director Megan Westgate told the Wall Street Journal that it is focusing on shrinking the market for existing GMO ingredients and prevent new commercial biotech crops, which would grow the business of the organic and natural products industry. That philosophy can be traced back to 1997, when Peter M. Ligotti, a Maharishi cult member and organic industry marketer pitched the potential marketing benefits of such a label to Whole Foods (email from WikiLeaks):

To label the non-GE food will create an incredible market niche in the U.S. and will create greater awareness of the issue world-wide. Marketing people would seize upon the idea as a way to create product differentiation while doing some good for the world…. Go for a total ban at the same time. When we do achieve a ban, we will need to know which products to leave on the shelves and which to throw away. Labeling the GE and NON-GE food will give us clarity when that day finally arrives.

The Non-GMO label landed its most high-profile partner in the conventional food industry when Cargill announced in March 2017 with a Tweet and a press release that it was partnering with the Non-GMO Project to verify three of its ingredients: erythritol, cane sugar and high oleic.

“Consumer demand for non-GMO food and beverages is growing, and Cargill is responding,” said Mike Wagner, Managing Director for Cargill Starches and Sweeteners North America. “We’re delighted to work with the Non-GMO Project, the leading verifier of non-GMO products in the United States. Their distinctive trademark is the most recognized symbol for non-GMO products in the country.”

The partnership touched off backlash in the science, journalism and farming communities, and thousands of Tweets lambasting, Cargill, which then rushed out a statement on Twitter distancing itself from its down agreement.

That post in turn created a backlash, as in effect Cargill acknowledged it was putting science aside and was adopting the label for purely marketing reasons, even if it confused consumers.

The requirements to attain non-GMO certification is even stricter than incorporated in the Vermont labeling law or instituted in Europe. That means many common products that use genetically engineered enzymes commonly used in the making of Vermont cheeses, popular beers and vitamin-fortified cereals cannot be certified under this label.

According to its website, as of April 2015, the Non-GMO Project had more than 29,500 verified products representing well over $11 billion in annual sales, sales of packaged produce with the group’s Non-GMO label in the 52 weeks ended June 14, 2015 grew 30 percent from a year earlier to $1.1 billion. Of the 33,000 newly launched products that market-research firm Mintel adds to its global database each month, 3.8% of food and beverage products included a GMO-free claim on the package last year, up from 1.6% in 2010. Many of them are certified by the Non-GMO Project.Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 10.11.12 PM

The organization has come under criticism, particularly from scientists, for labeling foods based on the method of production (i.e. genetic engineering), rather than on the final food product. The May 2016 National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) report on GMOs recommended that GMOs—and other crops altered via new breeding techniques like CRISPR—should not be evaluated or labeled based on the genetic modification technique. The NASEM report states that the U.S. regulatory system needs to assess crop varieties based on their individual characteristics, not the way they are produced.

The Non-GMO Project will certify some products made with genetically modified ingredients, just not ones made with the most modern techniques. Plant Scientist Steve Savage noted that the Non-GMO Project label can be found on crops genetically altered via mutagenesis, like sweet grapefruits.

These delicious grapefruit varieties are a textbook example of how crops were genetically modified back in the 1960s and ’70s using a method called “mutagenesis breeding.” Basically, seeds (or in this case pieces of budwood) were exposed to gamma radiation in substantial doses, and then sifted through to find ones with mutations to their DNA that had desirable qualities.

himalania-fine-pink-salt-248x300The project also certifies items, in particular fruits and vegetables, for which there are no GMO alternatives, which may mislead customers who often pay more for an informationally meaningless label. The organization offers its certification label to companies that produce products that contain no DNA, such as salt, as well as foods not intended for human consumption, like cat litter.

Some products have had to be reformulated to conform to the Non-GMO Project’s standards, resulting in a loss of nutrients.


The Non-GMO Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization formally incorporated in 2007 and received IRS non-profit approval in 2008 (EIN 02-0799621). The organization began as an initiative of independent natural foods retailers in the U.S. and Canada,[2] with the stated aim to provide non-GMO labeling for products produced in compliance with their own Non-GMO Project Standard.[3] The initiative was inspired by and founding members who were affiliated with natural product lobbyist Craig Winters and his “Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods” (a.k.a. “The Coordinating Council”) which also created and housed Jeffrey M. Smith‘s Institute for Responsible Technology.

It is supported by John Fagan, a Raja of the Global Country of World Peace with Global Responsibility for Food Purity and Safety and for Healthy Invincibility associated with the Maharishi movement in Fairfield, IA., and his company Genetic-ID, along with various organic and natural product company sponsors. Their work is supported by donations and fees paid by companies promoting non-GMO certified products. The group appears closely affiliated with the Maharishi movement in Fairfield, IA.[1]

In a 2011 letter Smith described early meetings of the group he attended in 2006 organized by Winters and United Natural Foods CEO Michael Funk to lay the groundwork for launching the Non-GMO project. According to Smith, the early board members and organizers with Winters and Funk included: George Gerner (Natural Grocer Company), Patrick Conner (Big Carrot Natural Foods Market), Mark Squire (Good Earth), Arran Stephens (Nature’s Path), Michael Potter (Eden Foods), Grant Lundberg (Lundberg Family Farms), George Siemon (Organic Valley), John Fagan (Genetic-ID), Megan Westgate (Food Conspiracy Coop) and Margaret Wittenberg (Whole Foods Market).[4] [5]

According to Food Chemical News, two “natural” food retailers began to form the project, hoping to create a standardized definition of non-GMO.[6] The Project worked with FoodChain Global Advisors (a.k.a. Global ID Group – a consulting arm of the Genetic-ID Group created by John Fagan)[7] which provided the scientific and technical GMO testing expertise. In in the Spring of 2007, the project’s board of directors[8] was expanded to include representatives from additional groups, and formed advisory boards for technical and policy issues.[9]

Labeling and Non-GMO Verification Process

The Non-GMO Project contracts with founding member Global FoodChain Advisors to provide verification and testing services, the costs for which are born by companies submitting products for non-GMO certification.[12] The for-profit FoodChain, not the Non-GMO Project, invoices companies directly[13] and a separate fee is paid to the Non-GMO Project for the licensing agreement to use the non-GMO logo on product labels and other marketing materials. FoodChain does not require testing of submitted products if company submitted paperwork meets standard guidelines. If testing or facility inspection is required, then FoodChain sister-organization Genetic-ID conducts such testing. No disclosures of this business relationship to the Non-GMO Projects’ founding board members and ongoing business relationship to FoodChain are found on their IRS 990 tax forms.

Non-GMO project certification fees paid to the FoodChain advisors includes:[14]

  • $695 (up from $595 in 2015) membership fee
  • $110 (up from $105-$125) per product evaluation fee (of which $50 (up from $35) goes to the Non-GMO project)
  • High GMO-Risk Ingredient Fee $50 per ingredient
  • Facility Fee $295 per location

If needed

  • Facility inspection $1,295 – $1,995 per day + travel expense
  • Testing (varies) – see footnote linked pricing sheet for additional details

Dividing the pre 2016 $35 fee into the 2013 reported program revenue for the Non-GMO Project would be equal to evaluating 9,200 products (twice as many as the 20,000 product claimed on their IRS 990 tax return). Using the claimed 20,000 products verified, fees to FoodChain advisers would have been a baseline of $2.1 – 2.5 million, plus membership fees from more than 3,000 brands (brand $1.785M, plus other facility, testing and consulting fees. As such, Non-GMO project founders at the for-profit Global FoodChain advisers are collecting more than $4 million in fees annually – at a minimum, this is more than 10 times the verification services fees collected by their non-profit partner.

Product Reformulations

Nutritionists and scientists have noted that products reformulated to be able to earn the Non GMO label are sometimes less healthy than their GMO alternatives. In December of 2014, NPR Food and Agriculture correspondent Dan Charles took note that vitamins were stripped out of both Cheerios and Grape-Nuts were to accommodate the Non-GMO label:

When they actually arrived on supermarket shelves, though, there was a mysterious change in their list of ingredients. Four vitamins that previously had been added to Grape-Nuts — vitamins A, D, B-12 and B-2 (also known as riboflavin) — were gone. Riboflavin vanished from Cheerios.

Vitamins are essential as nutritional components and are indispensable for the maintenance of many metabolic processes. They are often inserted in foods to enhance nutritional content. An insufficient vitamin supply can lead to deficiency diseases. That’s created a large vitamin manufacturing market, including vitamins using genetic engineering.

There are various methods for production of vitamins: chemical synthesis, extraction from plants or herbal material–and biotechnological methods with the help of microorganisms. For example, some but not all companies are making vitamin B-12 and riboflavin using genetically modified microbes, and have published scientific papers showing how this can be done.

Many manufactured vitamins do not meet the Non-GMO standard. Additives that are produced in a closed system with the help of genetically modified microorganisms do not have to be declared, providing that the specific additive has been purified and contains no microorganisms. They are not labelled in any country in the world. But they do fall under the Non-GMO guidelines, prompting companies who have such products and desire the label to remove them.

Some vitamins are made naturally by bacteria and yeast, but manufacturers cannot always guarantee these microorganisms weren’t fed sugar from non-GMO sources. Furthermore, it is difficult to verify if the cornstarch vitamins are often mixed with for handling purposes is from non-GMO sources. Other ways to get non-GMO vitamins include getting them from other countries, like China, or creating them synthetically in a lab. However, these methods can be expensive and time consuming, and it is likely companies would rather drop the vitamins than deal with the added work.

These changes did not help consumers, noted Wayne Parrott, professor of crop science at the University of Georgia. “The new versions are certainly less nutritious. Here are the nutritional differences for both Cheerios and Grape-Nuts comparing the conventional versions with the Non-GMO versions:

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 7.58.53 AM

Some products forced to reformulate to gain the Non=GMO label have not only lose vitamins, they’ve become less cost effective. The price of Grape Nuts increased 10% on a per volume basis. Other examples show seemingly identical products with drastic price differences due to the presence of the Non-GMO Project label on the more expensive version.

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 7.57.58 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 7.58.18 AM

Key People

Board of Directors:

Standard Committee:

The Standard Committee exists to oversee development of the Non-GMO Project Standard.

  • Beth Unger, Organic Valley (Voting)
  • David Gould, IFOAM (Voting)
  • Tara Froemming, SK Food (Voting)
  • Daniel Hall, Guide Environmental (Voting)
  • Andrew Huth, Jimbo’s…Naturally! (Voting)
  • Brandon Nauman, SCS Global Services  (Non-voting)
  • Kristina Bierschwale, Where Food Comes From (Non-voting)
  • Jennifer Schomp, FoodChain ID (Non-voting)

Funding Sources

  • See subscriber/ certified members list
  • Non-GMO Project listed as 501c3 non-profit and according to IRS form 990 tax returns reported income as follows:[21]
    • 2013 Donations and grants: $575,698; Program revenue: $322,157
    • 2012 Donations and grants: $250,832; Program revenue $156,273
    • 2011 Donations and grants: $131,295; Program revenue: $324,405
    • 2010 Donations and grants: $165,001; Program revenue: $52,143
    • 2009 Donations and grants: $128,837; Program revenue: $18,006
    • 2008 Donations and grants: $80,563 (no reported program revenue)
    • 2007 Donations and grants: $78,0000 (no reported program revenue)


FoodChain Advisors (Global ID Group)

Registrar URL:
Updated Date: 2012-05-10 16:27:32
Creation Date: 2006-12-09 06:53:52
Registrar Expiration Date: 2017-05-22 22:59:59
Registrar:, LLC
Registrant Name: Doug MacGregor
Registrant Organization: Global ID Group
Registrant Street: PO Box 1810
Registrant City: Fairfield
Registrant State/Province: Iowa
Registrant Postal Code: 52556
Ph: (641) 469-6181

See Also

John Fagan


Non-GMO Project Facebook page

Non-GMO Project on Twitter


  • Stuart M.

    I was dismayed to see this label on a box of Post Foods Grape Nuts cereal in my grocery store. I put it back on the shelf and bought a generic brand instead. I have complained on their “Contact Us” page.

    • gmoeater

      I, too, shun “non-GMO” food. It’s a con game. Good for you for complaining to Post, and that encourages me to do the same. Thanks!

    • gmoeater

      I, too, shun “non-GMO” food. It’s a con game. Good for you for complaining to Post, and that encourages me to do the same. Thanks!

  • Stuart M.

    I was dismayed to see this label on a box of Post Foods Grape Nuts cereal in my grocery store. I put it back on the shelf and bought a generic brand instead. I have complained on their “Contact Us” page.

  • Keith Edmisten

    your link to Megan Westgate, states takes me to some login page, not the source of her statement.

  • Keith Edmisten

    your link to Megan Westgate, states takes me to some login page, not the source of her statement.

  • WeGotta

    The answer is simple.
    Just label things as they are, not as they are not. This eliminates the need, and funding for the non-GMO project.
    When you make labeling laws based on sales projections, this is what you get. So the more you fight against accuracy, the more deception you get.

    • Eric Bjerregaard

      Yes, and I hereby label your comment as a back door contention that g.e. foods should be labeled. Such a contention is incorrect as it is not based on facts regarding safety.

      • WeGotta

        Labels aren’t just for facts regarding safety. The food industry gets to put lots of things on a label which are not based on good science (FDA 2003) and they get to hide other things that do have to do with safety like % daily intake of sugar.
        So why not let an organized group of American citizens have a say also?

        Most of the whole package is just one big commercial anyway. Why not reverse the scheme and make the allowable space on a package for marketing as small as the label used to be and the facts about food on the front in big letters and bright colors?

        • Eric Bjerregaard

          Well, for starters, you and what ever organized group you are referring to do not get to decide. The ones paying for the labels get to. That is called freedom of speech. Yes there are some gov’t inflicted examples of violations that make no sense. Such as nutrition labels on condiments . Do those idiots really think that anybody cares what the nutritional value of hot sauce is? The Arctic apple and the Simplot potato may be voluntarily labeled as g.e. Fine with me. But I will never discontinue my opposition to mandatory labeling that is not relevant to safety.

          • hyperzombie

            Simplot potato is now “White Russet” and in some stores now. It is labeled as a white russet.


          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Thanks, now that you mention it I do remember that this was being considered. Will it also have a g.e. label?

          • hyperzombie

            As far as I know they are just labeled as white russets.

          • Good4U

            Thank you, hyperzombie. I have been looking all over the place for Innate, so I will now be seeking out the white russet. Can’t wait to find them, eat them.

          • hyperzombie

            Tell me how they taste

          • WeGotta

            Well, we are the ones who pay for labels. All of us pay. Even if we don’t buy any food with a label we still pay. So I don’t think the food industry has any more claim then a group of citizens. Of course our government disagrees with me, but they would since the money all goes to them.
            I’m sure we could find much better ways of labeling and packaging our food if you think about it.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Nope, When was the last time you wrote a check to a label printer? Because it is incorporated into the purchases we make does not mean we get to decide how to market the product. After all it is not yours until after you buy it. And no if I do not buy say, kraft cheese. I do not pay for the label. Also “all the money” does not go to the gov’t. If it did the employees and suppliers would not get paid and the Kraft cheese would quickly disappear from your store.

  • WeGotta

    The answer is simple.
    Just label things as they are, not as they are not. This eliminates the need, and funding for the non-GMO project.
    When you make labeling laws based on sales projections, this is what you get. So the more you fight against accuracy, the more deception you get.

  • mkassowitz

    The Non-GMO label is not a panacea. It still misses the fact that Non-GMO does not necessarily mean organic so traces of pesticide poisons could still be there. But for food buyers who are wanting to avoid GMOs. Since Monsanto spends so much trying to prevent GMO labeling, it is only natural that the market would respond. And as the numbers show above, it is responding big. Monsanto has bigger problems than GMO labeling though.

    • Actually the dangers of eating organically are far higher than from eating conventional food with negligible and harmless trace levels of some pesticides. Organics of course have pesticides too, some more toxic than conventional fioid. Plus there are thousands of injuries and many deaths each year from listeria and E. coli contamination. So while people die each year from eating tainted organic food, not do much as a snuggle has been linked to GMOs. The world sure looks different when you take off your ideologue blinders and just look at the empirical data.

    • agscienceliterate

      MK, you have deluded yourself if you think that organic means avoiding “pesticide poisons.” Google organic approved pesticides and educate yourself.

      You are right about one thing, though — the non-GMO label certainly is not a panacea. In fact, “non-GMO” is disingenuous because even foods that have no GE counterpart are labeled “gmo free,” such as popcorn and water.

      Additionally, the certifying bodies don’t require a 0% GE standard to sell this expensive and misleading label to manufacturers.

      But gullible consumers are everywhere.

  • Crush david

    So basically the anti-transgenic crowd wants to limit choice in what foods consumers can buy. They just can’t accept that there are people who have different opinions and desires when it comes to buying food. Way to go.

  • Gene

    it’s terrible that this label is even necessary, clearly it’s a result of g.m.seed companies refusal to label

    • gmoeater

      Label for what reason, Gene? Safety? allergenic ingredients? nutrition? Nol. It’s all about demonization, to increase organic market share. And you know it.

      • Gene

        spare me the paranoia. any new technology or public concern should be labelled until citizens are satisfied the concerns are acceptable

        dolphin free makes no difference to nutrient levels in tuna

        if companies labelled voluntarily and over time there were no problems then people would forget their worries and eventually the label would be unnecessary. due to company’s refusal to label and actually using lawyers to overturn votes, people are suspicious which adds to the concerns and brings up all sorts of negatives like testing protocols (also kept from the public)

        if was as altruistic as they make it out to be there would be a ‘proudly gmo’ label on it

        the non-gmo labelled products purchased by consumers are real actual voting with your dollars, which is after all the american way therefore i have zero sympathy for the g.m.seed companies

        • Good4U

          Your mention of “people who are suspicious” says it all. Suspicion stems from ignorance. Suspicious people should learn something about the things they are suspicious about. Then they wouldn’t be so suspicious. It’s easy to be suspicious if one is inherently lazy.

  • Gene

    for the record, i see the non-gmo project as total garbage. an organization that says 1.5% gmo is non gmo? pthhh