Cheese maker hopes to carve out niche in non-GMO market

The Non-GMO Project verifies more than 50,000 food products and two of those items are now made in New Bothwell, Man.

Earlier this year Bothwell Cheese launched the first Non-GMO verified cheese in Canada. The company is selling medium and old cheddar, Non-GMO verified, at Save On Foods, Sobeys and several small grocery chains across the country.

“Non-GMO is one of the fastest growing food accreditation labels in the grocery environment,” said Jason Brandes, director of marketing and innovation with Bothwell Cheese.

“From our perspective, we saw the opportunity to introduce the first non-GMO cheddars, or cheese in general, (for) a Canadian processor.”

Non-GMO verified cheese is made from milk, like most cheese, but the milk comes from cows fed non-GM feed. That means dairy cows can’t be fed conventional canola meal, soybean meal or corn, because most of those crops are genetically modified.

“We have currently three (Manitoba) farms that are supplying us with our milk,” Brandes said. “All the feed they give to their animals has to be audited.”

The verification logo for the Non-GMO Project appears on the label of Bothwell cheddar. The non-profit company, based in Bellingham, Washington, is controversial in North America’s agriculture industry because it claims that genetically modified foods are a risk to human health.

“There is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs,” the organization’s website states. “Most of the research used to claim that GMOs are safe has been performed by biotechnology companies.”

The Non-GMO Project may believe there’s no consensus and no independent science, but in 2016 the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine determined there is “no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between currently commercialized genetically engineered crops and conventionally bred crops.”

Brandes made it clear that Bothwell Cheese believes in the safety of conventional milk and conventional cheese.

“This isn’t anything about the quality of conventional milk. It’s about consumer choice,” he said. “Dairy farmers recognize this is really about consumer need, versus any kind of commentary on (conventional) milk quality.”

Bothwell launched its non-GMO cheese in February.

So far, consumer reaction has been positive.

“The excitement and sales on it are as expected,” Brandes said.

“We felt it would be … interesting, unique and well received by the public.”

Bothwell has been promoting its non-GMO cheese on a website called thecheesechannel.ca. The website features quirky videos and profiles of bizarre characters, like a man who follows an all-cheese diet for health and fitness.

The promotion must be working because Bothwell Cheese is developing new varieties of non-GMO cheese.

“We’re looking at doing the introduction of an older cheddar … that’s Non-GMO Project verified,” Brandes said.

Bothwell Cheese is one of Canada’s largest independent cheese manufacturers. In 2017, the company employed around 120 people and it produces 25 kinds of cheese.

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