It’s election time and in some places, GMO labeling, or genetically modified organisms labeling, is on the ballot. What are GMOs and why all the fuss?
Let me start with a warning. A website called Going2Natural.com with a published article on genetically modified foods and GMO labeling will offer a skewed perspective—just saying.
Before I can even talk about GMO labeling, I have to talk about what “organic,” “conventional,” and “natural” mean. In the interest of maintaining your attention, this blog will have to be in two parts. Part one below.
Organic versus Conventional
Walking into the grocery store these days is a bit of label overload. Conventional, organic, natural, GMO – do the labels actually mean anything? Some people say the difference between organic and conventionally grown foods is not big. Let me tell you what the difference is.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) website, certified organic foods are “grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.”
Essentially, that means no use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides for three years prior to harvest. Sometimes a grower has to use a synthetic substance, but before doing so the substance must be approved (see “Organic 101: Allowed and Prohibited Substances”).
For organic meat, an animal must grow up in living conditions that accommodate normal behaviors. This includes the ability to graze on pasture, eat 100% organic feed and forage, and not receive antibiotics or hormones.
Processed, multi-ingredient foods, cannot contain artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors with some minor exceptions. For example, enzymes in yogurt, pectin in fruit jams, or baking soda in baked goods.
Here are some complications though:
When packaged products indicate they are “made with organic [specific ingredient or food group],” this means they contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients. The remaining non organic ingredients are produced without using prohibited practices (genetic engineering, for example), but can include substances that would not otherwise be allowed in 100% organic products.
“Made with organic” products will not bear the USDA organic seal, but, as with all other organic products, must still identify the USDA-accredited certifier. You can look for the identity of the certifier on a packaged product for verification that the organic product meets USDA’s organic standards.
That means organic food cannot also be conventional food. Conventional food contains synthetic, artificial substances, like pesticides.
So what does “natural” mean?
In my opinion, “natural” means nothing. It’s just a label some marketing person slaps onto a product to make it sound more enticing. In fact, when I did a quick Google search, I stumbled across the Stonyfield Farm Blog and they say “natural” has no regulated definition except when used to describe meat or poultry. According to the USDA, “natural” meat and poultry contain no artificial ingredients or added color. “Natural” meat only undergoes partial processing.
Basically, anybody can say they sell “all natural” ingredients. If you’re lucky, there might be one or two ingredients included not made in a lab. Did that sound cynical? My apologies, I don’t think very highly of most food companies or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considering the FDA said it’s OK to call high-fructose corn syrup “natural.” So. If something proclaims to be “all natural,” you’re better off reading the ingredients to see what’s really in there.
This is a good place to stop. Stay tuned for Part 2, where I talk about GMOs. There, I will answer questions, such as if GMO foods can also be organic.