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Certified non-GMO and USDA Organic Foods: What to Know and How to Shop

When making a conscious effort to choose foods that are healthier than store-brand, generic products, you’ll often see boxes and packages with these familiar icons and labels:

Basic knowledge can tell us that these products are better for you than the ones without these labels, but the question is why? What makes something that is organic or certified non-GMO better than something that is not?

When a food is certified USDA Organic, it means that “foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many other factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives.” Federal law regulates this label and the farms must meet their high standards in order to achieve this seal of approval. Beyond the growth of the produce and rising of farm animals, the USDA also regulates multi-ingredient products and requires a certain percentage of the product to be made with certified organic ingredients. For more information on the USDA Organic certification please check out the US Department of Agriculture’s website here.

When a food is labeled as Non-GMO Project Verified, it doesn’t necessarily mean the same as USDA Organic. This nonprofit organization works hard on informing the public about the dangers of genetically modified foods and how to preserve the integrity of the foods in their most natural forms. A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is a man-made combination of plant, animal or other organism, which is made through a process, called gene splicing or recombinant DNA methods. This means that companies make “unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes” that are not naturally found in nature. You can find GMOs in every day food items; even various kinds of produce are genetically modified. For more information on the Non-GMO Project please check out the organizations “About” page here.

When a product is Certified USDA Organic, it automatically means it is non-GMO Project Verified or meets the organization’s standards. However, the non-GMO label does not guarantee the product is also Certified Organic. The USDA Organic certifications covers areas beyond genetically modified organisms in foods, requiring companies to meet standards in their use of artificial ingredients, as well as pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. They also regulate how animals are raised, fed and sheltered. Both labels provide protection from GMOs, but if you want a product without artificial ingredients then look for the USDA Organic seal.

Need a simpler breakdown of the differences and similarities between the two? Refer to the chart below that puts USDA Organic and Verified Non-GMO side-by-side.

If you want more information about the specifics of each certification, please refer to the USDA’s website and the Non-GMO Project’s website.

Foods that are certified USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified maintain the integrity of the genes and ensure you’re consuming the most wholesome product possible, especially when it comes to produce and meat. When it comes to snack foods and a list of ingredients, both of these labels still maintain their high quality standards by checking each individual ingredient that is used to make the product. That way you are still enjoying foods that you love while feeding your body the best ingredients for it!

Check out all of the USDA Organic snack foods that we offer on our website here, and for snacks that are verified by the Non-GMO Project you can go here.

Note: All information came from the US Department of Agriculture, the Non-GMO Project and Boston Organics.