As a consumer, it's so important to be able to sort through the hype at your local grocery store or online — especially as more and more products seem to come with special certifications and labels. Whether you're curious about the difference between free range and certified organic beef
, or curious about grain fed versus grass fed beef
, it's crucial to stay informed about your food.
When it comes to the buzz on GMO foods, you might be curious about labeling for non-GMO foods. What does the Non-GMO Project Verified label mean on the products you buy? Is it the same as Certified Organic? Which is better? Let's take a look at some of the key differences between Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified — and how you can use these standards to stay empowered as you purchase food.
The Non-GMO Project Verified Label
You've probably heard about genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) from friends, while shopping, or even on the news — and you've probably wondered if it's a label you should pay attention to while buying food for yourself and your family. Let's delve a little deeper into GMOs:
What's a GMO?
The term GMO refers to a genetically modified organism — a plant or animal that has been engineered in a laboratory setting to acquire certain traits. In 1994, genetically modified foods were approved for human consumption and quickly caught on: by 2015, around 90% of the corn, soybeans, and cotton in the U.S. were genetically modified.
Often, food is genetically engineered to be resistant to certain insects or viruses, or to tolerate a significant amount of herbicidal spray. But GMOs can be used for various purposes. For example, there are genetically modified tomatoes designed to ripen slowly, apples that are resistant to browning and bruising, and salmon that grow to market size more quickly.
When it comes to buying beef, eggs, chicken, or other animal products, many commercial operations feed livestock genetically modified corn as part of their diet. This means that consumers are ingesting GMOs through their beef products.
Why Does it Matter?
Given how common genetically modified foods seem to be in our food system, you might wonder if there's any harm to these substances. Although it can be a controversial topic, there is evidence that GMOs are not as benign as we may have been led to believe. Here are some reasons why consumers choose to avoid
genetically modified foods:
Consumer Health & Safety. The long-term health implications and safety of GMOs in our diets is simply not known, especially as the FDA doesn't test GMO safety for consumers.
Support for Farmers. GMO practices can put farmers at risk. For example, when pollen from GMO crops drifts over to neighboring farms, GMO companies are authorized to sue small, independent farmers whose crops have been contaminated.
Environmental Considerations. Since GMOs are produced to be resistant to major herbicides, the use of controversial chemicals like glyphosate (a possible human carcinogen) has increased significantly since GMOs were introduced.
Because GMOs have serious implications for farmers' livelihoods and for the environment — not to mention their unproven safety for human consumption — many consumers choose to seek alternatives to genetically modified foods.
How Does a Product Achieve the Non-GMO Project Verified Label?
For those who want to avoid genetically modified organisms in their food, searching for the Non-GMO Project Verified label on food is a great place to start. As the only third-party non-GMO verification agency in North America, certification from the Non-GMO Project means that food is held to high standards
of testing, auditing, and accountability including
- Ensuring that seeds and crops are non-genetically modified
- Checking that storage facilities are cleaned to prevent cross-contamination with GMO crops or seeds
- Testing every lot of high-risk ingredients (like corn and soy) for GMOs
- Making sure products for human consumption don't contain more than the threshold of 0.9%, and that animal feed doesn't contain more than 5% GMO ingredients
The Non-GMO Project Verified Label demonstrates that a product had gone through rigorous testing at multiple stages of production to ensure its status, and is the most trusted certification system available to verify a product is non-GMO.
The Certified Organic Label
Another major label you probably encounter frequently is Certified Organic. There are a few levels
of organic certification. If a label says "Made with Organic..." it has to contain at least 70% Organic ingredients. "Certified Organic" means that the product contains at least 95% organic ingredients, and 100% Organic means that the entire product is organic.
What does Organic Really Mean?
When you purchase a Certified Organic product, you're ensuring that the product adheres to fairly strict standards for soil quality, chemical pesticide and fertilizer use, and animal welfare. To be USDA Certified Organic
, a product must be grown on soil that's been free of prohibited substances
(such as synthetic pesticides like glyphosate) for at least three years. These standards help protect consumers from consuming chemical substances, and also help prevent environmental damage
from chemical fertilizers.
When it comes to meat, Certified Organic products also maintain crucial standards for animal treatment and welfare. For example, for beef to be labeled organic, cattle need to be allowed access
to the outdoors year-round, including fresh air, exercise, sunlight, and clean drinking water. In addition to requiring organic feed for cattle, livestock must be allowed to graze on pasture and cannot be kept in feed lots. All of these guidelines promote better digestion for animals, decrease the environmental impact of feed lots, and provide a higher quality of life for cattle.
Are Organic Products Non-GMO?
According to the USDA, GMOs cannot be used
in Organic products. Cattle farmers who have organic certification have to be sure not to feed their livestock GMO corn or alfalfa. Generally, when you purchase a product that is Certified Organic (especially if it is 100% Organic), then you are avoiding GMO ingredients. However, there are some important loopholes
in USDA certification:
- Non-organic, possibly-GMO cornstarch may be used in Organic products
- Soy lecithin (possibly GMO) may be used when an Organic option isn't available
- Sausage casings can be non-Organic and sourced from animals fed GMO corn
In addition to these loopholes, the process for ensuring Organic products are GMO-free isn't quite as rigorous as the process used by the Non GMO Project — which tests ingredients and products at multiple stages during production and enforces extremely strict guidelines and testing procedures for GMOs.
Organic vs. Non-GMO: Breakdown of Key Differences
Herbicide & Pesticide Use. Products that are Non-GMO Project Verified help fight back against excessive herbicide use, since many GMO products are created to resist heavy chemicals. However, Organic certification goes a step further by requiring that products aren't grown with certain harmful pesticides and herbicides.
Environmental. Products that are Non-GMO Project verified may help reduce the environmental impact of products engineered to withstand heavy pesticides. Again, Organic Certification provides an extra level of environmental conservation by reducing the impact of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and feed lots.
Animal welfare. For those interested in animal welfare, Organic certification is one of the best ways to ensure high standards, as non-GMO labeling doesn't specify standards for livestock.
Testing & Standards. Though both certifications are highly regulated, testing from the Non-GMO Project occurs at multiple levels of production and doesn't allow for some of the GMO loopholes tolerated by organic certification. In general, the Non-GMO Project ensures very strict standards and is an important label for consumers who want to avoid GMO foods at all costs.
Best of Both Worlds: Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified
If your goal is simply to avoid eating products that are non-GMO, then purchasing products that are labeled Non-GMO Project Verified will certainly keep you and your family in the clear for GMOs. However, if you're also interested in purchasing products that ensure higher standards of animal welfare and prohibit dangerous synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, you might want to purchase Certified Organic as well.
Looking for the best of both worlds? Choose products that are labeled both Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified, as this ensures that you are purchasing products from a farm or brand that truly prioritizes quality.
At Cleaver's, we believe in achieving the highest standards possible to support the health of our consumers, the environment, and our livestock. That's why our products are Certified Organic in addition to being Non-GMO Project Verified.
Want to learn more about what sets our steaks apart? Feel free to contact us
or check out our blog