Today, there seem to be an overwhelming number of labels and ingredients to understand and look out for. You’ve heard health advocates raise concerns and advise against consuming genetically modified (GMO) foods while touting the benefits of going organic.
On the other hand, you’ve also heard GMO advocates tout the benefits and safety of GMO foods. So, when it comes to GMO vs. organic, what are the benefits and concerns? What does the science show? Let’s open up this controversial can of worms!
What Does Organic Mean?
If food is organic, it is produced without the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other synthetic substances.
Organic describes animal raising practices and the process of growing, producing, and harvesting food the natural and traditional way, using only natural fertilizers and substances instead of hormones and man-made chemicals. Organic also describes indigenous farming practices and regenerative agriculture.
To obtain the organic certification from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), farmers have to prove they’re not using GMOs and are adhering to strict organic standards. The certification involves annual inspections and periodic GMO testing. The USDA organic certification also prohibits arsenic, lead salts, potassium chloride, sodium nitrate, tobacco dust, and other substances and practices .
What Does GMO Mean?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are initially created in a lab through a process called genetic engineering. This advanced technology takes DNA from one organism and moves it into another organism to create versions of animals and plants that aren’t present in nature. GMO doesn’t mean plant crossbreeding; rather, it refers to technologies and methodologies like gene-splicing.
GMOs are animals or plants whose genes have been mutated or modified resulting in an organism that doesn’t naturally occur. The goal is often to obtain a new and desirable trait, such as herbicide resistance or the ability to grow to larger sizes in poor weather conditions.
One of the main reasons behind the creation of some of the most widely used GMO crops today, such as soy and wheat, is to create a crop that’s more resistant to pesticides and herbicides. For example, the Roundup-ready GMO soybean was created to withstand the Roundup herbicide so that farmers could spray Roundup across fields to kill weeds, pests, and insects without harming the plant.
Not all foods have been genetically modified, but some are more likely to be GMO than others. If you’re trying to avoid GMOs, keep in mind that the foods most likely to be GMO include edamame, corn, yellow squash, and papaya from China or Hawaii, so you might want to buy those organic.