HFFC Food Standards Part 2: Comparing Organic and Non-GMO Food

The High Falls Food Co-op produce department.

The High Falls Food Co-op produce department.

In September’s HFFC Newsletter, I wrote an article outlining The High Falls Food Co-op’s food standards; basically what our buyers prioritize when choosing products to sell under our roof. After writing that article, and getting feedback from others, I felt like there was so much more to say and that I should expand the topic by exploring on the details of our food standards. In this HFFC Food Standards installment I wanted to train my researcher’s eye on clarifying the differences between the labels “Organic” and “Non-GMO”.

The High Falls Food Co-op was born, like many other food co-ops at the time, from the desire to access fresh, healthy, organic food. So it’s not surprising that choosing organic products is at the top of our food standards list. Right up there with organic is our decision to not knowingly stock any products with Genetically Modified Organisms. In 2010 the Non-GMO Project was launched and a Non-GMO Project Verified seal started appearing on products that met their standards. This labeling is a great way for people to make sure they aren’t purchasing GMO products. But is there a difference between organic and Non-GMO? Let’s compare Non-GMO Project Verified and USDA Organic.

Non-GMO Project Verified

• Prohibits GMO’s in all aspects of farming and processing
• Trustworthy way to avoid GMO’s
• Verification is maintained
• Tests for GMO residue at multiple levels of production

USDA Organic

• Includes all of the criteria above AND
• Prohibits use of chemical/synthetic fertilizers and pesticides
• Prohibits antibiotic and synthetic hormone use for animals
• Regulated by federal law
• Prohibits artificial coloring, flavoring and preservatives
• Requires animals eat only organic feed and pasture

With the criteria laid out the differences between the two are clear: Organic has always been GMO free and the only difference between non-GMO and conventionally grown crops is whether they contain Genetically Modified Organisms. Is the organic movement loosing advocates because of this alternative? Mark Kastel, a pro-organic advocate, says that that there is a lot of concern from organic food producers that they’ve created a monster. “This is a potent marketing vehicle designed to blur the lines between organic and nonorganic, “ he says. People are buying non-GMO and thinking that they are buying foods that have been grown in a more ecological way. Is this true? What is the ecological impact of non-GMOs?

Just this last month the online magazine Resilience published an article titled The ‘Non-GMO Label Doesn’t Go Far Enough: Taking Stock of Non-GMOs and Glyphosate in which the authors bring to light the large amounts of glyphosate, also known as Roundup, found on non- GMO crops and urge the Non-GMO Project to add ‘Glyphosate-Free’ to it’s label. Despite glyphosate being listed as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization and the State of California and banned for use on food in Europe, the EPA raised the amount of glyphosate that could be included in human and animal food and still be considered safe. This information is clearly not getting enough attention by the press and we citizens are left in the dark.

Consumers deserve to know what’s in their food and labeling GMOs is a great way to start. But we need to revisit our organic roots and pay attention to the toxic herbicides and pesticides that GMO crops are engineered to withstand. We must consider their effects on the entire ecological community that includes humans, plants, and animals. The Non-GMO Project label looks cute with it’s cheerful orange butterfly implying ecological health for even the most vulnerable species, but writing this article has made one thing very clear: to advocate for the ecological health of our earth we need to advocate for organic food from organic farmers.!

Learn more here…
‘GMO free’ myth busting: Labeling movement leading farmers to use more toxic chemicals! 

Why The ‘Non-GMO’ Label Is Organic’s Frenemy

Organic Food Fights Back Against ‘Non-GMO’ Rival

Non-GMO Doesn’t Mean No Pesticides

by Adriana Magaña