Contact us

From Farm to Fork: Clearing Up the Confusion About Organic and Non-GMO

Looking to eat healthy, but want to uncomplicate your trek to the grocery store? Our experts weigh in on shopping for organic and non-GMO foods.

A global survey from Nielson finds that 73% of consumers want to change their consumption habits to eat healthier and reduce the environmental impact. Since cooking, working and staying home have defined the past year, many of us are looking more closely at our grocery lists to select foods that meet this need.

When it comes to understanding what’s in your food and achieving your goal, you may be confused about the difference between organic and non-GMO. Or, you ask, “Is there a label to look for?” And how do you know if the fruits and vegetables you are eyeing at the grocery store really are organic food?

To help you confidently make choices, our experts at NSF have done their homework to answer your top three questions about organic and non-GMO. Here’s the inside scoop.

What Does Organic Look Like?

Organic refers to fruits, vegetables and meats and their agricultural growing method that must meet strict standards related to pesticide, fertilizer and hormone use, soil quality and animal raising practices, according to the rules defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program for certification.

The phrase “organic is always non-GMO” is based on the idea that a producer, having followed their organic system plan, will not have purposefully used genetic engineering or GMOs.

Under these guidelines, the use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is banned in organic products. This means an organic farmer can’t plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO soy or corn, and an organic soup producer can’t use any GMO ingredients. To meet the USDA organic regulations, farmers and processors must show they aren’t using GMOs and that they are protecting their products from contact with GMOs, from farm to table.

The phrase “organic is always non-GMO” is based on the idea that a producer, having followed their organic system plan, will not have purposefully used genetic engineering or GMOs.

What Does Non-GMO Mean?

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are created by deliberately changing the genetic makeup of a plant or animal in ways that could never occur naturally. The majority of GMO crops currently on the market have been genetically engineered to produce their own pesticides and/or withstand herbicides that normally would kill them. Farmers use the herbicides to control weeds. Non-GMO certified products have been verified to have been grown and processed without genetic modification.

What’s the Organic Mark?

There are three different levels of organic – “100% organic,” “organic” and “made with organic.” “100% organic” means that all ingredients are organic, and no non-organic ingredients or processing aids are used.

“Organic” means that 95% of ingredients are organic and the remainder of ingredients are approved for use in organics. For a product to carry the USDA organic label, an accredited third-party certification body must verify that the product meets the 100% organic. Both the “organic” or “made with organic” claims will be clearly labeled but not as USDA 100% organic.

A “made with organic” claim may appear on a product that contains:

  • At least 70% organic ingredients, with the remainder of ingredients approved for use in organic products
  • Up to three organic ingredients or food groups

All three organic product claims (USDA organic, organic, or made with organic) may use the logo of the certification body underneath the distributor or manufacturer information on the label.

What’s the Non-GMO Mark?

Claiming to be non-GMO, meaning the organisms in the food are not genetically modified, is a little trickier. The reality is that GMOs travel. Pollen drifts on wind and by the movement of wildlife.

Genetically modified organisms, once released into the environment, cannot be recalled.

That is why the Non-GMO Project standard outlines explicit requirements for GMO avoidance, including ongoing testing of all major ingredients considered high-risk for being GMO. Evaluating each product, rather than the system that produced it, addresses contamination and fraud, including how to correct an issue. When you see the Non-GMO Project butterfly certification mark, you can be assured the food you are eating is truly non-GMO.

For organic verification, contact us.

Sign Up for Tips for Better Living

Stay up to date with what matters most to you and your family.


How NSF Can Help You

Get in touch to find out how we can help you and your business thrive.

What’s New with NSF