Can Non-GMO Supply Keep Up With Demand?
Is the supply of non-GMO corn and soybeans enough to meet the growing demand for non-GMO ingredients, particularly as big companies enter the market?
Some media outlets say it would be difficult for more big companies to go non-GMO. A recent article from Reuters titled “US food companies find going non-GMO no easy feat,” said that GMOs “are so pervasive in the supply chain that securing large and reliable supplies of non-GMO ingredients is nearly impossible in some cases.”
Increased Demand for Non-GMO in 2014
But suppliers of non-GMO grains and ingredients are more optimistic, saying they can deliver non-GMO supplies needed by big companies.
“It is possible,” says Debbra DeMarco, vice president, Top Health Ingredients (www.tophealthingredients.com). “Not all ingredients need to be reformulated in existing products to meet the non-GMO request. For instance, Cheerios is made from sugar and oats. Oats are already non-GMO.”
Lynn Clarkson, president of Clarkson Grain (www.clarksongrain.com), says there already is enough supply to meet demand. “We are able to find farmers to grow non-GMO, and we’ve been able to do that consistently.”
That is true particularly this year. “We are seeing a significant increase in demand for non-GMO this year,” Clarkson says.
The key to ensuring sufficient non-GMO supplies is for food companies to plan ahead and secure supplies in advance. “If you can project 12 to 18 months ahead, we can meet the demand,” Clarkson says.
Another non-GMO supplier, speaking on condition of anonymity, agrees. “Plan ahead. Try to forecast how much demand is there so that seed companies can plan how much seed is needed. Farmers, seed companies, and grain handlers will respond if demand is there,” he says.
Gilbert Hostetler, president of Prairie Hybrids (www.prairiehybrids.com), a non-GMO corn seed company, says he is already working with a major food retailer to create a non-GMO supply chain and that all the elements are in place. “The farmers are there, the corn is there, and the seed is there,” he says.
Scott Johnson, corn product manager at Spectrum Seed Solutions, LLC (www.spectrumseed.com), says non-GMO corn that is designated for export could also be moved to domestic channels to increase the supply. “Rechanneling these existing production acres toward domestic end users would have a significant effect, alleviating short-term supply issues,” he says.
Importance of Farmers in Non-GMO Supply Chain
DeMarco says farmers are the key links in the non-GMO supply chain. “What needs to happen for the supply chain to adjust is for the demand from farmers to grow non-GMO crops to increase.”
Steve Ford, president, Stonebridge, Ltd. (www.stonebridgeltd.org), says that is happening this year. “We’re seeing more corn farmers wanting to grow non-GMO this year because of low corn prices. If farmer premiums are high enough, they will come.”
Lon Baldus, owner of Meadowland Soy (www.meadowlandsoy.com) and a farmer, also says farmers need to be paid enough to grow non-GMO. “Producers need to hear from manufacturers that they will give enough price incentives for the production of non-GMO grains,” he says.
Johnson says farmers can be convinced to grow non-GMO corn because it can produce better yields than GMO. “To adjust, corn producers just need to learn how to stop spraying Roundup, and stop growing just corn year after year. It’s really that simple.”
Chris Bradley, grain merchant for Ceres Commodities, sums it up by saying: “If the non-GMO supply chain is given time and reasonable premiums to contract non-GMO grain, there is room to increase the supply of non-GMO grains.”
Other Big Companies Will Go Non-GMO
Will other big companies go non-GMO also? Several suppliers say they will.
“If General Mills does this then other companies will follow their lead,” Clarkson says. “It’s like Arby’s following where McDonald’s puts restaurants.”
“I don’t think they have a choice. Any company that values quality will go non-GMO,” Hostetler says.
Johnson thinks other companies will follow if they see General Mills’ sales increase. “There will be a follow-the leader, ‘me too’ effect. Even bigger news would be Kellogg’s Corn Flakes making a non-GMO claim,” he says.
Kellogg has not indicated if it would introduce any non-GMO products although all of its Kashi cereals are in the process of being Non-GMO Project verified.
General Mills’ CEO Ken Powell recently said that his company won’t be reformulating any more products as non-GMO.
DeMarco says that big food companies’ decisions to go non-GMO will be based on the bottom line and not concerns about or opposition to GMOs. “The other major food processors will wait to see if there are changes to General Mills profits directly related to non-GMO Cheerios,” she says. “The only thing that will drive change to non-GMO is profit and public pressure.”