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Organic vs. Non-GMO: What You Need to Know

Photo: Courtesy of Joanna Kosinska

More Americans want to purchase healthier and safer foods for their families. Spending on items labeled non-GMO (genetically modified organism) and organic is mushrooming at a double-digit rate.

Millennials, who are cautious about what they put into their bodies, are fueling sales. At the other end of the age spectrum, baby boomers are concerned about their health and also seeking natural alternatives.

Learning labels

Once relegated to health food stores, most supermarkets have bountiful arrays of organic and non-GMO labeled foods. But what’s the difference? Are they the same?  How do you navigate the dizzying array of labels in the grocery aisles? There is a great deal of confusion surrounding the distinction.

The California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) has a simple rule of thumb. Organic is non-GMO, but non-GMO is not necessarily organic. Organic food is food that has been farmed and manufactured within guidelines determined by the Department of Agriculture, which prohibits the use of GMOs. 

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.

Digging deeper

A non-GMO claim alone is not the same as a certified organic product. In fact, food labeled as non-GMO can still be grown with pesticides or other practices that could be damaging to the environment, according to the CCOF, a trade group, which has its own seal to highlight the difference (Organic is Non-GMO & More).

USDA-accredited certifying agents, such as CCOF, verify that certified organic producers do not use GMOs and have effective strategies to prevent inadvertent contact with GMOs. The federal government doesn’t regulate non-GMO labeling. Instead, certification is done by private groups, such as the Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit with its own set of standards. These are important distinctions to be aware of while building a healthier lifestyle for yourself and your family.

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