Consumers want more plant-based meat without GM ingredients28 Nov 2023
Plant-based meat has been a hot and popular category for several years, but not all North American shoppers are embracing vegetarian alternatives that contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients, according to the Non-GMO Project.
Improvements in the taste, quality and versatility of plant-based meat have helped those options become more mainstream and commonly available at restaurants and grocery stores. However, many vegan meat products contain genetically engineered ingredients that help the product to resemble the taste and texture of animal meat.
According to North American non-profit the Non-GMO Project, more shoppers now believe that “some plant-based foods may offer no real benefits over traditional, conventional products like meat, eggs and dairy,” and that GMOs should be avoided.
Balancing sustainability and health choices
Consumers have pushed for more vegetarian and vegan choices on menus because they care more about health, wellness and sustainability. People perceive a plant-based diet as healthier than one that contains animal products. The climate crisis has also led to greater awareness on how meat production negatively impacts the environment.
Those looking to stop eating meat or to eat less of it have turned to meat alternatives to help make the transition. Major brands like Beyond Meat, Impossible, Quorn and Gardein make plant-based burgers, chicken, sausage and fish that nearly taste like the real thing.
But even though consumers expect that taste to match what they are used to with animal meat, they do not want to sacrifice their equally high expectations for ingredient quality.
The Non-GMO Project cited data which found that 55% of all U.S. and Canadian shoppers believe plant-based foods are better for the planet, but 50% believe that GMO agriculture is harmful to the environment.
"In the innovative plant-based space, [shoppers] are again saying that GMOs are not wanted or needed," said Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project.
"We believe products should be labelled so that consumers have the freedom to choose non-GMO in every aisle of the grocery store. If GMOs aren't going to be labelled, then we're here to ensure eaters still have the right to avoid GMOs on their whole shopping list."
Shopper wants vs. industry efficiency
The Non-GMO Project works to verify that food products are free from modified ingredients, and says its verification is “North America's most rigorous certification for avoiding GMOs.”
Similar to other label certifications like USDA Organic or Gluten Free, food and beverage companies have to apply and submit their products for verification.
The organisation said that between 2019-2021, sales of Non-GMO Project Verified frozen plant-based meat increased seven times faster than comparable products that were not verified. In the same time period, plant-based cheese sales for unverified products grew by 17%, while verified options grew at 99% growth.
“Consumers are more engaged than ever with what goes into their shopping cart, making positive choices for their health and the health of the planet,” the Non-GMO Project said in a blog post. “They're asking more of the plant-based industry, including clean, whole ingredients and third-party certifications, like Non-GMO Project verification.”
© AdobeStock/Jackie Davies
But even though consumers are being quite clear in what they want, the nonprofit said that the biotechnology industry is still “rapidly accelerating its development of alternative proteins for consumer consumption, which are largely unregulated and unlabelled in the U.S. and Canada.”
The Non-GMO Project calls for stricter laws relating to GMOs, particularly in North America. Over the summer, the EU proposed a plan to deregulate the use of GMOs in food “in order to satisfy the biotech industry’s unquenchable thirst for efficiency and speed to market,” the Non-GMO Project said.
But this move to redefine GMOs and change regulations could eliminate label requirements for food and beverage brands, leaving shoppers with less information about the ingredients and sourcing of the products they buy.
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