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Non-GMO & RSPO vs. Organic Label Claims

We receive weekly requests for “Non-GMO” verification or “RSPO” (Sustainable Palm) certification. I continue to have to explain why “organic” certification is a more rigorous and legally accountable regulation and that our organic certificate includes both “Non-GMO” and “Sustainable” claims. Here are some details.

How the Organic Regulations Work:

Certified Organic products must meet the requirements of laws*.

These laws were proposed, revised, and fought over for 12 years and, I believe, are pretty good at protecting the environment and consumers. You buy a product that has been inspected annually (as required by law), the soil, water and air impacted by the farming portion of the supply chain is improved (as required by law), and the label on the package is approved by an accredited certifier (as required by law) protecting the consumer. If someone commits fraud they can be hauled into court and fined or jailed (it’s happened!). Additionally, in the State of California, organic operations are subject to spot inspection and testing including additional GM testing.

In the US, Canada, and the EU, these the organic regulations are almost identical and they have legal reciprocity: if it is certified to Canadian or EU Organic Regulations in Canada or an EU Country it is allowed to be sold in the US as “Organic” and the same goes for American goods sold in Canada or the EU.

How Non-GMO and the RSPO Labels Work:

The Standards that these two projects use are PRIVATE – a non-profit owns and implements the Standard. The Non-GMO Project, for example, has applicants fill out paperwork and, for the most part, asks them to “tell the truth” – whether they know it is true or not is a different question. They only do on-site inspections if they feel there is cause (for example if it is an ingredient made from soy or corn) so the level of scrutiny is fairly low. Many applicants use Non-GMO certification because it s easier to get than the “Organic”. “Non-GMO” does not exclude pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or synthetic food additives – it ONLY excludes GMO produced inputs .

The Non-GMO Project is a great idea in principle but, not so great in practice – they are so busy that they rarely answer the phone. Unlike the USDA-NOP, there is no transparency, no over-sight and. . .they certify things that could never, ever be from GMO crops (like water or hydrogen peroxide. Really, when was the last time you saw that hydrogen peroxide farm?). In my humble opinion, certifying “Non-GMO Water’ falls into the category of consumer deception: there is no such thing as GM water – genetic engineering happens with plant crops and some micro-organisms.

As to the RSPO palm folks – they are trying to say they are sustainable without becoming organic. Many of them are swapping carbon credit type values in order to claim that they are sustainable. Again, somewhat deceptive and neither clear nor transparent with consumers.

The only way you get guaranteed transparent information about how agricultural products are grown and processed is from certified organic producers.

Bottom Line:

Organic laws hold people and corporations accountable and there are fines and jail time for violators. There really are people who’ve gone to jail in the US for violating the laws under the USDA National Organic Program.

If, however, you are “certified” to the Non-GMO project or the RSPO Standard for Sustainable Palm, there is little accountability for either the Certifier or the Applicant using the label claim.

Laws governing organic prohibit the use of GM sourced inputs and define sustainability in law and require one to “improve” ones environment as part of ones “organic management plan”. Then they require you to prove that you are meeting the regulations by the way the “plan” is implemented.

Why would anyone value a Non-GMO or RSPO Cert above an Organic Certificate? Probably because they really don’t want you to look too closely at their products. Organic certification is your only assurance of enforceable environmental management and safer farming and production techniques.

If you have any questions about anything I’ve said here, please write or call. I feel passionately that consumers and the planet need regulated protection – greed, sadly, has too strong of a pull on some people and we need the force of law to protect us all. Buy organic!

* CFR 7, Part 205 based on the Organic Food Protection Act of 1990 plus the California Organic Products Act of 2003.

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