Organic Versus Non-GMO Labels


November 4, 2017

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“Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are potentially one of the greatest health concerns of our time,” according to an August 2017 article by medical doctor and New York Times best-selling author Dr. Amy Myers.

In response, record numbers of consumers seek to avoid GMOs for themselves and their families.  To help these buyers make wise and healthy choices, retail food companies across America are now clearly labeling their products.  Nevertheless, confusion is arising between items labeled as “Non-GMO” and as “USDA Organic.”

So how does a shopper tell the difference? And what is the difference, anyway?

Here’s a general overview and explanation.


First, it’s important to note that “Non-GMO Project” and “USDA Organic” labels are not the same thing.  As most savvy consumers know, GMO products have been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering, creating unnatural products that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.  The Non-GMO Project is a private, non-profit organization with the stated goal of labeling products produced in compliance with its Non-GMO Project Standards.  These standards aim to prevent genetically modified foodstuffs from being present in retail products.

“Organic” food, on the other hand, is produced by methods that comply with farming practices designed to cycle resources, promote ecology, and conserve biodiversity—and to provide healthy products to end consumers.  Organic practices typically restrict pesticides and fertilizers, as well as the use of industrial solvents or synthetic additives.

Non-GMO Project

Items bearing a “Non-GMO Project” label are verified as free of GMOs.

However, the “Non-GMO Project” designation is from a private organization and is not regulated by the U.S. government. It’s vital, therefore, for consumers to realize that:

  • “Non-GMO Project” labeled items may have been treated with chemical or synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.
  • They may have been produced using sewage sludge.
  • More alarmingly, contaminated human waste may have been used as fertilizer.
  • Animals may have been treated with antibiotics, neurotoxins, or synthetic growth hormones, and they may not have been fed 100 percent organic food.

USDA Organic

USDA Organic, on the other hand, is the official label of the National Organic Program (NOP), America’s regulatory framework for organic food.  Under the NOP, products labeled “organic” must comply with very strict and specific federal guidelines and requirements.

Items labeled “USDA Organic,” then:

  • Involved no use of GMOs, chemical or sewer sludge, non-organic fertilizers, or synthetic substances or irradiation.
  • Are 100 percent organic in feed for livestock.
  • Are 95 to 100 percent organic in ingredients (with no GMOs in the remaining 5 percent).
  • Used no antibiotics or synthetic hormones in raising animals.
  • Required pre-production testing for at-risk ingredients (such as GMO-grown products).
  • Required third-party inspectors, internal audits, on-site inspectors, organic plan reviews, and residue testing.
  • Required finished-product, post-production testing to ensure non-GMOs ingredients.
  • Mandated a product content of less than nine-tenths of one percent GMOs.
  • Mandated a final goal of complete GMO elimination.


Wise shoppers should seek out both the Non-GMO Project and USDA Organic labels.

When in doubt, however, shoppers should insist on “USDA Organic” labeled products for maximum sustainability, biodiversity, and food safety.

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