Minneapolis, MN—The USDA has verified its first non-GMO claim through its Process Verified Program(PVP), with organic food company SunOpta’s manufacturing facility. In a letter to employees from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, it was noted that while the PVP itself is not necessarily new, this is the first claim of its kind to be verified through it. He added that other companies have taken interest in having their claims verified through the program. SunOpta CEO Steve Bromley was proud of the verification in an official announcement from the company, saying that this was “a great honor” and that the verification “ensures that our customers can be confident that they are getting the highest quality non-GMO soybeans and corn.”

One thing that is important to realize is that the PVP being used for non-GMO verification does not mean that the USDA has set its own non-GMO standards. Instead, the program has the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) act as a third party in verifying marketing claims, according to a statement from Sam Jones-Ellard, a spokesperson for the AMS. Jones-Ellard also noted that while the USDA’s organic certification process is also done through the AMS, the two programs will remain separate, meaning that even if a company is certified organic, they will have to go through a second process to have their non-GMO claims verified.

While this is a major step for the non-GMO movement, some are still concerned that the program may not be enough. American Herbal Products Association president Michael McGuffin explained that USDA “should be commended for their effort to meet consumer demand for information about non-GMO products, but it seems unlikely that the PVP will provide the comprehensive solution needed to address this issue.” One potential issue he mentioned was that the program does not appear to be coordinated with the National Organic Program (NOP). He believes that products that meet NOP standards should have their claims recognized as verified, “instead of having to pay an additional fee for a claim that has already been verified by AMS through NOP.”

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2015, (online 5/26/2015)