We all love organic food here at the Non-GMO Project. Like most of our readers, we prefer not to consume foods that were produced with the use of harmful pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Some people are surprised to learn that the Non-GMO Project doesn’t test for those types of chemicals; our single-issue program focuses exclusively on genetically modified organisms. Let’s talk about how Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified work together!
What is Organic?
Organic certifications set rules for how animals are raised, how crops are grown, and how pests are managed. Each has rules about specific substances that can and cannot be used in the production of organic goods. These programs are run directly by the government in Canada and the United States. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency oversees Canada’s program under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service operates the National Organic Program. The American program focuses on avoiding the use of prohibited substances; Canada’s program relies on a list of permitted substances instead. Neither program allows the use of synthetic pesticides or growth hormones. These programs do not allow GMOs either, but they also do not require any testing for them.
Is Organic Really Always Non-GMO?
It is wonderful that North America’s organic programs do not permit GMOs. Unfortunately, we all know that GMO contamination happens. From cross-pollination to human error, there are many ways for GMOs to accidentally end up in non-GMO supply chains if stringent protocols are not followed. Testing is the best and most reliable way to catch these problems—that is the very foundation of the Non-GMO Project’s work. Our Product Verification Program builds on the already-excellent organic certifications by adding the missing piece: provisions for mandatory GMO testing.
“There is no requirement for GMO testing in organic and that is why the Non-GMO Project was started.” -Megan Westgate, Non-GMO Project Executive Director
Lack of testing aside, the National Organic Program also includes a couple of exceptions that can allow GMOs in. For example, non-organic cornstarch, lecithin, and gelatin may be used in some situations. All of those inputs are commonly derived from GMOs, so the potential for GMOs to enter organic products is clear.
Learn more: see §205.606.
This is Where We Came In
The GMO issue is too complicated to be just one component of a broader standard like Organic; it demands its own Standard and its own avoidance program. This was true when the Project was founded more than ten years ago, and it’s even more true now as products of new genetic engineering techniques begin to enter our food supply. The organic programs in North America are not equipped to handle the complexities of all these new technologies—especially as they are not easy to identify or track.
“I truly believe that the Non-GMO Project is more important than ever…no one else is keeping up with these techniques,” -Megan Westgate
The Non-GMO Project works hard to stay ahead of these new GMOs. Our team of researchers works hard to identify and track new GMOs well before they hit the market so we can keep them out of our shared non-GMO supply chain.
Organic and Non-GMO are Friends.
Organic and non-GMO work best when they work together. A non-GMO system supports organic agriculture by reducing GMO contamination pressure and increasing the availability of non-GMO ingredients in the supply chain. The Non-GMO Project’s work helps expand access to non-GMO ingredients and increases traceability throughout the supply chain. In short, our work makes it easier and easier to create organic products that are truly non-GMO.
The Non-GMO Project wants to make sure that everyone has access to non-GMO choices—no matter what type of food they choose to eat. At the Non-GMO Project, we believe Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified is the gold standard for food. Look for the Butterfly when you shop, and if you want to avoid synthetic pesticides and fertilizers too, choose Organic as well!