Certified Organic: Non-GMO and so Much More
When it comes to food labels, the USDA Certified Organic seal is the gold standard and indicates so much more than just “pesticide-free food.” The label represents a sustainable, transparent and ecologically sound system of food production that not only produces abundant, nutritious, delicious food but also speaks to one of today’s hottest food topics: genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Seeds from genetically engineered plants have never been allowed in organic production and remain excluded from organic certification to this day.
Organic food is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, animals in organic production aren’t administered antibiotics or growth hormones, and organic foods are not irradiated or genetically engineered in a lab. The same is not necessarily true of conventionally farmed and produced foods. Only organic certification communicates specifically how food was produced.
Organic agriculture is sustainable
The organic seal also represents a much broader set of positive goals for our food system, ones that protect the land and our right to know what is in our food. At its best, organic production uses sustainable practices that, once established, are relatively self-perpetuating and long-term solutions. These practices include:
- Building healthy soil, naturally. This is done through composting, green manure cover crops, crop rotation and other methods. Organic farmers have no need for synthetic fertilizers that pollute our air and water supply.
- Using biological methods to control pests. Healthy soil grows healthy plants which are naturally more resistant to pests. Additional pest management can be achieved by maintaining native plants as habitats for pollinators and beneficial predatory insects that will prey on common pests.
- More humane conditions for livestock. Animals in organic production have access to fresh air and sunlight, this keeps animals healthier so farmers don’t need to rely on daily doses of antibiotics to keep them well.
Organic systems are transparent
Today, most food travels many miles and changes hands multiple times before it reaches our plate, making it hard to know how it was produced. Not so for organic. Items that bear the USDA Organic seal have a fully transparent production and delivery record known as an “audit trail” that is annually documented, inspected and evaluated by third-party organic certifying agents. It’s their job to ensure organic producers adhere to the organic standards developed and enforced by USDA’s National Organic Program.
What is more, many countries participate in equivalency programs that harmonize organic certification requirements internationally. This means that for something imported to the United States to be labeled as organic, it must have international documentation that its production adhered to the same standards or better than items bearing the USDA Organic seal. There are also international certifying agents that use the same criteria all over the world that meet or improve upon qualifying certification standards. Organic is a global movement that is only increasing in momentum.
Organic is non-GMO
GMOs are plants or animals created through the process of genetic engineering. Under the organic standards, using seeds produced with genetic engineering is an excluded practice. Genetic engineering conflicts with the basic philosophy of organic farming which takes the approach of working with natural biological systems in order to produce healthy food.
Because genetically engineered crops are widespread in the United States, organic farmers must take extra steps to ensure their organic crops are not inadvertently contaminated by pollen from GMOs. These efforts are verified by their inspector each year. Methods used include buying non-GMO seeds from reputable distributors and testing them before planting, timing their planting to prevent cross-pollination with neighboring genetically engineered crops, preserving a “buffer zone” of uncultivated land around the perimeter of the farm, and documented cleaning of farm equipment. Certifiers accredited by the USDA conduct periodic residue testing to further verify organic food does not test positive for prohibited substances, including genetically engineered DNA.
Certified Organic, the gold standard
Regardless of which USDA Certified Organic label (“100% organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic ingredients”) appears on the product packaging, the product was not produced with genetically engineered crops, this includes crops used as feed for organic livestock. . On the other hand, food bearing only a non-GMO label or claim is not making any other assurances about how it was produced. Only certified organic food that bears the USDA label is guaranteed to provide you with all the benefits discussed in this article. This is why the seal is known as the “gold standard” of food labels.