Supply and Demand of Non-GMO Foods

So you asked for GMO-free Cheerios. Should be an easy request, right?

Turns out, maybe not. Carey Gillam explores the economics behind GMO-free goods in this article from Reuters. Gillam explains that consumer goods corporations such as General Mills, Post, Whole Foods and Chipotle are often pressured by consumers to make their products GMO-free. Regardless of whether the corporations agree or disagree with the customer demands, the logistics of obtaining sufficient supplies of non-GMO ingredients are not so simple.

For some ingredients, like corn, 100% GMO-free strains are not plentiful. According to the article, “more than 90 percent of the corn and soybeans now grown in the United States are GMO strains” meaning that the available quantity of GMO-free seeds truly is limited. Ensuring a GMO-free crop is also more than just planting “pure strain” seeds. A farmer must ensure that pollen and other contaminants do not drift in from other fields, that the grain is stored in GMO-free containers separate from other GMO products and transport them in this isolated manner as well. Consumer goods companies must maintain the isolation by using specific GMO-free machines in their manufacturing process as well.

“All the non-GMO seed we sell has some level of GMO in it,” said Mac Ehrhardt, president of the Minnesota-based Albert Lea Seed company. “Corn is a big problem. It is really really difficult to produce seed corn that would meet the current non-GMO verified label.”

The logistics of procuring GMO-free ingredients and manufacturing them into GMO-free products are complex. Additionally, the demand for these products is increasing. Gillan cites the Non-GMO Project which states that over 14,000 products were registered for GMO-free status in 2013 – up from 270% just 4,000 in 2013. This demand has exacerbated an existing shortage of GMO-free ingredients. These complexities of production and the exhausted supply are passed along to the customer by way of increased product cost. According to the article, Chipotle has made clear their intention to pass these additional costs off to the consumer.

Gillan concludes her arguments with an assessment by key players in the industry that our national agricultural and manufacturing infrastructure are not prepared to handle the demands for non-GMO products.

So, now the question becomes, how much are you willing to pay for your non-GMO Cheerios?

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