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GMO and Organic: What Do These Labels Mean?

Banana, GMO produce, genetically modified organisms

Reading food labels can be overwhelming for some. Many questions can arise like what GMO means and is it bad for you? Is organic the healthiest option? Why would someone choose one over the other? Is it okay to eat both? Here is a breakdown of the difference between GMO and organic and how to make sense out of these commonly seen food labels.

What is a GMO?

GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. GMOs are used to genetically engineer livestock or produce to create the desired outcome. Genetic engineering can be adding growth hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers, and any other non-natural substances. For example, some meat production companies use growth hormones on cows or pigs to make them grow larger and faster to keep up with the meat production demand of our country. The reason GMOs are used is to protect the crop from disease to ensure adequate production. This in turn can help to lower the cost of the food item and increase its accessibility to others.

The GMO label is a stamp that states the food has been bioengineered; it is a federal law that these foods must be labeled. The label that states “Non-GMO project verified” stands for production without GMOs. Most don’t know that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides the USDA logo on non-GMO food products, but this is not required by law. It is important to note that this label does not mean that the product is free from hundreds of other added things, like growth hormones and added chemicals like artificial coloring or sugars, involved in food production.

What Does Organic Mean?

In simple terms, organic means that the food is being grown in sync with nature without chemical engineering. Organic food is grown and produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally, organic livestock will always have access to the outdoors and organic feed. Therefore, the use of GMOs is not allowed in organic products; even the feed or produce organic livestock is given and where they are raised is GMO-free. For example, it is prohibited for an organic hen to eat animal feed that is not certified as organic. In addition, it is prohibited for any organic hen to live on soil that is close enough to land that could potentially spread pesticides and GMOs. The “USDA Organic” label stands for organic, natural, and environmentally friendly production. And each year organic farms are reviewed for their organic certification by the USDA organic regulations.

So What Does This Mean for the Consumer?

Should we be looking for non-GMO labels? Are organic food products really worth the extra spending? These answers really come down to your personal preferences, lifestyle, beliefs, and diet. If you have allergies to certain food colorings, do not support the use of growth hormones on livestock, or are concerned with environmental sustainability, then purchasing organic products may be the best option. Organic foods can sometimes come with a higher price tag, so this may sway the consumer to opt for non-organic or GMO foods. GMOs are thought to help improve food security by increasing the number of crops farmers are able to grow and reducing their selling price. It is important to note, however, that because the use of GMOs is relatively new, little is known about the long-term effects and safety of its consumption. Some potential side effects include exposure to allergens, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and potential cancer-causing genes. More research is needed to determine long-term safety.

Learn more about healthy eating and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.

Written by Claire McDonald, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern



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