October 9, 2014 9:40 pm

GMO food and labelling: The cost question

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Watch above: Will it cost you and food companies more to source non-GMO food and to label it that way? Allison Vuchnich has the final part in our series on GMO labelling.

The Richmond, B.C. factory is humming and the tortilla chips just keep coming.

“We can’t keep up with the demand,” Arran Stephen, co-founder of Nature’s Path told Global News. “Even though it’s going 24/7, we can’t keep up with the demand.”

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Nature’s Path acquired Que Pasa and its organic tortilla chips in 2012, adding it to their other organic food lines.

What started as a small organic family business, has stayed family-owned but now Nature’s Path sells hundreds of millions of dollars worth of organic food globally each year; its products sold in more than 45 countries.

Nature’s Path was also a founding member of the Non-GMO project, a third party verification system.

The Non-GMO Project seal appears on Nature’s Path’s products, as does the certified organic seal.

“Maybe I shouldn’t say this,” said Stephens. “But, we had 31 per cent growth in sales last year.

“And consumers love it, and we’re seeing some of our competitors that are not embracing this change, their sales are actually dropping.”

READ MORE: Mixing it up: Ben & Jerry’s sources non-GMO ingredients for ice cream

He doesn’t want GMO-free to be a fad. He believes in consumer right to know, farming without chemicals and mandatory GMO labelling.

Certified organic food is mandated to be non-GMO as well.

“You have the double guarantee of the Non-GMO Project seal, as well as [being] certified organic.”

WATCH: Arran Stephens explains his commitment and belief in Non-GMO food and organic farming

Also in the Lower Mainland, Ian Walker and his team at Left Coast Naturals are mixing business with their beliefs.

“As a father and as a business owner, I hope we can have some transparency of what is in our food,”said Walker.

READ MORE: Vermont’s food fight over mandatory GMO labelling

Left Coast is the first distributor in North America to ask all its brands to go non-GMO.

It has always worked toward this goal, but is now taking a stand and setting targets: first 2014 for in-house brands and by the end of 2015 for all other products, which means potentially losing some brands and sales.

“It’s in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Walker told Global News. “For us, that is substantial and we are willing to do that because it seems to be the right thing to do.”

Walker and Left Coast are working with its various brands to ease the transition. All worth it in Walker`s eyes to align with Left Coast`s core principles.

WATCH: Ian Walker explains why Left Coast Natural’s decided to become the first distributor in North America to have a formal Non-GMO Policy

Not everyone is convinced the labelling of GMOs is necessary or without impacts.

Former professor, scientist Gord Surgeoner, has spent decades working with biotechnology and farmers. For his contribution to agriculture and its promotion, he was invested into the Order of Ontario and the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame.

He sees the endless potential in the industry and believes mandatory labelling will mean cost increase for consumers.

READ MORE: Meet Rachel Parent — the teen fighting for GMO labelling in Canada

“I have worked with farmers all my life,” Surgeoner told Global News. “These are people who work 24/7 and they care for their land and soil. Ninety percent of them choose the technology because they find value.”

WATCH: Gord Surgeoner discusses GMOs and labelling, regulation and safety

He added that GMOs are safe, and have been approved and analyzed by Health Canada and the United States FDA and approved.

He also believes mandatory GMO labelling is much more complex than just changing a label, and the costs will be passed down the line to the consumer.

“Are you willing to pay $500 more for a family of four,” Surgeoner asked.

The cost is he referring to is from a Cornell University study. Its author estimated mandatory GMO labelling will cost a family of four an additional $500 a year, on average. The study was funded by Council for Biotechnology Information.

Andrew Casey CEO of BIOTECanada has other concerns.

“How do you regulated it? how do you supervise it? How do you make sure people are conforming to it,” he asked.

WATCH: Andrew Casey explains that mandatory GMO labelling is more involved than just putting a label on a product

And that’s another thing mandatory labelling opponents and proponents disagree on – regulation and cost.

There are verification systems already existing, said Walker.

“So, I don’t see any weight to that argument,” he said.

Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports says the real costs would be $2.30 per person, adding up on average to $9.20 per year for a family of four. That group is calling for mandatory GMO labelling.

As the debate rages on about mandatory GMO labelling, it seems consumers have the power to influence what is on the shelves with their purchasing decisions.

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