What do they mean? Organic... GMO...

What do they mean? Organic... GMO...

Nutritional lingo is often confusing, so I’m starting a new recurring series… In my research, I’m learning so much. When conveying what I learn to you, I want to ensure accuracy. So, this section is going to be a glorified glossary, so we can all be on the same page. I’ll add a couple of terms at a time to a post in the series: What do they mean?

Today we are going to clarify the terms ORGANIC and GMO (NON-GMO)


The formal definition of organic is: Organic food is the product of a farming system which avoids the use of man-made fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives, irradiation, and organisms (GMOs) or products generally prohibited by organic legislation. In other words, farmers don't put a bunch of poisonous gunk on their crops and do not use antibiotics or growth hormones for animals that will be used for meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. 

In addition, to earn the label organic a government certifier must have inspected the farm where the food is grown, and a government certifier must have  inspected the manufacturers and handlers of the products or processed food. 

GMO (genetically modified organism)

A GMO is an organism whose genome has been altered by the techniques of genetic engineering. Due to this engineering, its DNA contains one or more genes not normally found there.  (Note: The US Department of Agriculture has estimated that 94% of all soy and 93% of all corn is genetically engineered. That makes it possible that you'll encounter GMOs in your food somewhere unless you are checking labels closely). Other foods commonly genetically altered are sugar beets, canola, cotton, papaya, potatoes, squash, and soy beans.

Whether genetically modified organisms are good for you or not is hotly debated.  There are many studies on both sides of the issues.  Just to start you thinking about this, here are a couple of the issues:

1.     “The clear majority of the 40,000 food products Americans choose from every day are built from ingredients made from engineered plants. This includes almost anything made with high-fructose corn syrup, vegetable oil, or sugar – which is to say, almost all processed food….” (from Food Fight by McKay Jenkins)

2.      Herbicide resistance is another reason some are concerned about genetically modified organisms. Since these crops are modified to be resistant to herbicides, it means that farmers can spray the crops with more herbicides without worry of killing the plants. Some research studies say this is not a worry to us (the eaters), but it is important to see who funded the study to ensure you are getting the whole story.

Many people avoid eating GMO products because studies have linked GMOs to organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune-system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. We will look at all this more closely in other posts. For now, that’s a start.


Please note how these two terms – organic and non-GMO – intersect. When reading food labels, if a product is marked non-GMO, it means it was not genetically modified.  It means nothing more. Whereas, if a product is marked organic, it means it is non-GMO as well as free from all the other harmful processes mentioned in the definition of organic.


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