As the new year approaches, food is front and center—it’s stocked in our homes for gatherings with friends, offered at office holiday parties and constantly on our minds as we plan menus for family dinners or brainstorm next year’s healthy eating plan. It’s a seasonable time to consider what happens to your food before it hits your plate. And for many consumers, that’s something of a puzzle, particularly when it comes to understanding organic versus GMOs—or genetically modified organisms.

People grocery shopping in market

Asking questions like “Is organic non-GMO?” and “How do GMOs compare to organic food?” can help you make better sense of what you’re feeding yourself and your loved ones. Here’s a helpful guide to boost your knowledge and inform your nutritional choices all year round.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines GMOs as organisms whose genetic material—or DNA—has been altered or modified in some way that does not occur naturally. In most cases, genetic engineering works by transferring individual genes from one organism to another. Most commonly found in crops such as soybeans, corn and canola, GMOs are designed to provide a higher nutritional value to food, as well as protect crops against pests.

Organic foods, on the other hand, do not contain any pesticides, fertilizers, solvents or additives. According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), USDA-certified organic foods are grown and processed according to strict federal guidelines that cover everything from soil quality and pest control to animal raising practices. Similarly, organic livestock raised for meat, eggs and dairy products must be given organic feed, and cannot receive antibiotics, growth hormones or any animal by-products.

Is organic non-GMO?

There’s plenty of debate surrounding GMO and organic food, which can make grocery shopping around the holiday season a harrowing experience. Making a key distinction can go a long way.

For those looking to avoid the use of chemical pesticides, along with the high costs of organic food, non-GMO products are a viable alternative. That’s because non-GMO products don’t contain any GMO ingredients. However, that doesn’t mean they are grown organically.

“Organic is—and always has been—non-GMO,” says Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the OTA. “But non-GMO is not always organic.”

Understanding the pros and cons of both options can also empower consumers. Here’s how industry experts weigh in:

Why GMO?

  • Lower price point for consumers
  • Lower production costs for farmers
  • Greater durability and/or nutritional value for health benefits
  • Increased resistance among crops to plant diseases caused by insects or viruses
  • Tastier and more nutritious foods
  • Increased supply of food with reduced costs and longer shelf life
  • Medicinal foods that could be used as vaccines or other medicines

Why organic?

  • No use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers
  • No use of genetically engineered—or modified—organisms
  • Healthier soil through organic farming practices such as crop rotation, pasture grazing and mulch
  • Organic meats don’t contain any growth hormones
  • Animals raised organically aren’t given any antibiotics
  • Organic soil better conserves water, fosters biodiversity, combats erosion and mitigates climate change for significant environmental gains

A critical eye

So what are the shortcomings of GMOs and organic items? Common arguments against GMOs include the consumption of harmful bacteria and toxins, increased risk of allergic reaction and “outcrossing,” or the mixing of crops from conventional seeds with GM crops, which “may have an indirect effect on food safety and food security,” reports WHO.

Opponents of organic food argue that it’s significantly more expensive than GMO or non-GMO foods, has a shorter shelf life compared to GMO foods and may have higher bacteria levels due to limited pesticide and herbicide usage.

How to make the right choice for you and your family  

Both categories of food—non-GMO and organic—are subject to strict regulatory guidelines and have gone through rigorous verification programs. That alone may provide consumers with the peace of mind they’re looking for when holiday grocery shopping.

If organic is the way you want to go, Batcha offers these tips to get the best bang for your buck:

Shop smart: Look for specials on organic products, and buy in bulk whenever you can to cut costs.

Prioritize: Think about what your family eats a lot of, and what your healthy eating priorities are.

Comparison shop: Organic fresh produce is sometimes sold at the same price as conventional, so check out organic produce aisles.

Pick and choose carefully: While conventional milk can be cheaper, recent research published by Cambridge University Press suggests that organic milk is free of pesticide and antibiotic residues. If your family drinks milk, it’s worth the extra cost to buy organic.

A little common sense goes a long way, too. Cookies, cakes and other sugar-laden treats, even if organic, are still not the healthiest option. And if you really want to know what you’re eating, try cooking from scratch—even if it means incorporating some DIY cooking hacks. Understanding the differences between organic vs. GMO foods will allow you to provide your loved ones with the right nutritional options.

Written By: Amway BrandVoice

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