With so many terms being bandied about in today’s health-conscious culture, like “gluten free,” “all-natural,” “no-additives,” etc., it can be tough to determine what they all mean. Sometimes definitions become blurred or mixed with meanings for other, similar-sounding words. Frankly, it’s confusing! In an effort to reduce the confusion, here is a brief breakdown on the differences between two key terms you likely come across on a regular basis.

  • Organic
  • Non-GMO

Understanding the differences between these two terms will help you shop smarter and eat healthier. Win-win!

What Does Organic Mean?

There are differing degrees of organic certification. Some foods may be 100% organic, while other foods may just be made with some organic ingredients. Either way, the basic definition of organic means there has been no chemical or artificial ingredients used in the production of the food, including pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, or fertilizers. Organic is also usually non-GMO as well, although there some loopholes that can compromise a food’s non-GMO status.

Generally, when you purchase food with a USDA certified organic label, it means that food is 95-100% organic, with ingredients free of well-known contaminants and hormones. It also means that in order for a company to use that USDA certified organic label, they must undergo annual third party inspections and reviews, along with residue testing if inspectors feel the situation warrants it. That’s not to say that there aren’t some problems with organic labeling. Some foods labeled organic still contain hidden additives that aren’t organic material. Always do your homework before making decisions that could affect your health.

What Does Non-GMO Mean?

GMO refers to an organism or food product that has been genetically modified. In other words, it did not develop naturally. When a food claims non-GMO status, they are basically saying they didn’t use ingredients that were genetically modified and it doesn’t come from livestock that have been fed genetically modified feed. The Non-GMO Project Verified label is applied to products made from ingredients that have been produced in compliance with the Non-GMO Project Standard. This organization tests products at different stages in the production process, similar to the testing required for the USDA Certified Organic seal.

However, when even water, which has no genetic material, is labeled “non-GMO,” that should raise a red flag so that you look a little more deeply at what you’re actually purchasing. Additionally, the Non-GMO Project Verified  label doesn’t mean there are absolutely no GMOs present. It means companies have submitted to the Non-GMO Project’s standards and have undergone their testing requirements, but there are still limits to those tests. Products labeled non-GMO could still have up to 0.9 percent genetically modified material.

What Is the Difference Between Organic and Non-GMO?

The biggest takeaway you need to know between organic foods and non-GMO foods is that organic foods are almost always also non-GMO. Almost always, not always. Look for labels that state 100% USDA certified organic if you want to be as sure as possible. However, the same thing cannot be said for non-GMO foods. They are definitely not always organic. Also, there are many companies who use non-GMO labels in a way that is misleading.

Simply saying something is non-GMO doesn’t make it so. It doesn’t necessarily mean the company isn’t being truthful, but obtaining the necessary certifications can be cost-prohibitive, especially for smaller companies. So, sometimes companies will put something on a label that isn’t necessarily certified. Also, note that there are other labels that get used often and can be misleading in both the organic and non-GMO camp. Terms like fair-trade, cage-free, all-natural, grown local . . . while they can mean the product is organic and free of GMOs, it doesn’t mean that’s always the case. Do your due diligence and make sure before you buy.

Why Is it Important to Shop Organic?

Since you can’t be sure non-GMO foods are always organic, it’s a safer bet to shop organic. Then you can be reasonably certain that most of your organic foods will also be free of GMOs as well. Look for the USDA Certified Organic label. You’ll notice that products like our Organic Balancer PLUS and Organic Performance PLUS feeds have a little green-and-white label stating USDA Organic.

When shopping, that’s the label you should look for. Moral of the story? Yes, organic usually means non-GMO. But be careful, because non-GMO does not always mean organic. Shop wisely.