Standards vs. Testing Does #Non-GMO Project Make the Grade?

IMG_20130428_144308I used to be embarrassed about being a purist, because many people and family members view it as a form of snobbery, possibly elitist in some way. Often, I battled my preferences for the cleanest food against offending those with friendly offerings of cultural, non-food items. Two years ago, I nearly gave in to the ideal that good, clean food and products just don’t exist and that I needed to lower my standards and expectations. Then I discovered Miessence. Not only do they sell food-grade skin/body care products, but they are on a mission to empower and inform. Since becoming a rep, I’ve been tickled to expound my mission as a blogger to learn more and personally reach out and share with those interested in clean products and clean living. Joining the Miessence community of support and like-minded individuals, has empowered me further to embrace my inner purist, striving in every facet of my live to live as naturally, and holistically as possible and making evolutions away from the way I used to live and eat.

I offer no excuses to those who seem offended by my expectation of clean food and products, as a matter of fact, I use these opportunities to share and enlighten. About a year ago, a sweet little girl, along with her dad showed up at my door selling girl scout cookies. Usually, I like to support these efforts, but a quick glance at the ingredients showed soy, soy derivatives and other items that typically hail from GMO crops. Pondering how to begin the conversation, I started by explaining to the dad that 95% of soy crops are genetically modified and I was avoiding GMOs for myself and my family. Surprisingly, he understood and even knew what GMOs were. They departed on a positive note and I’m sure the conversation left an impression on him and his daughter. We are so sick as a society and many have not made the connection to what we eat and how we some ways we all need to be purists. Simply because the powers that be, the ones that claim to oversee safety, seem to not only fallen asleep at the wheel, but have undercut this agenda in the name of profit.

I’ve most certainly lost faith in the FDA to protect us from dangerous products on the market. Not only is the cosmetic industry self-regulated, but Iatrogensis, injury or death from medical care, is one of the leading causes of death. Adverse drug reactions tops the list of inadvertent medical errors. Drugs, it should be emphasized, that have been approved for the marketplace. I’m a thinking woman. So when we have a government organization assigned for oversight and safety and the results of this aren’t showing up in society…as a matter of fact, the exact opposite of it…clearly a problem exists.

Thus, we turn to certifying agencies and certifications to assure ourselves of clean products and food. Not to too long ago I purchased USDA certified organic products with confidence, unfortunately, stumbling upon some information has caused me to question the validity of a USDA certified organic product. Despite the advice of credible experts such as Dr. Oz and the Institute of Responsible Technology, a USDA certified organic certification does NOT guarantee that the product you are purchasing is GMO-free. This fact comes from the National Organic Program, itself. They explain certifying organic products is processed-based and does not require testing. A company that adheres to the “excluded methods” (GMOs are excluded along with a list of exclusions) process in their approved organic system plan, is considered an organic operation…even IF the unintentional presence of GMOs are found in their products.  Don’t take my word for it. Read for yourself >>>here.

An approved organic system of excluded methods is left up to the discretion of a certifying agency (approved by the FDA). Can we trust these certifying agencies to provide certifications services that reflect true embodiment of the products they validate? The Organic Consumer Association compiled agencies (personal care, not food standards) and have graded them according to their approval process. Suffice it to say, they are not all created equal. The link can be found under the citations section at the end of the article.

The USDA, National Organic Program (food standards) remains the highest organic standard, but as I mentioned earlier, even this system has flaws. As a matter of fact, Tropical Traditions, a company I’ve found to be very credible (at this point!) have begun testing their OWN products for the herbicide glyphosate. Upon discovering some of their products contaminated with it, they have promptly removed those products from their line! Dissatisfied with today’s certifications and labeling, Tropical Traditions announced that they will be phasing out their USDA certified organic certification because standards have become “watered-down and confusing”.


At least we have NonGMO Project Verified…right? That’s what I thought until I discovered KeVita Probiotic Drinks was Non-GMO Project Verified. This led me to contact Non-GMO Project to inquire if they actually test probiotic strains for genetic modification. The conversation was enlightening to say the least, but left me with more questions than answers.

Prior to contacting them, I was under the impression and a believe a lot of you are too, that Non-GMO Project, did the actual testing for GMOs. What I learned is that much like the National Organic Program, they employ a “standard” and third-party agencies apply the approval and testing process, in which documentation is submitted to NGP for certification.

The convo took place over a week in seven emails, here are portions of the emails…

ME: (Initial question) “I have a question and concern about an ingredient listed on a product that has the nonGMO Project verification status. Before I delve into the topic, I'd like to ask, does nonGMO Project verify and test probiotic/bacteria strains for genetic engineering or modification?”

NGP: All probiotics are evaluated in every product, because they are active organisms. All inputs are reviewed in a product, and with living organisms, that requires a review of what that organism consumed. Basically, our Standard addresses micro-organisms similar to the fashion in which our Standard reviews animals. A product that includes probiotics would mean that our verification ensures the organism itself is non-GMO and the organism was not fed GMOs. (Most bacteria and fungus raised in/on a growth media of sugar.)”

ME: “Just to confirm how your standards are organisms such as probiotics are not tested for genetic modification themselves, but instead are determined nonGMO by your organization due to consumption of nonGMO food, in this case nonGMO sugar?

Let me pose an example to you, if genetically altered salmon was offered to your organization as a review, you would not test that living organism for genetic modification, but instead you would review what it consumed, and by that, your determination of that salmon would be non GMO?” 

NGP: “Hannah, I appreciate you seeking clarity. Genetically engineered probiotics are prohibited by our Standard.

For all living organisms, our standard requires proof that 1) the organism is not genetically modified, and 2) that it is not consuming GMOs.

We do not allow genetically modified salmon, cows, pics, bacteria, yeast, etc .... nor any of their progeny or any of their byproducts.

For pobiotics to be compliant, manufacturers must supply the technical administrator (certifying body) with documentation about the specific strain of bacteria they are using to show that it is not a genetically modified strain. They must also provide information about the growth medium.”

ME: “Thank you [Name Redacted], I truly appreciate your patience!

I was under the impression that nonGMO Project did the actual testing for genetic modification. Is this not so?

If companies submit documentation to your certifying body, are their documentations from an independent third party? Do they provide documentation of lab tests?”

NPG:  “Similar to an organic certification---whereas the National Organic Program retains and upholds the organic standard, while individual certifying bodies apply the standard---technical administrators that have been trained and approved to apply the Non-GMO Project Standard provide services to companies to go through the verification process. Once proof of verification is provided by the TA, the Non-GMO Project releases use of the Verified seal per a licensing agreement with the company.

Documentation required during the verification process is retained by the assigned TA, which is industry standard practice. Only approved independent, third-party labs can provide testing and evaluation services as part of the verification process.” 

ME: “Thank you. Smile

In their defense, this information IS provided on their website. When NGP became a reality, I was so excited to see an independent, non-profit take on the cause of GMO testing, I didn’t think to look into the process of how that testing was actually applied. The next thing I did to satisfy my ever inquisitive mind was contact one of their TAs, Food Chain ID, by phone, with a the help of a friend, due to my hearing impairment.

We learned that Food Chain ID only tests “high risk” ingredients. For example, they wouldn’t test cranberries or apricots for GMOs since no crops have been approved for GE.

Makes sense.

But when I asked if they consider probiotics high risk and tested directly, no direct answer was given. Instead of a yes or no, I got an explanation on how strict they require the growth medium for the probiotic to be. In my book, an indirect, evasive or deflective answer is no answer. So I’ve concluded that probiotic strains are not conclusively tested for genetic modification.

Having said all this, a guideline I’ve decided for myself… use the certified organic certification as a way to determine whether your fruits or veggies are organic, I would not completely rely on this for packaged products. In the same vein, I use the Non-Gmo Project seal the same way. I would purchase a Non-GMO Project verified packaged product, but I’m not sold when it comes to verifying probiotic stains to GE free.

One last note, my shop does offer some USDA certified organic products, but all products with the exception of the dish detergent, either have an Australian or IFOAM (International) certification, whose standards are undoubtedly higher than USDA. As a matter of fact, as the world’s first certified organic skin/body care line, there were no other standard for cosmetics to live up to other than food grade standard. Our formulas have remained consistent. I’m happy to consult and offer my research services to anyone who is concerned about the current products they’re consuming, use the contact box to set up a free consultation.

Tell me, are you just as surprised to learn about Non-GMO Project’s verification process as I was? Leave a comment!

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