If anything positive has come out of the myriad of business and political scandals we've seen, it's a new demand from people for organizational transparency. That drive to know what's going on is proving to be particularly influential in the agricultural industry, and in the coming months, you might see fresh, clear evidence of it in your grocery cart.
The latest food practice push
Farmers and food businesses have their hands full, adapting as people lead busier lives and focus more on health. Their big focus now, though, is on obtaining Glyphosate Residue Free certification. They can obtain the certification through The Detox Project.
Glyphosate is a common herbicide often used on GMO crops. In fact, it's the number one herbicide used in the United States, recognized as the active ingredient in Roundup, manufactured by Monsanto. Even so, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), listed the chemical as a probable carcinogen in March 2015.
In addition to cancer concerns, Dr. Don Huber, GMO expert and professor of plant pathology at Purdue University, asserts that glyphosate-treated crops have a lower nutrient density compared to organic foods. Huber also says that nutrients that are present are immobilized, too, meaning that your body can't access them. Lack of nutrients can lead to a host of health issues.
But according to some experts and professionals, these conclusions might be jumping the gun. The initial classification of glyphosate by IARC has been called into question in light of revelations that relevant, unpublished research on the chemical wasn't made available to the agency. Monsanto maintains that the glyphosate isn't carcinogenic, and that other agencies that reviewed the data have not labeled the chemical as carcinogenic. The European Chemicals Agency, for example, doesn't consider it to cause cancer.
As the debate swirls, many consumers would rather play it safe and are pushing for changes. Nieslen notes that snack products marketed with health claims are driving sales, with non-GMO products surging 18.2 percent for each of the past five years. The research firm further asserts that over half of surveyed individuals around the world (54 percent) try to avoid GMOs. The Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) also claims that non-GMO claims by companies have grown the most, with 15.7 percent of products launched in 2015 making non-GMO assertions. For comparison, just 10.2 percent made such claims in 2014, and 2.8 percent made them in 2012. This outpaces even organic claims, which rose from 6.4 percent in 2012 to 13.5 percent in 2015.
In this environment, companies are recognizing the need to put clear standards in place about what glyphosate-free even means. For example, you could define it simply as a food where the farmer never applied the chemical, instead of a food that, when tested, is found to have traces below a given limit. That's where The Detox Project comes in, offering specific guidelines necessary for organizations to follow.
As demand goes up, companies answer
In mid-2017, Chosen Foods and Heavenly Organics became two of the first companies in the United States to get certified glyphosate residue free. And in November 2017, MegaFood followed suit and became the first supplement product company to have its entire line of products certified as glyphosate residue free under The Detox Project. Sara Newmark, MegaFood's VP of Social Impact, believes the movement is just beginning.
"My feeling is that we know that transparency is very important to our consumer. And while they trust us, they want the certainty that a third-party certification brings. They want to support brands they believe have values similar to their own.
"I still believe that business has the responsibility and ability to change the system that is failing us. And by supporting brands that are leaders in this space, we can change the way business works and consumers purchase. These third party [certifications] and movements came out of the business community partnership with thought leaders and scholars to further a cause. It starts with the radicals, and then gains momentum. The same is happening with glyphosate residue free and regenerative agriculture now, which is also true of non-GMO and organic years ago."
Newmark's comments, coupled with the statistical proof of the increasing preference for non-GMO, suggests that The Detox Project likely will see a surge in certification applications in the next few years. And in the context of data suggesting that conventional farming methods are becoming unsustainable, it's a good example of how the demand for transparency can get company executives thinking about how to operate differently on a fundamental level. It also forces business leaders to reevaluate what obligations they have, if any, to make changes when their practices have the potential to affect health on such a large scale. Listen to the science. Listen to the customer. Unlearn the familiar. Then be brave enough to lead your industry to something markedly better.