What’s in a name?

Non-genetically modified certified cheese will be available for sale at Canadian grocery stores sometime in 2017.

But the company behind the new product wants to make something clear: It won’t be selling non-GM cheese. It’s more complicated.

The company will be using milk from cows fed non-GM grains and oilseeds to make its non-GM verified cheese.

“We’re not verifying the milk, or saying that milk contains GMOs or doesn’t contain GMOs…. We’re giving transparency to what the cows eat,” said Mike Raftis, vice-president of sales, marketing and communications for Bothwell Cheese.

In late November, Bothwell Cheese, based in the southeastern Manitoba town of New Bothwell, said it plans to launch a line of cheeses certified by the Non-GMO Project, a verification program located in Washington state.

“Individuals and families are telling us they would like to be given more choice and we are proud to be able to offer this as an option,” said Kevin Thomson, president of Bothwell Cheese, which is sold in major grocery stores, as well as independents.

When it comes onto the market, likely in summer of 2017, Bothwell’s Non-GMO Project verified cheese will likely be the first in Canada with such a label.

The label for the cheese is unlikely to say “non-GM” or “GM-free” because that would breach federal regulations.

“Meat, cheese, milk cannot be labelled as non-GMO,” said Therese Beaulieu, Dairy Farmers of Canada’s assistant director of policy communications.

“The milk itself, the cheese itself, there’s not a genetic modification to it.”

Non-GM verified milk is already available in Canada. Beaulieu said two firms are selling such milk in Quebec but the label is clear.

“From cows fed non-GMO.”

Beaulieu said the DFC would tolerate non-GM verified cheese, provided the label on the product is accurate.

Bothwell may be introducing Canada’s first non-GM verified cheese but the company isn’t creating a market, Raftis said. It is responding to consumer demand.

“It’s no different than if you look at other categories: omega, lactose free…. We’re just adding another offer and another choice,” he said. “We’re all about choice.”

Bothwell studied the marketplace before committing to its new product and cites the following as among the reasons for its decisions:

  • Non-GMO Project verified is a booming label in the food industry, with more than $19 billion in annual sales.
  • Public opinion polls show Canadians are highly skeptical about GM foods. A 2015 Ipsos Reid poll found that 59 percent of consumers oppose genetically modified crops and animals to produce food.
  • The same poll found that 88 percent of Canadians want mandatory labelling of GM foods.

As well, more European cheeses will soon be coming to Canada because of the Canada-Europe free trade deal. Many European dairy products carry a non-GM verified label, which will likely create competition for Canadian cheese makers.

“There are other products in the market and it’s a matter of time before it makes its way to Canada,” Raftis said. “So we’re getting ahead of the curve.”

It appears there is demand for non-GM verified milk in Quebec, but it’s too early to say if other Canadians care if cows are fed genetically modified ingredients.

“I think that’s what we’ll find out,” Beaulieu said.

“There is demand for grass fed, for example. There is demand for all kinds of things.”

Dairy farms in southeastern Manitoba will supply Bothwell Cheese with the necessary milk, from cows fed non-GM grains and oilseeds.

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