Why are chicken producers pursuing Non-GMO Project verification?
- Springer Mountain Farms, a family-owned chicken processor based in Georgia, started shipping chicken bearing the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. According to Meatinglace, the company's PLUS line of chicken products is now available at select retailers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
- These chickens are raised without antibiotics, hormones, steroids or animal byproducts and are certified by the American Humane Association, Springer said in a release. They are also fed 100% American-grown, pesticide-free, Non-GMO Project Verified ingredients, plus the company has replaced most foam trays with BPA-free and recyclable clear ones, Springer said.
- "Consumer awareness of GMOs has seen overwhelming growth and resulted in an increased demand for cleaner, more transparent food sources, like non-GMO foods," Gus Arrendale, president of Springer Mountain Farms, said in the release.
Springer is taking extra steps that could give the company a significant advantage with consumers looking for foods certified as non-GMO ingredients. The company said all the corn and soybeans used in its chicken feed are grown in the U.S., the feed is made on-site and each ingredient is tested in a U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified lab.
Researchers report that many people say they're "grossed out" by GMOs, and a survey last year found 41% of consumers consider whether GMOs are present when they're buying food — although 47% said they don't worry about it. Other surveys show most people don't know what GMOs are, and that those who are strongly anti-GMO and claim to know the most about them actually know the least. That could be why Springer thinks the label is necessary to point it out to consumers that their poultry is non-GMO, even though federal law currently states that meat products cannot be GMO or bioengineered.
The debate continues on whether GMOs are safe or not — and even whether the term "non-GMO" should be allowed on food labels. The Non-GMO Project's butterfly logo has been singled out for criticism by those who say it implies products certified as non-GMO are healthier than those containing bioengineered or GMO ingredients.
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a compliance guide in 2016 for companies wanting to make labeling claims that their meat, poultry or eggs were not produced using genetically modified or bioengineered ingredients — or that products weren't made from animals given GM or bioengineered feed.
"Because FSIS does not have the ability to independently verify negative claims for ingredients or feed, FSIS has required establishments that make these claims to comply with standards established by a third-party certifying organization," the agency said.
The Non-GMO Project said it has complied with these standards since 2013 when FSIS approved its seal, and that more than 1,000 meat, egg and poultry products have met its verification standards and now carry the seal.
"Shoppers’ trust in the Butterfly seal has pushed annual sales of Non-GMO Project Verified products to over $19 billion," the group said.
Springer is undoubtedly hoping its PLUS line bearing the Non-GMO Project Verified seal will attract consumers wanting to make sure the poultry they eat hasn't been fed GMO ingredients. However, it isn't the only company with that third-party verification. Mary's Free Range Chicken from Pitman Family Farms in Sanger, California, says it was the first in the industry to receive the verification. Also carrying the seal are Hormel Foods' Applegate brand chicken and turkey products, along with products from Murray's Chicken, a family-owned poultry company based in New York state, and a list of many others.
It's hard to tell if the upcoming mandatory GMO labeling law will influence more poultry companies to seek out a non-GMO label. Critics say too many products will be exempt from the law to make it effective, so it may continue to be up to an individual firm whether to go the extra mile for a third-party certification when it comes to GMOs. Still, if they reap financial rewards from making the investment, chances are more will seek it out.
- Meatingplace Processor rolls out Non-GMO Project Verified chicken