Cargill and the Non-GMO Project
Apr 10, 2017
Recently there was kerfuffle on social media about Cargill and the Non-GMO Project. The Non-GMO Project is an organization whose mission is to preserve non-GMO food sources. While farmers mostly disagree with its mission it has also has become the leading authority on GMO testing and verifies labs and standards.
Cargill, like other grain merchandisers, works with Non-GMO Project solely to provide third-party verification of various products. Some in the grain industry, including farmers, interpret this action as being anti-GMO. This attitude is misguided in my opinion.
Full disclosure: Cargill is and has been my largest and best grain customer for my entire career. I am not impartial. However, complaining that Cargill is not anti-anti-GMO enough ignores the reality of the marketplace for grain.
Let me illustrate. A European food processor came to Ingredion, formerly National Starch, to provide a specific starch for jellybeans. Ingredion contracted with me to grow it. I have been fortunate to have grown specialty corn for them for decades.
I was required to meet the non-GMO standard of less than 1% GMO contamination, which is increasingly hard to do. Proving my corn meets that specification is the tricky part.
Using the Non-GMO Project is exactly the right way to satisfy demanding end users. Certification from Ingredion or me or the seed supplier would simply be laughed at due to the obvious conflict of interest.
And as we undermine government impartiality by dismissing numbers from USDA to the CBO, a government seal of approval would be suspect as well. Certification from the strongest critic carries the greatest weight.
Farmers mistake who their customer is. For most of us outside the protein or produce sector, it is not a grocery shopper. It is a grain merchandiser supplying a food processor.
This grumbling at Cargill then violates my #1 marketing rule: do not go to war with your customer.
The Non-GMO Project has established itself with both grudging suppliers and skeptical users as the gold standard for GMO verification.
That seal of approval establishes a salable chain of accountability from my dirt all the way to the jellybean consumer. It's like letting the opposing team supply the umpire and still getting a fair call at home plate.