But do you really know what they are? Or the difference between the two? Don't worry, you're not alone. Most people regularly interchange one for the other when they are really very different.
So, what is GMO? A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is an animal, plant, microorganism or other organism that has had their genetic makeup modified in a lab. Something living that has been altered unnaturally by scientists. Combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and virus genes are created that do not occur in nature or would come about naturally through traditional crossbreeding techniques. And, believe it or not, GMOs affect many of the products we use and consume on a daily basis.
Organic on the other hand is not changing or recreating an item, but what is added – or not added - to that item during the growing process. Produce grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation are considered organic. In the case of animal products, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are labelled organic when coming from animals free of antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is the product of a farming system which avoids the use of man-made fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. Products that are not labelled as organic may contain any or all of the above. Shocking, right?
As with most things government-regulated, these rules have a bit of wiggle room. Products labeled as certified organic still allow for up to five percent non-organic content and 'should not' contain GMOs. When organic alternatives are not available – often with products such as cornstarch and soy lecithin – GMOs are in fact allowed.
How do you know if something is GMO free? Look for the butterfly label. These products are verified by the Non-GMO Project to be GMO free. Ingredients are testing during processing, spot-checked at different points in the supply chain, producers undergo yearly inspections to verify compliance and maintain standards, raw materials must be stored in a way that eliminates cross-contamination, and certain herbicides containing GMOs are prohibited. Interestingly enough there is no stipulation that non-GMO products must be grown organically. So, non-GMO items can contain ingredients that are not organic and organic items can contain GMOs. Probably not what you expected. Frankly there seem to be more and more 'unexpecteds' coming to light when it comes to food lately.
In doing some research for this article I found several 'unexpecteds'. Did you know Canada is fifth in the world's top-producers of GMO crops? We are right in line after the USA, Brazil, Argentina and India. Something else you may not know is that every 15 years in Canada herbicides and such are re-evaluated to decide whether or not they are safe for farmers to continue using on their non-organic crops. In January of this year the very controversial herbicide, RoundUp was one of those. And it was approved stating that there was not sufficient evidence that the main ingredient, glyphosate, was harmful. Immediately following the decision, objections were filed by eight separate groups, including Ecojustice, Environmental Defence and Canadian Physicians for the Environment. With studies published as far back as 2003 connecting glyphosate and certain cancers, and is associated with kidney and liver damage and birth defects, it's truly something that should not be in our food. But it is.
Here are a few of some everyday items containing glyphosate; granola (Quaker, Back to Nature, KIND), oats (Giant Instant Oatmeal, Quaker - dinosaur eggs, brown sugar, instant) Umpqua Oats, Market Pantry, breakfast cereals (Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Barbara's Multigrain Spoonfuls, Kellogg's Cracklin' Oat Bran), snack bars (KIND, Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars, Quaker Chewy, Kellogg's Nutri-Grain), whole oats (Quaker steel cut/old fashioned, Bob's Red Mill, Nature's Path Organic, Whole Foods Bulk Bin), as well as things like orange juice, cookies, boxed breakfast cereals, crackers, cookies, chips, goldfish crackers, wine, beer, ice cream, tampons, non-organic cotton clothing products, as well as in rainwater and in the groundwater. And just an FYI, glyphosate cannot be washed off as it is absorbed by the plant as it grows.
The best way to avoid glyphosate and other toxins in your food is to look for certified organic, Non-GMO Project Verified. Hey, nobody's perfect. But making better, more educated choices more often will definitely have a positive impact in your overall health.
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