Everyone knows that the quality of the food we eat affects our health significantly. We've been taught that organic foods are better for our bodies and the environment. But with the drastic difference in price, choosing organic over GMO foods may seem hard to justify.
As such, it's crucial to understand the difference between GMO, non-GMO, and organic food labels. More food products are being marketed as "non-GMO" and many of us may not even know the difference.
You may be wondering, aren't non-GMO foods the same thing as organic? Is there really a difference or are we just being tricked into purchasing more expensive foods because they have a label on them?
In this article, we're going to talk about the differences and benefits of GMO, non-GMO, and organic products - specifically:
What are GMOs?
What are organic foods?
Non-GMO vs Organic
Which food label is best?
Why not all organic foods are good for you
WHAT ARE GMOS?
GMO stands for "genetically modified organisms". Genetically modified foods have certain molecules added or removed from the DNA of the food product to enhance it in some way. A gene is inserted into the organism of the food that it normally wouldn't have. These genes are usually from a virus or bacteria and it's designed to alter the way food is grown.
For example, when you see abnormally large strawberries or blueberries at the food store, most of the time these are genetically modified to produce larger fruit and oftentimes, to make it sweeter.
GMO foods are most commonly created to provide a higher nutritional value to food and to also make it resistant to pests.
Pros of GMO Foods
While it may seem unnatural to alter or add organisms into food products, there are a few benefits to it:
It costs less to produce GMO foods
Fewer weeds invade the crop
Provides a sweeter taste to fruits
Provides higher nutritionally improved traits to provide health benefits for consumers[*]
Cons of GMO Foods
As with all things unnatural, there come a few downsides:
Many plants are now producing bacterial toxins leading to resistant bugs
Superweeds have been discovered that resist normal herbicides
Humans are consuming these harmful bacterias and toxins
GMOs are a new food source to humans which causes allergic reactions to some people
In rare cases, cancer is found because of the altered chemicals in food products
Fortunately, more than 60 countries now require GMO labeling and 26 countries are partially banning GMOs[*].
Should You Avoid GMOs? GMOs have been a huge topic for debate. The question of whether or not you should completely avoid them comes down to two factors: your health and the environment. GMO crops lead to an increase in the use of chemical pesticides because the crops have a higher tolerance to withstand these chemicals. This means our environment and farming communities have more exposure to these herbicides and pesticides which causes more pollution to the ocean and air[*]. Little research has been conducted on the safety of GMOs in regards to health. While some people believe it may be harmful to consume foods that are unnatural, more studies must be conducted before making any proper claims.
WHAT ARE ORGANIC FOODS?
Organic products are foods free of any harmful chemicals, synthetic herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, drug residues, and neurotoxins.
They are almost always more expensive than GMO foods because they require more care to produce and they need to be certified. Pesticides must also be organically approved before use which drives the cost up even higher.
In fact, organic foods can cost up to 50% higher than regular foods[*].
So is it worth it to purchase organic over GMO foods?
Pros of Organic Foods
Here's why organic foods might be worth the monetary investment:
No pesticides can be used when growing organic foods.
Round-up cannot be used with organic crops. Round-up is a common herbicide used to kill off weeds.
Organic crops don’t use hexane. Hexane is a neurotoxin used in common vegetable oils like soybean, canola, and corn.
Organic meats don't contain any hormones. Many people express concern that meats with growth hormone can increase the chances of cardiovascular disease.
Animals raised organically aren't given any antibiotics. This means the meat it produces won't contain any harmful toxins you may have consumed otherwise.
Cons of Organic Foods
While it may seem like a healthier alternative to adopt a strictly organic food diet, there are some downsides to it:
Organic foods are significantly more expensive than GMO or non-GMO foods.
Not all food stores have a wide selection of organic foods. Going to your local farmers market rather than a grocery store may be a better option.
Easily goes bad. Organic foods have a shorter shelf life compared to GMO foods so they must be consumed relatively soon after purchase
Higher bacteria levels. Since there are very little to no pesticides and herbicides used on organic foods, the consumption of organic foods has been linked to an increased risk of e-Coli bacteria in the digestive system.
No nutritional benefit. Research has found that there is no major nutritional benefit of organic food over other conventional means[*].
HOW ARE GMO FOOD PRODUCTS DIFFERENT FROM ORGANIC? Organic foods do not contain any pesticides, fertilizers, solvents, or additives. This helps the overall biodiversity of plants and animals which makes it much better for the environment. It also helps prevent antibacterial resistance in animals and chemical runoff when pesticides seep into the ground. Non-GMO has many similarities to the organic label but they aren't exactly the same. This label means that the ingredients in any specific food product have been verified by the Non-GMO project to ensure no genetically modified material is present. For meat, this includes the food the animals ate to ensure there are no GMOs in their bodies. This is achieved by testing every ingredient that goes into the final product. Companies and their suppliers with the non-GMO stamp of approval are inspected yearly to make sure they are compliant with Non-GMO Project standards. The slight difference with the organic label is that non-GMO prevents the use of herbicides that contain GMOs, but it does not mean it must be grown organically. They could be grown with conventional, non-organic approaches. Bottom line: Organic and Non-GMO are similar in the fact that both labels go through rigorous testing to ensure genetically modified material is not present in the food or the creation of it.
WHICH FOOD LABEL IS BEST? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has extremely strict guidelines when it comes to what can be labeled as organic, GMO or non-GMO. The non-GMO label means the food product wasn’t made with GMO, but this doesn't mean it's organic. Organic foods are the most heavily regulated label. Purchasing foods with the "non-GMO" or "organic" label is your safest bet when it comes to overall health and minimal toxins.
Organic and non-GMO labels are highly similar. In fact, many times the only reason why certain companies don't take the extra step for the organic label is that it cost farmers hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get the certification. Whereas non-GMO is almost identical but cost much less for verification. Note: If a label says "natural" it does not mean it's organic. The natural label is not regulated in America which can be very deceiving. If you are looking for organic foods, make sure you are looking for the "organic" label.
WARNING: SOME ORGANIC FOODS MAY STILL CONTAIN HARMFUL CHEMICALS If health is your main priority, the best course of action is to select unprocessed organic foodswhenever possible. But, it's still equally important to check the nutrition label for any unhealthy ingredients.
Some organic foods may still contain harmful ingredients including:
While monosodium glutamate (MSG) cannot be used on organic food, there are several other free glutamic acid compounds that organic foods may contain.
Avoid buying organic foods with these ingredients:
Hydrolyzed soy protein
Autolyzed yeast extract
These chemicals are used to make food taste better but they're also considered excitotoxins. This means they're known to overstimulate your neuron receptors which can lead to headaches, skin problems, and water retention[*].
Vegetable oils including canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, and cottonseed oil are linked to increased inflammation and metabolic disease[*].
If you see any of these vegetable oils in the ingredients list of organic foods, it’s best to look for a healthier alternative without these pro-inflammatory oils.