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Taylor Thornton/Medill Reports

Whole Foods Market in Evanston,Ill., displays its organic and non-GMO yogurt.

Yogurt industry milking non-GMO trend

by Taylor Thornton
Feb 13, 2014


Taylor Thornton/Medill Reports

Stonyfield yogurts currently display the official USDA organic seal, but the company is pursuing the non-GMO verification seal.

Grocery shopping was once a simple task. You would go to the supermarket, skim the aisles, pick your items and hopefully remember everything on your list.

As Americans become more health conscious, they are spending more time studying the ingredients of their food. One particular trend consumers are noticing is the absence of non-genetically modified organisms.

Yogurt-makers in particular seem to be cashing in on the trend. According to a report by Euromonitor International, a strategy researcher for consumer markets, yogurt and sour milk products had $8.5 billion in sales in 2013 and are expected to increase by 10 percent over the next five years.

“The non-GMO yogurt trend is about what GMO crops the cows might be eating and risk of GMO products getting into human bodies via livestock feed,” said Rachel Greenberger, Director of Food Sol at Babson College in Wellesley, Ma.

The non-GMO trend may be in its infancy, but the dairy industry is trying to find clear guidelines for yogurt-makers and other food manufacturers. And although the United States Department of Agriculture has an official organic symbol, non- GMO is a voluntary program with no specific standards.

“When we started to see the GMO initiative in states, it became important to dairy companies to have one source of guidance on what labels need to say and can say,” said Peggy Armstrong, director of communications for the International Dairy Foods Association.

An organization leading the way for non-GMO verification is the Non-GMO Project. Products that meet the organization’s standards—produced and cultivated without GMOs—get a “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal.

New Hampshire based Stonyfield Farm Inc. is pursuing the organization’s certification, said Liza Dube, a spokeswoman at Stonyfield.

“While we believe the organic label is enough assurance that a product is made without the use of GMOs, our fans often also look for the Non-GMO Project seal. So we're going the extra mile to include that verification as well,” Dube said.

For an athlete like Ana Cate, 22, of Lithia, Fla., food labels and natural ingredients are key. “I prefer natural and organic yogurt because it taste better than processed. I like to know what is in my food,” she said.

Yesica Arredondo, a spokeswoman at San Francisco based Whole Soy and Co., says the company understands their consumers want a natural and healthy product.

“From day one we never wanted to use GMO ingredients out of that concern,” said Arredondo. “It’s an environmental and human issue and an all-around global issue, and we don’t want to contribute to that.”

With consumers wanting clear labels to distinguish their products, debate has ensued over the real issue of GMOs

“People have concerns about the technology itself because the science is manipulating the DNA,” said Ken Roseboro, editor of Organic and Non GMO Report. “They insert genes in the DNA and they have no idea where the genes will end up. It could create new allergens and toxins.”

GMOs come in the form of either plants or animals that have been engineered by genetics with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants, according to the Non-GMO project.

California-based Wallaby Yogurt Co. puts their yogurts through a meticulous process to ensure they rid their products of GMOs. “All of Wallaby’s products are certified organic by Quality Assurance International,” said spokeswoman Nicole Smith.

“This means our system and supply chain have been rigorously audited to ensure that the products we produce are free of GMOs, antibiotics, and synthetic hormones and pesticides,” she said.

Even though yogurt companies put their products through meticulous steps to rid their products of GMOs, industry experts believe the price of non-GMO yogurt will remain steady.

“As this trend grows the amount of crops, the number of non GMO crops will increase to meet the demand so as there is more non GMO production. I don’t think the prices will increase as long as supply is there,” said Roseboro, of the Organic and Non GMO Report.

In general, yogurt-makers are trying to provide greater clarity of their products.

“Labeling GMOs isn't about being pro- or anti-GMO, it's about making sure that individuals are able to exercise their right to know what's in their food,” Dube said.