Food for thought on GMOs
Even among the most highly educated “foodies,” GMO vs. organic is still a confusing gray area when it comes to groceries. What is better? What is the difference? Do third-party certifications matter? What is a GMO?
Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are seeds that have been created in laboratories and have been spliced with other living bacteria, virus, or animal DNA to create a desired trait. Right now, most GMO crops are either “Round-up Ready” or contain Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) toxin. Round-up Ready means that the plant can withstand applications of round up without dying. The GMOs that contain Bt toxin create their own pesticide. When bugs chew on these plants, their stomachs explode and they die. If this sounds like something you don’t want to feed your children, then look for packaged foods with the “gold standard,” Non-GMO Project verification and USDA Organic certification.
GMO and non-GMO are unregulated terms. The USDA has found no substantial difference between GMO crops and their natural counter parts (eye roll). This is concerning because anyone can claim that their products are “non-GMO,” but they still aren’t required to undergo any testing to confirm their claims. Claims are problematic because often times, fields of genetically modified crops will border organic fields. The genetically modified crops have dominant genes. So, if (or rather when) they cross pollinate, the organic crop becomes contaminated with genetically modified genes.
The Non-GMO Project’s certification is important because they come in as an unaffiliated third party and test raw ingredients at the source. If the source comes back clean, the company can use the Non-GMO Project label. However, they must commit to consistent follow up testing to warrant a clean supply while displaying the label on their packaging. The organic certification is similar in that the USDA comes in to confirm claims, but their standards are much different. The organic certification requires that farmers do not plant genetically modified crops or use artificial pesticides and fertilizers. However, they do not require any testing for crops that are considered high risk to be a GMO (at risk crops listed below). Cross pollination is a huge threat to the organic food supply. Thus, a third party’s ongoing and consistent testing of crops is key.
There is a huge difference between the Non-GMO Project verification and the USDA organic certification. Just because something is Non-GMO Project verified does not guarantee that it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides. Likewise, just because something is USDA organic does not mean its Non-GMO. Even more, there are currently only a handful of “at risk” crops. They include: Alfalfa, Canola, Corn (except popcorn), Cotton, Papaya, Soy, Sugar beet, and Yellow summer squash. Animal products are also high risk because they are often fed alfalfa, corn and soy. This list is relatively small, BUT corn, canola, sugar and soy are in most processed foods. If the ingredients listed on the back on a processed food does not say cane sugar, it’s safe to say the manufacture used GMO sugar beet sugar.
With this list in mind, consider how many times you’ve gone to the grocery store to find orange juice, dried mango, and avocado oil labeled “Non-GMO Project Verified” Did you assume it was also organic? Did you realize this is essentially the same thing as gluten free water? In my opinion, it is the food manufactures way of getting around the organic certification. If you are committed to avoiding pesticides and living a healthier lifestyle, don’t be fooled by these common marketing tactics. Go for the gold! You are worth it ;)