For Vendors: Labeling GMO Ingredients

Settling the national debate over labeling genetically modified ingredients seems simple on the surface: just label it. As a company that has been incrementally instigating changes to the nation’s agricultural and food production systems for more than fifty years, we can assure you nothing is that simple.


We have prepared a policy paper on Transparency in GMO Labeling for your review in our Advocacy and Public Policy section.  Below are highlights to get you started on the right track.  We want to reassure our vendors that although we continue to work toward eliminating GMO ingredients from the products we sell, we are aware of the difficulties this is causing during the transition period. Just work diligently toward the objectives of transparent labeling of GMO ingredients while you also eliminating them.  We’ve got your back.


GMO Labeling Transparency: what it is and why it matters.


Certain varieties of commodity crops such as soy, sugar beets, corn, and canola can be developed using genetic engineering, yet they are are used throughout the food system without being identified as genetically modified organisms (GMO). GMO transparency refers to accurately identifying in a finished product each ingredient that is derived from genetically engineered plants, and labeling the product with this information so the consumer can make an informed buying decision.


Transparency matters because many of our customers choose to avoid buying foods made with ingredients derived from genetically modified plants due to recognized and documented health, environmental, safety, economic and political concerns.


Most retail GMO labeling schemes call for a prominent warning or disclaimer stating: May Be Produced with Genetic Engineering (MBP-GE).


Natural Grocers calls for GMO transparency in labeling — but labeling itself is not the end goal.


  • We believe that GMO transparency on product labels is critical step to increasing awareness of and support for sustainable and organic agriculture.
  • We do not want the GMO disclaimer to be ignored by consumers as another ubiquitous warning.
  • We do not want the disclaimer to make the presence of GMO ingredients commonplace and accepted.
  • We do not want food companies to abandon efforts to source non-GMO ingredients because the disclaimer gives them cover in the courts of law and public opinion.


Guidance for disclosing GMO ingredients on retail product labels.


There is currently no shared standard for labeling GMO ingredients, either agreed to by the food industry or issued by a government authority.  Our preference is to place an asterisk (*) following each GMO ingredient in the ingredient list beneath the Nutrition Facts panel. The asterisk then refers to a note just below the ingredient list that states “May be produced using genetic engineering”, “Potential GMO Ingredient” or similar statement.  We would also strongly suggest you make a clear statement about why you felt it necessary to include any genetically engineered ingredients, in each case or in general. If space is limited, place the notice “See for our statement on use of potential GMO ingredients” where you can go into greater detail. Developing trust and understanding from our customers who buy your products depends not on the presence of the disclaimer, but rather on your transparent intentions and practices.  If you plan on removing all potential GMO ingredients within a certain time frame, by all means say so.


Many of the state and federal bills calling for mandatory GMO labeling have sought to require a large-type warning statement on the front display panel of each product. This approach seems designed to differentiate GMO from non-GMO products on conventional supermarket shelves, without communicating to the consumer any level of nuance or detail. Note that our approach to GMO labeling transparency is presented within the context of our own retail environment, product selection, and established ingredient standards. At this time we do not contemplate requiring front of package GMO disclaimers for products sold in our stores. We especially do not want to see every product carry a disclaimer whether it needs it or not.  We believe an informed consumer can read the ingredient list, and GMO notices found there, to decide if a particular product meets his or her overall standards.


How do I know if an ingredient I would like to use is non-GMO or not?  


Identifying GMO ingredients will continue to be a significant challenge for years to come.  The concept of “identity preservation” or “IP” is now being standardized and implemented in international agriculture but is only recently being addressed in US policy circles.  A system similar to IP already takes place within certified organic agriculture, which serves as the basis for creating new IP guidelines. In short, organic ingredients found on a retail shelf can be traced back through the manufacturer, processor, transporter, harvester, grower, and seed provider to prove its identity as organic. The organic IP system is governed by the National Organic Program rules, and the system of organic stakeholders throughout the world can physically segregate and preserve the organic integrity of products throughout the entire organic food supply chain.


Genetically engineered and conventional commodities do not have a similar system of identity preservation. Currently, for instance, most corn and soy is harvested and transported to county granaries without any thought of whether it is GMO or not. Corn is corn, soy is soy.  Even if a granary operator wanted to segregate GMO for conventional crops, they may not have the physical ability to do so nor have established record keeping systems in place. There are a few operators who specialize in identity preserved crops, and they are usually certified organic as well. For the most part, however, it’s buyer beware when purchasing commodities that may have been produced using genetic engineering or may have been co-mingled with other GMO product.


Ingredient manufacturers suffer the same dilemma when sourcing raw materials – is it or isn’t it GMO?  This dilemma explains the dependence on organic certification as a proxy for identifying non-GMO ingredients. Identity preservation of organic and non-GMO crops is perhaps the most pressing issue in US agricultural policy, because the absence of standards, accepted practices and verification processes is impeding the ability of growers and ingredient makers and food manufacturers to access domestic and foreign markets for non-GMO products.


View our policy paper on Transparency in GMO Labeling  in our Advocacy section.

Visit the Non-GMO Sourcebook for lists of Organic and Non-GMO suppliers.

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