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July 1, 2015

One such choice, non-GMO food is becoming more and more available to consumers and more people are starting to wonder if it is the right fit for their pets.

But what does GMO mean exactly?

“GMOs are organisms that have been manipulated or artificially changed in a laboratory setting, through the process of genetic engineering, for example to cause seeds and plants to have ‘built in’ pesticides or other unnatural properties,” said Lucy Postins, founder and CEO of The Honest Kitchen.

Concerned Consumers

Consumers become more and more aware of different pet food ingredients every day.

“I think people are becoming much more concerned about GMOs,” said Cheryl Phillips-Day, founder and CEO of Greenestbeans.com, a website dedicated to helping provide consumers with healthy food choices. “The blanket for non-GMOs is that when you buy pet food, look for certified labels of organic from FDA entities. These will not have GMOs in it.”

One such entity, the Non-GMO Project, is specifically dedicated to offering North America third-party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and products. The organization was started by retailers to provide non-GMO choices.

The Non-GMO Project also works with food manufacturers, distributors, growers and seed suppliers to develop a standard for detection of GMOs and for the reduction of contamination risk of the non-GMO food supply with GMOs.

According to the website, www.nongmoproject.org, there are over 27,000 Non-GMO Project Verified products representing over $11 billion in annual sales.

The trend might be linked to the ongoing pet humanization that expands more and more every day.

“There is certainly a growing demand for GMO-free people foods and I think it is natural for it to translate into a demand for pet food in the same fashion,” said Michael Levy, president of Pet Food Express. “The demand is going more towards natural products and GMOs are seen as not natural.”
The Honest Kitchen takes advantage of this trend and does not use any GMO’s in their products with their entire line being Non-GMO Project certified.

“We require all vendors who supply us with ingredients to confirm in their annual Vendor Pledge that the ingredients we’re buying have not been genetically modified,” said Postins. “We’ve recently obtained Non-GMO Project Verification for five of our products and have plans to obtain verification for a number of additional products in the near future.”

Non-GMO is a relatively new concept. But there are benefits to feeding pets foods containing no GMOs.

“For retailers and pet parents alike, it is a reassurance that they are able to give and offer the highest quality product to their pets and pet loving customers, knowing that the manufacturer has already spent a lot of effort ensuring product quality is optimal,” said Lion Houkes, global marketing director at Paragon Pet Products, makers of the WHIMZEES treat line.

Extra Effort Required

The process for using non-GMO ingredients in food varies. It is not exactly easy.

“We obtain confirmation from our suppliers that the produce we’re purchasing are not genetically modified,” said Postins. “Meat-producing animals are not genetically modified or engineered but we’re working very closely with our meat suppliers to take gain visibility into the feed that those animals are fed when they’re being raised. Unfortunately, a large majority of the United States’ feed ingredients are now genetically modified. These ingredients, like corn, soy and beet pulp, form the majority of most farm animals’ diets and it’s become incredibly difficult to account for and verify every grain of feed that meat-producing animals consume during their lives, particularly because of cross contamination and genetic drift.”

But The Honest Kitchen works extremely hard to insure that the non-GMO label stays true.

“We’re working with our suppliers to take additional steps towards ensuring that even the diets of these meat producing animals is free of GMO’s too,” said Postins. “It’s a huge undertaking but one that we’re extremely passionate about.”

Consumers have choices with their treats as well. In fact, the entire WHIMZEES treat line by Paragon Pet Products is completely GMO-free.

“At WHIMZEES, we believe the best products are made using the best ingredients,” said Houkes. “For this reason, we source, manufacture and produce all products according to human grade standards and select only the highest quality vegetable-based ingredients. All vegetable-based ingredients in WHIMZEES are certified GMO-free.”

WHIMZEES also has strict guidelines for providing non-GMO treats.

“It starts with setting your own standards and principles,” said Houkes. “At WHIMZEES, we have set our standards incredibly high, selecting only the best and most trustworthy suppliers and highest quality of ingredients. All ingredients are certified, ensuring they align with our high quality standards. Any product with GMOs will not enter our premises.”

Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company is also Non-GMO. But recent transitions in labeling may cause it to hold off labeling it’s packaging with a GMO-free label.

“Evanger’s foods are GMO free, a point that used to be featured and stated on all our many lines of USA canned food’s labels,” said Holly Sher, president and owner of the company. “However, very recently, regulations in regards to GMOs have been changing.”

The State of Minnesota recently sent Evanger’s several statements about commercial feed laws and new GMO labeling rules when it inquired further about the regulations and what could potentially be done about continuing to state and promote GMO free, specifically in regard to the Non-GMO Project.

“So although all Evanger’s foods are GMO free, with these recent changes, it appears that we can no longer tell the public that we are GMO-free on our packaging,” said Sher.
Rules are strict for non-GMO labeling.

According to the Minnesota Commercial Feed Law, Section 25.36(6)], If a firm wishes to pursue verification by the Non-GMO project there are steps that must be taken.

“We will accept the Non-GMO Project Verified logo on product labels after we receive a copy of written agreement between the firm and the Non-GMO project,” a representative of the state of Minnesota told Evanger’s. “The claim has to be substantiated for every ingredient it is referencing.”

The claim for non-GMO must be strict with wording.

And what the words really mean can be pretty tricky.

“Saying ‘GMO-free’ or ‘No GMO’s’ is not accurate, unless there are Direct Fed Microbials (DFM) in the product, in most cases there will be no organisms in the product,” said the representative. “Firms should say what they mean; the ingredients were not derived/produced from genetically engineered organisms.”

Understanding and educating your staff about every single kind of pet food can really boost your bottom line. Customers are becoming more and more aware and the more you know about non-GMO food, the easier it is to sell. So now that you know, pay more attention to labels from manufacturers and know exactly what to look for when a consumer asks for non-GMO pet food.

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