GMOs are plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered through genetic engineering in order to make them resistant to pests or diseases, or to increase their nutritional value. The use of GMO’s in food production of is a contentious topic, as there are pros and cons to GMOs, but it’s unlikely GMO foods will disappear from shelves anytime soon. Many consumers get confused about the labels on food packaging and about messages that food companies relay regarding their products. The average consumer is not aware of the difference between “certified organic” food and food labeled as “Non-GMO Verified”. These two labels refer to different aspects of food production and have different requirements.

Certified Organic
Organic foods are produced according to strict guidelines set by the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). These guidelines prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals in the production of organic crops. There are some exceptions to this rule: organic crops can be accidentally cross-pollinated with genetically modified crops, and small amounts of genetically modified material may be present in organic food. Also, certain organic products, such as organic corn oil, may be made from genetically modified corn. But organic certification prohibits the intentional use of genetically modified organisms.

Organic livestock must be raised without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics, and must have access to the outdoors. Organic farmers must also follow strict soil and water conservation practices. Food certified as organic cannot be irradiated or produced using genetic engineering. Only products that have passed the USDA requirements are allowed to use the “certified Organic” label on their products

Non-GMO Verified
Non-GMO Verified products only exclude GMO ingredients and the verification process is not mandated by the Government. Rather, Non-GMO verification is done through The Non-GMO Project, an industry sponsored 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The verification process includes testing of ingredients at critical control points, traceability of ingredients throughout the supply chain, and annual reviews of production facilities.

Being verified means that the product does not include GMO ingredients but that does not mean the product is free from toxic chemicals such as glyphosate, dicamba or over 700 other chemicals used in conventional food production. Once verified by the organization a food company is allowed to include a label called the Butterfly label on their products. According to The Non-GMO Project, the organization has verified 50,000 products. So while the Butterfly label is meant to assure that a food was not made using GMOs it does not mean that the food is necessarily certified organic

In addition to requirements outlined above perhaps the major difference is that the certified organic label can only be bestowed by a Federal agency whereas the Butterfly label is bestowed by an industry sponsored organization. It’s generally true that products that are certified organic cost more than those with the Butterfly label and critics have accused Butterfly label project of being merely a sophisticated marketing campaign fostered by big food companies. The industry however, insists that they are ahead of regulators and that the Butterfly label helps consumers who want to avoid consuming genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

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