At the heart of the GMO battle is the right to have transparent labeling on food products. This right to know has produced a myriad of label claims in stores causing much consumer confusion and consternation. Despite the fact that GMO’s are forbidden in organic production, many people do not realize the USDA Organic seal means non-GMO. How did this happen? Organic means non GMO, plus a whole lot more!
Back at the turn of this century, the Secretary of Agriculture promulgated the US organic regulations, and this included a list of allowed and prohibited substances in organic production. In addition to prohibiting toxic synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, the regulations also prohibited the practice of using genetic engineering, irradiation and sewage sludge. The regulations state that National Organic Program (NOP) certified organic operations must have procedures that do not use GMO seeds. Certified handlers must have procedures in place to prevent comingling with GMO crops. Organic Certifiers must verify procedures are in place to eliminate the risk that contamination or comingling will occur at any stage of the supply chain. The only thing lacking in the regulations until very recently was guidance on testing. The regulations did not give specific guidance on this important requirement that validates the NOP requirement that organic products be produced without the use of GMOs.
As required by the regulations, organic certifiers currently test for GMOs when contamination is suspected or when a complaint has been received. Many certifiers also conduct testing under their own established testing program or as an inspection protocol for monitoring compliance with the organic regulations. In November 2012, the NOP clarified through formal rule making that testing for prohibited residues in organic products, including GMOs, MUST occur periodically (on an annual basis) and that certifiers must investigate and issue noncompliance notices accordingly to organic operations that fail to meet the requirements.
The organic label guarantees the product was made without the use of GMOs and it applies to all labeling categories (100 percent, 95 percent and 70 percent organic) and to all of the ingredients (organic and non-organic) contained therein. While organic certification sufficiently substantiates that the product is produced without GMOs, the regulations DO NOT prohibit the use of additional label statements such as “non-GMO” or “produced without the use of GMOs.” These are accurate statements commonly included on organic products, and they are verified through the certification process that includes annual inspections and required periodic testing.
Most consumers do not understand that when they purchase a product with the USDA organic label it is produced without the use of GMOs. Non GMO awareness has only risen lately and continues to surge forth as polls show that over 90% of consumers indicate they want these foods labeled. The Non-GMO Project verified label has done much and continues to make great strides in raising consumer awareness and creating a market for Non- GMO seeds to flourish. Every day I give thanks for their efforts in helping to drive these two initiatives forward.
In 2014, the FDA will finalize guidance on the ability to voluntarily label organic as Non-GMO or produced without GMO products. I believe now is the time for the organic community to make the claim that organic certification means non-GMO, and the label should be able to spell that out to consumers.
The Organic Trade Association OTA has a working task force to address this issue and make formal comments to the FDA before the final rule takes effect.
Don’t you think the time has come to hold up the organic label as the gold standard and let consumers know organic is the right food choice? Organic means Non-GMO along with no harmful pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge and irradiation. Let’s tell the positive story that organic is produced without GMO’s as well as toxic chemicals. As my good friend Dennis Weaver said: “We owe it to humanity to GROW Organic, the ONLY form of agriculture GOOD for PEOPLE & PLANET!”
For more information on GMOs, please reference my previous Blog: The What How and Why on GMOs.