As the debate about labeling requirements for genetically modified foods continues to grab headlines, a number of Ontario greenhouse operators have decided not to wait for legislators — they are seeking non-GMO certification for their produce.
One Kingsville, Ontario, greenhouse earned certification in the fall from the Non-GMO Project, Bellingham, Wash. Mucci Farms may now use the project’s butterfly seal of approval on some of its tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.
“We got certified with our facilities and the growing operations we own in September,” said Joe Spano, Mucci vice president of sales and marketing.
“Now we are working with our growing partners to help them get certified.”
Spano said Mucci’s owners decided to go for the non-GMO certification because of inquiries from consumers and retail customers.
“My unofficial estimate is that 80% of the consumer calls and e-mails we get are from people wanting to know if our produce is genetically modified,” Spano said.
“We’ve heard some retailers are considering labeling requirements of their own by the end of 2014.”
The Mucci produce certified by the Non-GMO Project is among more than 1,200 fruit and vegetable products on the organization’s list, said Caroline Kinsman, communications manager for the Non-GMO Project.
She said that 1,200 includes fresh as well as dried, canned and processed.
Overall, Kinsman said the project has verified more than 14,800 food products as non-GMO certified. It was founded in 2003 and has certified products in more than 30 countries on six continents. The process usually takes four to six months, Kinsman said.
Another Ontario greenhouse operation is in the certification process for 20 of its commodities, also in response to consumer and retailer questions.
Pete Quiring, founder and president of Nature Fresh Farms, Leamington, Ontario, said he believes genetically modified foods should be required to be labeled.
However, since no such requirement is in place, he decided his company would go the other route, even though in some ways it does not seem fair to non-GMO producers.
“If you have genetically modified (food), you don’t have to say, but if your product is not, you have to get permission to say so,” Quiring said.
Tom Trojniak, marketing and production manager for Mor Gro Farms Inc., Leamington, said he and Mor Gro sales manager David Pereira have also decided to pursue certification from the Non-GMO Project.
Trojniak echoed Quiring’s comment about the irony of having to prove your produce isn’t genetically modified.
“But it’s something people are interested in, something they want to know,” Trojniak said.
“So as soon as we get done planting, I’m going to start working on getting that certification.”
At JemD Farms, which grows and markets RedSun and GoldenSun brands, there is no intention of exploring “pharmacrops, as they are often referred,” said Harold Paivarinta, director of sales and business development for the Kingsville greenhouse grower-shipper.
“GMO enquiries are the most common through our website and consumer e-mails,” Paivarinta said.
“Most genetically modified seeds have been created to combat pests, drought, and disease. Those issues almost exclusively impact outdoor, field production.”
Piavarinta said modern, high-tech greenhouses with their protected growing environements remove the problems GMOs were created to address.
“We don’t require genetically modified seeds. Our seeds are created through the centuries-old practice of grafting,” Paivarinta said.