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These days, as more people are looking to adopt or maintain a healthy lifestyle, there is an increasing buffet of fresh produce and other nutritious foods available to fill your shopping cart. From exotic fruits to pre-cut and pre-washed vegetables, the variety can seem endless. But to go along with many of these items, there is a dizzying array of labels slapped on them and some of these can be downright confusing.

Many foods are now labeled organic, GMO and Non-GMO. You might find yourself wondering what all these descriptions mean. For example, is organic the same as Non-GMO? As a consumer, it is crucial to understand the differences in these three labels, especially if you want to pick out the safest and healthiest food for you and your family.

We’ll walk you through the differences, so the next time you’re faced with these labels, you will have no problem selecting the type that is best for you.

What does it mean if a food is labeled organic?

In the most general sense, organic food is food that is produced without conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or any kind of bioengineering. If meat, eggs and dairy products are labeled organic, that means they come from animals that were given no antibiotics or growth hormones during the animal’s lifetime.

The most common label you will see is the USDA organic seal. Most items with this seal have met strict production, certification and labeling standards under the regulation of the National Organic Program, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Products under this seal have been produced without genetic engineering and do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There are rules that allow natural substances to be used in organic farming while forbidding the use of synthetic chemicals and fertilizers.

Currently, there are four separate USDA labeling possibilities for organic foods:

  1. 100% Organic: All ingredients must be certified organic and any processing aids also must be organic.
  2. Organic: All ingredients in these foods must be certified organic. In some cases, specific non-organic ingredients are allowed, up to a total of 5%.
  3. “Made with” organic: These are typically multi-ingredient products. At least 70 percent of the product has to be certified organic. Any other food ingredients included don’t have to be produced organically, but can’t have been produced using prohibited methods.
  4. Specific organic ingredients: You will sometimes see food packaging with only certain ingredients listed as organic. These are generally multi-ingredient products that have less than 70 percent of their total ingredients that qualify as certified organic.

When you are searching for organic foods, beverages and other organic products, it pays to be a label detective and understand the quality behind the brand. For example, people who choose BodyKey™ Oolong Green Tea enjoy its flavor and sweet aroma. But by reading the label on the box, they know it’s also an organically-grown blend of green and oolong teas.

The commitment to the environment runs deep at Nutrilite™. While Nutrilite products and ingredients are not organic, Nutrilite is the only global vitamin and dietary supplement brand to grow, harvest, and process plants on their own certified organic farms.* This includes nearly 6,000 acres at three organic farms where plants are grown for processing into extracts used in Nutrilite's wide selection of nutritional supplements.

What does it mean if a food is labeled GMO?

The acronym GMO means Genetically Modified Organism. Any animal, plant or other organism whose genetic material has been changed in ways that don’t occur in nature is considered GMO.

In this technological age, some have criticized GMO items as “Frankenfoods.” In the simplest terms, GMO foods are the crossroads where farming meets genetic engineering. Scientists and researchers have used these techniques to make hardier crops that are more drought-resistant, plants that are more nutrient-dense, or ingredients that can stay on store shelves longer.

Federal law will require labeling of GMO or bioengineered foods from large agricultural producers beginning in 2020. Some foods made with GMO ingredients already have this listed on their labels.

What does it mean if a label says Non-GMO?

A Non-GMO label means that a food and its ingredients have been produced without the use of genetic engineering, and that herbicides that contain GMOs have not been used.

Non-GMO does not mean a food is organic, or that it has been produced according to certified organic standards. In fact, Non-GMO foods can be grown and produced using conventional, non-organic farming methods.

The Non-GMO Project is the nonprofit that handles the third-party verification and labeling program for all Non-GMO foods in North America.

When should you purchase organic vs Non-GMO?

Deciding what food to buy is a very personal choice, sometimes driven by environmentally-conscious reasons, health concerns or even what your grocery budget is in a given week. Some people who are deeply committed to eating things sustainably produced with no pesticides or other harmful chemicals will only purchase organic foods, even though they tend to cost more than conventionally-grown foods. Others are more concerned with avoiding GMO products, so they will seek out items labeled Non-GMO.

If you’re on the fence about what foods are most important to choose the organic version of, start with thin-skinned foods that typically have the highest pesticide content, according to federal studies. These include fruits like strawberries, nectarines, peaches, apples, grapes, pears and cherries. Organic spinach, greens like kale, and potatoes are also a safer bet.

With all this information, you will be able to shop with more confidence as you read labels and are able to decide between organic vs GMO. Remember to select nutritious foods that will be best for your body and your family’s health.

* Source: Euromonitor International Limited, www.euromonitor.com/amway-claims.