If you think back to your recent trips to the grocery store, you might recall seeing more options for similar food types than ever before. Whether a label says organic, non-GMO, natural, or fair trade, all of these better-for-you choices can feel overwhelming and become downright confusing when it comes to actually making a purchase decision. And one of the more common confusions is non GMO vs organic. Check out the differences between these labels and which one might be best to seek out the next time you're shopping.
Organic vs Non GMO – What's the Difference?
What are GMO foods?
GMO (genetically modified organisms) are found in modified foods that have had molecules from their DNA added or removed for enhancement or improvement. The genes are often derived from a virus or bacteria designed to change the way food is grown. You might see extra large berries, which are often modified to be sweeter and more appealing. GMO foods are usually created to deliver more nutrition and make them pest-resistant.
On the surface it may sound bizarre or even scary to eat organism-altered food, but there are benefits. Compared to organic foods, fewer weeds invade crops of GMO foods, they're less expensive to produce, and there are more nutritionally-improved elements that bring us health benefits.
That being said, here are some negative aspects of GMO foods:
- Superweeds exist that resist herbicides.
- Some plants produce bacterial toxins we consume and that lead to resistant bugs.
- Since GMO foods are new to us, many people face allergic reactions to them.
- Cancer has resulted in rare cases due to altered chemicals.
Should GMO foods be avoided?
GMO foods have long been debated, and whether you should totally cut them out of your diet should depend on a couple of things. For one, when it comes to our health, not a lot of research has been done on GMO safety. Some people believe that consuming unnatural foods is harmful to us, but more studies need to be done to support this claim.
Another deciding factor is the environment. Because of the chemicals and pesticides used in GMO crops, farms and our environment at large are more exposed to these toxins and more pollution from them goes out into the air and ocean.
What makes a product non-GMO?
To be called non-GMO in the US, products must go through third-party verification through a non-profit organization called the Non-GMO Project. The organization tests and spot-checks products at different points of the supply chain process and ensures compliance with yearly inspections.
What are organic foods?
To officially be organic in the US, products must qualify for the Certified Organic or USDA Organic labels, and, to do so, only up to 5% of a product’s components can be non-organic. All ingredients must be on the USDA’s list of allowed products to be included in organic-certified foods (which only includes GMOs as rare exceptions and when a non-GMO alternative is unavailable). Every organic facility, processor, farm, and distributor is inspected for compliance with the USDA's organic standards and regulations and must renew its certification annually.
Organic foods don't contain any synthetic herbicides, harmful chemicals, antibiotics, pesticides, neurotoxins, GMOs, or drug residues. More care and maintenance to produce them is needed than with GMO foods, plus they require certification. Organic farmers might use animal manure as fertilizer, rotate crops to avoid infestation from pests, and integrate other labor-intensive steps into their processes. So, a longer, more involved and expensive effort than traditional industrial farming is required to produce organic foods. This plus the fact that pesticides must be approved as organic means that it's significantly more expensive to buy organic than GMO.
While organic foods may be pricey, hard to come by at some stores, and not as long-lasting as GMO or other foods, there are reasons that might make them worthwhile:
- Pesticides and harmful herbicides and neurotoxins (like round-up and hexane) cannot be used.
- Animals raised for organic meat are not given antibiotics, so the meat is toxin-free.
- Meats are hormone-free (hormones have been associated with cardiovascular disease).
Is Non-GMO Organic?
In short, no, non-GMO and organic are not the same, though organic and non-GMO criteria and labeling are quite similar in the US. In fact, companies often don't get the organic certification because it's quite costly. Attaining non-GMO status requires almost the same steps but at a fraction of the cost, so it's a more practical strategy for many businesses.
When you see a Non-GMO label, you'll know the ingredients have been verified as not containing material that's been genetically modified. To get this verification, the ingredients are tested throughout processing and from spot-checking supply chain points of large amounts of material. Producers may also be inspected annually to ensure compliance with Non-GMO standards, including in the way raw materials are used and stored to avoid cross-contamination.
Non-GMO foods won't contain certain herbicides with GMOs, but they don't necessarily need to be organically grown and produced. Traditional, non-organic methods are perfectly fine.
Are all organic foods also non-GMO?
If a product is certified organic, it has by default been tested as free from GMOs. However, there is always a small chance that GMO contamination has occurred naturally, through wind-borne seeds or cross-pollination. An organic label should mean a product is GMO-free, but there is never 100% certainty around this. That said, once a crop is identified as contaminated, it can no longer be sold as organic.
Which is Better, Non-GMO or Organic?
Organic means free of pesticides and GMOs, while non-GMO means the food wasn't made with genetically-modified organisms. There is no single answer to which is better – either one may be just as good if you're looking to maintain overall health and reduce your intake of contaminants.
Non-GMO and organic foods and snacks help you prevent allergies and sensitivities. They also boost your immune system since genetically-engineered foods lack the antioxidants, minerals, and other key components we need for strong health and wellness. Bobo's, for example, makes non-GMO products that are nutritious and delicious. Try the new Pumpkin Spice Oat Bar for fall or any number of best-selling bars today.