This is a question I get asked about a lot over here at NibMor. There is a fair deal of confusion surrounding the differences between the USDA Organic label and the claim of non-GMO, either written on a package or verified with the butterfly seal from the Non-GMO Project.
I know. It’s confusing. And that’s why I’m here to try to simplify the answer. Let me start by defining each one.
Organic: Organic food is food that has been farmed and manufactured within strict guidelines set forth by the Department of Agriculture. Organic farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides, or anything that has been genetically engineered. They are also not permitted to farm with petroleum-based fertilizers or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. (Side note- just think, non-organic foods are permitted to use these things in farming. Gross.) This also means they are not permitted to use ANY GMO seeds for plants. Livestock, on an organic farm, must be given organic feed and must have outdoor access. These animals may not be given growth hormones, antibiotics or animal byproducts. By this definition, and in truth, organic always equals non GMO. So when you purchase something with the USDA Organic seal, you are making a non-GMO purchase.
Non-GMO & Non-GMO Project Verified: A GMO is Genetically Modified Organism. It is a process by which scientists artificially manipulate organisms to create unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.*
Let’s clear up a big misconception up top. A company simply labeling a product ‘GMO Free’ doesn’t really mean anything. It’s sort of the same as companies labeling a product ‘All Natural’. All they are saying is that they think, to the best of their knowledge, there are no GMOs but most major crops in the US have contamination issues, so without the Project Verified seal, you can’t really be sure. Non-GMO, simply put, is a product that has been made without the use of genetic engineering (GE). What’s so frightening about GMOs? Well, we don’t totally know. And that is the problem. There is actually not enough science around GMOs and the effects in humans to know if they are ok or not (though I’ve read some pretty compelling studies from overseas and there are a few fantastic books and documentaries on the topic out there.) Bottom line is that whether or not a product is GE, don’t we have the right to know what is in our food? I believe we do.
So what? What does all of this mean? Organic is always best if you’re worried about the chemicals and other processes that go into conventional farming. I do realize that organic comes at a premium so do the best you can. Really, if you’re going to eat the skin of something, try to buy organic or local (at least with local you can find out what the farmer is using on their crops, etc.) As far as meat is concerned, again, I advocate for organic but this might also be a great exercise in reducing our meat consumption. Buy organic meat and only what you can afford. Suddenly, you’re also helping to contribute to the environment too. Win-win. When questioning conventional items, always look for the Non-GMO Project Verified symbol. It’s better to not eat a science experiment, agreed? If we can start here, we, as moms and caregivers, can start to change the landscape of food. If we purchase organic and Non-GMO Project Verified then we are sending a clear and very loud message to big food companies that we demand these standards. Take back your grocery cart and feed your family well.
Yours in Chocolate and good clean food,
Heather K. Terry
Founder of NibMor
*from the Non-GMO Project Verified website