ASK THE NUTRITIONIST Non-GMO vs. Organic: Which Is Better? What’s the bottom line? Overall, buying organic is better for people and sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. To be as safe as possible, choose USDA Organic foods, preferably those that are also Non-GMO Project Verified. Selecting products with the two seals together gives extra assurance and the strongest protection against GMOs, particularly for foods that are commonly genetically modified, such as corn, soy, and sugar. such as CRISPR or RNAi because websites, send text many do not contain detectable messages, or make telephone GMO DNA. calls to find out if some of their Does not use the term GMO. Instead, food contains GMOs. * labels will say “bioengineered” or * “derived from bioengineering.” Using this confusing terminology misleads consumers: More than diet will not require disclosure. 95 percent of consumers are familiar * with the term GMO, but most people do not understand what bioengineered food means. Fails to include any technical * requirements to ensure that GMO testing is meaningful (e.g., testing method, accreditation of labs, sampling plan requirements). Doesn’t keep up with the rapid introduction of new GMOs: it only updates * its list of GMO foods once per year. Allows a 5 percent-per-ingredient * level for GMO contamination. For context, the European Union and the Non-GMO Project both use a 0.9 percent level for most foods. Does not require products that * need a bioengineered disclosure to have a plain-text label. Consumers may need to scan QR codes, visit 46 • JANUARY 2020 Buying products labeled Non-GMO Project Verified or USDA Organic are both excellent ways to steer clear of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But do you know how to distinguish the difference between the two? Products that have the Non-GMO Project Verified seal, the square box with a butterfly, are free of GMOs and have been tested for at-risk ingredients. However, products with this label still could be sprayed with synthetic chemical pesticides. In contrast, products that have the USDA Organic seal cannot, by law, contain any GMO ingredients. Organic foods also must be produced without irradiation, sewage sludge, antibiotics, and growth hormones, and without synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides. And organic foods are more nutritious than non-organic foods, according to reviews of multiple studies. planet: It supports an environmentally beneficial food production system that Does not apply to animal feed. Therefore, meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals fed a GMO Has no penalty for failing to comply with the law. In contrast, the USDA’s National Organic Program levies fines of up to $11,000 per violation. These shortcomings and exemptions—coupled with a lack of fines for non-compliance—prevent the law from delivering meaningful disclosure of food produced using GMOs. So what’s a consumer to do? How to Avoid GMOs The good news is that we actually can learn to identify and avoid GMOs with confidence when we shop even without reliable GMO labeling mandated by the government. As I explain in my book Going Against GMOs, there are four tried-and-true guidelines for shunning GMO products. They are: ❶ Buy Organic Foods labeled with the USDA Organic seal are produced without the use of GMOs, synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, artificial dyes, artificial sweeteners, and antibiotics and artificial growth hormones (in the production of meat, dairy, and eggs). Farmers and processors must show that they are not using GMOs; however, organic certification does not require testing for GMOs. ❷ Look for Non-GMO Project Verified Seals Products that carry the Non-GMO Project Verified seal are independently verified to be in compliance with North America’s most rigorous standard for GMO avoidance, including testing of at-risk ingredients. Fortunately, the USDA’s final rule allows Non-GMO Project Verified claims, so looking for the Non-GMO Project Verified seal remains an easy and accessible way for consumers to avoid GMOs. ❸ Learn & Avoid the At-Risk Foods Currently, the following genetically modified foods are available in the U.S.: alfalfa, Arctic apples, canola, corn, cotton, eggplant, papaya, pink pineapple, potatoes, AquAdvantage salmon, soybeans, sugar beets, yellow squash, and zucchini. Either avoid these foods and products containing them, or choose Non-GMO Project Verified or USDA Organic versions. ❹ Upgrade Your Animal Protein Avoid conventional meats and dairy products from animals or farmed fish that are fed GMO feed. Switch to wild-caught fish, and eggs, poultry, meat, and dairy products labeled USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.
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