Frequently Asked Questions


What does GMO mean?
What modifications are made to GMOs? What do they do?
Aren’t all crops genetically modified because they change over time?
What food is GMO?
What is genetic engineering?
What is biotechnology?
What does non-GMO mean?
How do products become Non-GMO Project Verified?
What does the black and white butterfly logo mean?
What does high risk mean? What crops are high risk?
Does the Non-GMO Project look at animal feed when evaluating meat or dairy products?
What’s the difference between Non-GMO Project Verified and Organic?
Are NGPV products tested for chemicals such as glyphosate?
Why does the Non-GMO Project verify products like orange juice and salt?
Why did I see the word modified or artificial on the ingredient panel of a Non-GMO Project Verified product?
How do you test for GMOs made with new techniques such as CRISPR?
Do we need GMOs to feed the growing human population?
How do GMOs affect farmers?
How do GMOs impact the environment?


What does GMO mean?

GMO stands for genetically modified organism. The most familiar genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are modified with transgenic techniques, which have been available since the mid-90s. These GMOs are essentially living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. Products of new genetic engineering techniques (e.g., CRISPR, TALEN, RNA interference, ODM, and gene drives) are also GMOs.

What modifications are made to GMOs? What do they do?

Most GMOs have been engineered to withstand the direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. However, new techniques (such as CRISPR, RNAi, ODM) are now being used to artificially develop other traits in plants, including resistance to browning in potatoes, and to create new organisms.

Aren’t all crops genetically modified because they change over time?

No. Genetically modified organisms are distinct from crops that have been bred using traditional crossbreeding methods. GMOs are only created through the use of genetic engineering or biotechnology, not through processes that could occur in nature. Regardless of whether foreign DNA is used, any process where nucleic acid is engineered in a laboratory is genetic engineering, and the resulting products are GMOs. This also includes what is sometimes referred to as “synthetic biology” or “synbio.”

What food is GMO?

Some crops have genetically modified versions that are widely commercially produced. These are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, potato, soy, sugar beet, and zucchini.

Many GMO crops are refined and turned into processed ingredients such as: corn starch, corn syrup, canola oil, sugar, molasses, soy lecithin, soy hemoglobin, citric acid, cellulose, maltodextrin, flavorings, vitamins, and anything that says “vegetable” but is not specific.

What is genetic engineering?

Genetic engineering is the process scientists use to make GMOs (genetically modified organisms). It includes any process in which genetic material is artificially manipulated in a laboratory, and may involve creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. Genetic engineering also includes newer forms of biotechnology such as CRISPR, TALEN, RNAi, ODM, and gene drives.

What is biotechnology?

Biotechnology is the application of in vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and the direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles -or- fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcame natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection.

What does non-GMO mean?

Non-GMO means a product was produced without genetic engineering and its ingredients are not derived from GMOs. Non-GMO Project Verified additionally means that a product is compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard, which includes stringent provisions for testing, traceability, and segregation.

Unfortunately, “GMO free” claims are not legally or scientifically defensible. Because such a large percentage of crops are GMO, there is an ongoing risk of contamination of non-GMO crops due to cross-pollination by their GMO counterparts. This risk makes it difficult to claim that any product is 100% GMO-free. Please read the Non-GMO Project Standard for more information.

How do products become Non-GMO Project Verified?

The Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program is North America’s most rigorous third-party verification for non-GMO food and products. Third-party verification is the highest quality system when it comes to product labeling and certifications because it ensures products have been comprehensively evaluated by an independent party for compliance. The Non-GMO Project creates the Standard for what it means to be non-GMO, and then independent Technical Administrators evaluate products to see if they are compliant with the Standard. Independent inspectors and accredited testing laboratories are also part of the Non-GMO Project Verification process.  

You can read the whole Non-GMO Project Standard online, for free, anytime.

What does the black and white butterfly logo mean?

The full-color and black and white versions of our verification mark mean the same thing: the product is Non-GMO Project Verified and compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard. We allow brands to choose either mark at their discretion. You may also occasionally see a single-color variation of our mark, such as all purple or all blue. They all mean the same thing! Allowing brands to choose the color of the mark can help them reduce printing costs.

What does high risk mean? What crops are high risk?

When the Non-GMO Project says a crop is “high-risk,” it does not mean that crop is harmful or worse than other crops. It means a GMO version of that crop is widely commercially available, and that crop is therefore at “high risk” of being a GMO.

Example: Corn is high risk because over 90 percent of corn grown in North America is GMO corn—it is widely commercially available.
Example: Lentils are low risk because there aren’t any GMO lentils—they are not widely commercially available.

The high-risk crops are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, potato, soy, sugar beet, and zucchini.

Does the Non-GMO Project look at animal feed when evaluating meat or dairy products?

Yes. When you see the Non-GMO Project Verified mark on products made with meat, eggs, or dairy, it means the animals those ingredients came from ate a non-GMO diet. This goes for honey and other apiculture products as well; the bees they came from must eat a non-GMO diet and live at least four miles away from the nearest GMO crops.

What’s the difference between Non-GMO Project Verified and Organic?

Organic certifications are run directly by the government in Canada and the United States. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency operates the Canada Organic Regime, and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service operates the National Organic Program. These government programs set rules for how animals are raised, how crops are grown, and how pests are treated. The U.S. has a list of prohibited substances; Canada has a list of permitted substances. Neither program allows synthetic pesticides or growth hormones. These programs do not allow GMOs either, but they also do not require ongoing testing for them.

The Non-GMO Project is an independent, non-profit organization with one mission: preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. As a single-issue organization, the Non-GMO Project only evaluates products for GMO avoidance.

Are NGPV products tested for chemicals such as glyphosate?

The Non-GMO Project is a single-issue certification; the only thing the Non-GMO Project tests for is GMOs.

Why does the Non-GMO Project verify products like orange juice and salt?

Many products that seem unlikely to come from GMOs can actually contain hidden GMO risks.

A few examples:

  • Salt isn’t genetically modified, but many table salts contain an anti-caking agent made with GMO corn.
  • Oranges aren’t a GMO risk, but orange juice often contains added vitamins from GMO microorganisms.
  • Kitty litter is sometimes made from non-risk sand or clay, but many brands contain GMO corn.

The average consumer doesn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of all possible GMO risks, especially with new GMOs entering the marketplace so quickly. That’s why the Non-GMO Project has a team of full-time researchers devoted to tracking these risks so consumers don’t have to.

There are plenty more good reasons to label low-risk items, too. Please check out our blog to learn more.

Why did I see the word modified or artificial on the ingredient panel of a Non-GMO Project Verified product?

“Artificial” does not mean that an ingredient has been genetically modified, it means it is not found in nature and must be synthesized by humans in a lab. It is important to understand that while artificial does not inherently mean something is a GMO, some artificial ingredients do come from GMOs—especially GMO microorganisms. Those are the types of artificial ingredients that are addressed in the Non-GMO Project Standard.

The “modified” in modified corn starch (and other types of modified starches) does not stand for genetically modified. In this context, “modified” simply means that the corn starch has been changed or altered in some way to make it more useful in food production. Corn starch is a GMO risk because it contains corn, NOT because it sometimes says “modified.” Rest assured, if a product bears the Non-GMO Project Verified mark, it has been found compliant with North America’s most trusted Standard for GMO avoidance.

How do you test for GMOs made with new techniques such as CRISPR?

Testing labs have not yet developed commercial tests for many of the products of the newer genetic engineering techniques. Until such tests are developed, the Non-GMO Project Standard requires affidavit evidence for inputs at risk of being products of newer techniques, like gene editing. It is important to note that these requirements are within the context of the Project’s rigorous verification program, which includes segregation and traceability measures and testing for major (testable) GMO risk ingredients. In this way, we help protect the supply chain from unchecked contamination by these ingredients.

Do we need GMOs to feed the growing human population?

No. Nearly all GMOs are used to make animal feed or automobile fuel—not food for humans. When GMOs are in human food, they tend to show up as non-nutritious processed ingredients such as oils and sugars or preservatives and emulsifiers. GMO crops are not about feeding the world but about patented ownership of the food supply. After the Dow-Dupont and Bayer-Monsanto mergers, just three chemical companies now control about 60 percent of the world’s seed supply.

How do GMOs affect farmers?

Because GMOs are novel life forms, biotechnology companies have been able to obtain patents with which to restrict their use. As a result, the companies that make GMOs now have the power to sue farmers whose fields are contaminated with GMOs, even when it is the result of inevitable drift from neighboring fields. GMOs, therefore, pose a serious threat to farmer sovereignty and to the national food security of any country where they are grown, including the United States and Canada.

How do GMOs impact the environment?

Over 80 percent of all GMOs grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance. As a result, use of toxic herbicides such as Roundup has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. GMO crops are also responsible for the emergence of “superweeds” and “superbugs,” which can only be killed with ever more toxic poisons like 2,4-D (a major ingredient in Agent Orange). GMOs are a direct extension of chemical agriculture and are developed and sold by the world’s biggest chemical companies. The long-term impacts of GMOs are unknown, and once released into the environment these novel organisms cannot be recalled.