Natural, Organic & Non-GMO Foods: Why it Matters to You!

Natural, Organic & Non-GMO Foods Why it Matters to You!Are natural foods free of toxins? Do some organic foods contain GMO’s? You have a right to know what is in the food you are feeding your family but, food labels are confusing and often misleading.  Read this article by Claudia Pillow, PhD, about the  the difference between “natural”, “organic” and Non-GMO?

Many people think the term “natural” is fairly similar to “organic, and in fact many think “natural” labels are more meaningful than “organic”.  This thinking is not correct.

What does the label “NATURAL” mean to you?

The term “natural” applies broadly to foods that are minimally processed and free of synthetic preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and other artificial additives, growth hormones, antibiotics, hydrogenated oils, stabilizers, and emulsifiers. Unlike, organically labeled foods, most foods labeled natural are not subject to government controls beyond the regulations and health codes that apply to all foods. Exceptions include meat and poultry. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSTS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires these to be free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and ingredients that do not occur naturally in the food. Natural meat and poultry must be minimally processed in a method that does not functionally alter the raw product.  However, under these guidelines, it includes animals that have received antibiotics and hormones to promote rapid growth. 

We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.” ~Alfred E. Newman

Outside of the meat counter, the FDA makes no stipulation about the use of the term “natural,” leaving manufacturers to abuse it however they see fit. Therefore “natural” cereals may contain Genetically Modified Organism’s (GMOs), high fructose corn syrup, and partially hydrogenated oils. Buyer beware- most consumers believe “natural” implies “absence of pesticides” and “absence of herbicides.” Sixty-one percent of Americans believe “natural” implied or suggested the “absence of genetically modified foods.” On both scores, they are wrong.

What does the label “ORGANIC” mean to you?

“Organic” refers not only to the food itself, but also to how it was produced. Foods labeled organic must be certified under the National Organic Program (NOP), which took effect October 21, 2002. Despite rigid organic certification procedures, organic certification is about the *process* of growing food, not about the actual resulting food. There is no required testing process for organic ingredients. The NOP regulations prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms, prohibit commingling or contamination during processing and handling, and require preventative practices to avoid contact with GMOs. Organic agricultural products should have minimal if any GMO contaminants; however, organic food products do not have a zero tolerance for the presence of GMO material and remember, there is no required testing process for organic ingredients.

In addition, the USDA oversight of organic food has been lax since the program was launched in 2002. It can take nearly three years for a manufacturer who illegally uses the term “organic” in their labeling to be noticed, reported, investigated, and forced to amend their label. The oversight of organic manufacturers falls short of assuring standards are met. Once again, buyer beware- shop locally whenever possible and support manufacturers who are dedicated to ingredient integrity.

Currently, there are three “organic” labels classifications:

100% Organic: Must contain 100% organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). This is the only label that certifies a completely organic product AND completely GMO-free ingredients.

Certified Organic / USDA Organic / Organic: At least 95% of content is organic by weight (excluding water and salt). The <5% remaining ingredients must consist of substances approved on the USDA’s National List. GMOs are NOT on this list, so these products are also usually GMO-free.

Made with Organic: Up to 70% of the ingredients are organic. These products can NOT carry a “USDA organic” label and are NOT typically GMO-free.

What does Non-GMO mean to you?

GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.

Are GMOs safe?

Most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. In nearly 50 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs.

One of the most common concerns about the prevalence of GMOs in North America is whether they are safe for children and families to be eating. Many of the foods that are most popular with children are at high risk for containing GMOs, such as cereals, snack bars, snack boxes, cookies, processed lunch meats, and crackers. Over 80% of U.S. processed food contains GMOs.

What are the most common GMOs?

The most common GMOs are soy, cotton, canola, corn, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, alfalfa, and squash (zucchini  and yellow). Many of these items appear as added ingredients in a large amount of the foods we eat. For instance, your family may not eat tofu or drink soy milk, but soy is most likely present in a large percentage of the packaged foods in your pantry.

GMOs may be hidden in common processed food ingredients such as: Amino Acids, Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrins, Molasses, Monosodium Glutamate, Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), Xanthan Gum, Vitamins, Yeast Products.

Is there a certification process for GMO-free food?Yes. When you see the Non-GMO Verified label on a product, it means the producer took the time to go through a certification program similar to the one used to obtain organic certification; only it’s designed to focus on GMO-free processes.

Started initially by retailers, the Non-GMO Project’s Product Verification Program (PVP)‘s core requirements include “traceability, segregation, and testing at critical control points.” Compliant products bear the Non-GMO Project Seal shown above  indicating that the product has been produced in accordance with the best practices of the Non-GMO Project Standard. However, the Non-GMO Project says directly that its label does not guarantee that a product is 100% GMO-free, because contamination is an ever-growing threat.

How Does Contamination Occur?

Contamination can happen any number of natural ways: 1. via cross-pollination between GMO and non-GMO crops; 2. from trace amounts of GMO ingredients found in animal; 3. from seeds traveling by wind or by migratory birds that take root in the soil of an organic farm; and 4. from ingredient suppliers that co-mingle various sources.

So, where does that leave you and your family?

1. Read ingredient labels and look for the Non-GMO Verified logo to ensure your foods are as free from GMO’s as possible.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask the manufacturer about how a product is grown or produced.

3. Just because a product has a lot of certifications, doesn’t mean it is healthy. Fair Trade, Certified Gluten-Free and Certified Vegan do not mean organic or non-GMO.  It may still contain artificial sweeteners and colors, synthetic fillers, trans fats, pesticide residue, and GMO’s.

In the United States, mattresses are required to describe the fabric and filling on a label with the intent to inform the consumer of the hidden contents, or “filling materials” inside bedding & furniture products. The law label was born in the early 1900s to prevent these articles from being further manufactured with contents such as horse hair, corn husks and whatever else a manufacturer could find to use that the consumer would never see, similar to food labeling. Why should we expect anything less in the labeling of our food?

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The information provided on this website is for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for the advice of an appropriately qualified and licensed practitioner or health care provider. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Fitness Goop Inc. or its affiliates. Different views may appear in future articles or publications. Information on fitnessgoop.com is copyrighted and must not be reprinted, duplicated, or transmitted without permission.

About Dr. Claudia Pillow

Dr. Pillow coauthored The Gluten-Free Good Health Cookbook: The Delicious Way to Strengthen Your Immune System and Neutralize Inflammation with her sister, Annalise Roberts (author of Gluten-Free Baking Classics). As part of her dissertation, she developed and tested a Celiac disease school screening tool and is currently in the process of making the program available nationally. Dr. Pillow is the Chief Nutritional Officer for Hail Merry Snacks www.hailmerry.com. She teaches gluten-free culinary classes, lectures nationally and writes for multiple websites.

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