by Olivia Bernadel-Huey
One of the most confusing challenges is distinguishing between Non-GMO vs. Organic. Many people often view the two as being very similar, but there is actually a significant distinction between them.
Let’s start with Organic. According to the USDA National Organic Program, products certified organic
must be “produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity”. This includes ensuring that any animals involved in production eat only 100% organic foods along with prohibiting the use of banned pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones, and, most importantly, genetically modified organisms at any level of production. So, if products are certified organic, they are automatically certified non-GMO as well. When you buy Organic, you are also buying Non-GMO.
Non-GMO specifically, without organic certification, is a whole other story. First of all, unlike Organic, there is currently no federal certification that recognizes a product as non-GMO. Therefore, products can claim to be Non-GMO without any sort of accountability. The only current verification is the
Non-GMO Project, a third party that independently conducts lengthy testing to insure that its products are made without genetically modified organisms. However, Non-GMO is the only
thing that this seal certifies. Products labeled Non-GMO can still be produced using pesticides, chemicals, and all sorts of other unsustainable practices—the only thing they definitively do not contain is genetic modification
Like not all rectangles are squares, not all Non-GMO products are Organic. They aren’t held to as strict a standard at all levels of production, and that’s why Non-GMO products, at the moment, tend to be cheaper than Organic. It’s important to remember this distinction so that you know what you’re really buying the next time you go shopping. But even with the promise of USDA certification or Non-GMO Project verification, it may not be possible for a product to ever be 100% GMO free. For example, over 80% of North American food contains GMOs.
We’ll look into that in our next post: Can You Really Be GMO Free?