It’s Non-GMO Month – Wondering What a GMO is anyway?

GMOs are genetically modified organisms. This means that whether it’s a plant, animal or microorganism its genetic makeup has been modified. According to the Non-GMO Project, this creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that don’t naturally occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. Most GMOs are developed for herbicide tolerance to help increase crop output. This means a crop can be developed to withstand the spraying of pesticides. The use of toxic herbicides has gone up more than 15 times since GMOs were introduced. And the big question surrounding GMOs now is that their long-term impacts are unknown.

GMO labeling is required in 64 countries around the world, including the European Union, Australia and Japan. Currently, the United States and Canada do not require that GMO foods be labeled.

In the absence of a federally mandated program, there are two primary ways to identify Non-GMO products. Look for products that are labeled USDA Certified Organic or products that carry the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. And some consider the golden seal to be products that carry both of these labels. Both of these labels are based on a comprehensive third-party verification system to make sure that producers and products meet Non-GMO production standards. What’s the difference?

USDA Certified Organic: The USDA Certified Organic label sets many standards as to how food-based products are produced. One of its key tenants prohibits the presence of GMOs in organic products. This means that all organic products are made without the use of GMO seed, or if livestock is involved, without the use of GMO feed, particularly alfalfa or corn. And finished products cannot contain GMO ingredients. This Non-GMO criteria extends to all categories that carry the organic label.

As part of the USDA organic non-gmo verification, farmers and processors must show regulators that they are not using GMO ingredients and that they are protecting their crops and livestock from GMO contamination. Organic certifiers conduct annual checks with operators and manufacturers to verify that adequate protections are in place to prevent contact with GMOs.

For more information, go to: https://ota.com/organic-101/organic-and-gmos

Non-GMO Project Standard

Since its inception in 2006, this label with the butterfly is now on more than 39,000 products in the marketplace. Once you start looking for it, you’ll see it everywhere. The Non-GMO Project Standard was created to ensure that a high-level standard is kept in place to keep GMOs out of the marketplace. The standard allows for companies and processors who maintain high standards of production to be recognized. The goal of the seal, according to the Non-GMO Project is to assist farmers, processors and manufacturers in how to avoid GMO contamination by providing resources, methodology and best practices to do so.


Both the USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Standard do not mean 0% tolerance of Non-GMO, but they have established thresholds of an acceptable presence of GMO contamination. These thresholds are set as low as possible. For the Non-GMO Project the foods and products ingested or used directly on the skin, like personal care, are allowed a .9% margin for the presence of GMOs.


For more information, go to: http://www.nongmoproject.org/product-verification/verification-faqs/


How to shop Non-GMO

In the grocery aisles look for the labels USDA certified organic or Non-GMO Project certified.

  • Produce and crops: In the produce aisles look for organic produce. The crops most at risk for GMO contamination according to the Non-GMO Project, include: corn, alfalfa, papaya, sugar beet, zucchini/yellow summer squash, as well as canola, cotton and soy.
  • Dairy: Look for organic dairy. rBGH, the growth hormone that can be found in non-organic milk, is genetically engineered. As well, dairy-producing livestock can be fed Non-GMO feed.
  • Eggs: should also be bought organic or with the Non-GMO Project Verified seal.
  • Non-dairy milks: Soy is another crop that is commonly genetically modified, however, soy milk is usually GMO-free. Most almond milks are also made with organic or Non-GMO almonds.
  • Meat and Fish: For meat and poultry look for organic. Although there is no “USDA certified organic” label to date for seafood, seafood is Non-GMO.
  • Processed, packaged and canned foods: Look for the Non-GMO Project Standard or USDA Organic.
  • Personal Care: Look for Non-GMO Project Verified seal or USDA Certified Organic. It can be trickier to determine if a personal care product is Non-GMO compliant. The USDA Organic Certification was established to regulate organic foods. It regulates only those “organic” label claims made by personal care manufacturers who voluntarily choose to meet organic food standards. If you see an “organic” claim on personal care products, be sure to look for the USDA Certified Organic Label. Similarly, NSF/ANSI 305 certification is also common, but this label applies to personal care products containing organic ingredients, which means some ingredients could still be GMO.
  • Supplements: Look for Non-GMO Project Verified seal or USDA Certified Organic. Like personal care, USDA organic certified supplements must be food based. Without such labeling it is very difficult to tell if a supplement is Non-GMO. There are so many ingredients that go into supplements and which typically derive from an international marketplace, it remains difficult to be certain all ingredients are Non-GMO compliant.
  • Other: Honey is another product that is difficult to verify as Non-GMO because you can’t really control the diet of bees. Organic honey producers must show that the 4-mile radius surrounding beehives is free from all high-risk commercial agriculture.