What's the difference between organic and non-GMO?

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Answered by: Pamela, An Expert in the Shopping for Food Category
If you are a tad confused by the differences of USDA Organic labels on food and the claims of non-GMO on the packaging, you are not alone. This article will cut through the static and clearly explain what each classification means.

Food Labeled as USDA Organic

Organic food is grown without the use of synthetic pesticide or anything genetically modified. Food certified as organic has been farmed and produced with adherence to stringent US Department of Agriculture guidelines. In addition to artificial pesticides, sewage-based and petroleum-based fertilizers are also prohibited. Organic farm livestock is free of growth hormones, animal byproducts, and antibiotics. The animals are only fed organic feed.

According to the USDA website, foods certified Organic and displaying the official USDA Organic seal, meet the following standards:

- Processed foods containing 95 to 100 percent organic ingredients can be certified and bear the USDA Organic seal.

- Common ingredients like water and salt must not contain GMOs.

- USDA prohibits the use of chemical fertilizers, irradiation, synthetic substances, sewage sludge, or any GMOs in their production or sourcing.

- Antibiotics are prohibited.

- Synthetic hormones may not be used in any USDA Organic meat or poultry.

- 100 percent organic feed for all livestock bearing the USDA Organic seal is required.

- Third-party inspectors conduct all annual site inspections, maintain the Organic System Plan Review, and oversee all residue testing.

What is GMO?

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. A GMO is cultivated in a lab by scientists through the manipulation of organisms to create combinations of viral genes, plants, and bacteria that you would not find naturally. These products are marketed as being more resilient to pestilence and drought. GMO foods are often fed to livestock in traditional farming.

Food Labled Non-GMO & Non-GMO Project Verified

Products labeled non-GMO are not exposed to herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and foods that contain GMOs. However, that is no guarantee that they have been grown organically. Non-organic, conventional methods may have been used to produce the product. So, although all certified organic products are considered non-GMO, not every non-GMO food is truly organic.

This USDA website lists these criteria for their non-GMO and non-GMO Project Verified labels:

- Initial and ongoing testing of all ingredients that are grown commercially in GMO form.

- The action threshold is 0.9 percent. Meaning the source must be 99.1 percent GMO-free with the absence of all GMOs being the target.

- Rigorous processes to ensure traceability and segregation to maintain ingredient integrity.

- Low-risk ingredients must successfully pass a review of the ingredient specification sheets to verify the absence of GMOs.

- Verifications are maintained via annual auditing and on-site inspections.

Buying Local Farm to Market

If you are a consumer who prefers to shop locally. You may hope to purchase organic and non-GMO foods like produce, eggs, and meats at your local farmer's market. Unfortunately, this may not be the best choice as many farmers use GMO seeds, plants, and conventional, non-organic, farming methods. For this reason, t's always a good idea to discuss your concerns with your local vendor and inquire about the sourcing and farming methods used.

In conclusion, the best way to ensure you are serving organic and non-GMO products to your family is to look for the USDA seal of approval. Alternatively, you may be able to source these locally —from a farmer you trust. If neither of these options is practical, perhaps the best choice is to join a co-op farm where you can take a hands-on approach to providing your family with the healthy foods they deserve.

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