GMO-Free vs Organic

What’s the difference between GMO free and organic?

Think about it this way – Organic means its free of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) plus most commercial pesticides. GMO-free means it’s (obviously) free from GMO’s but it CAN be grown with commercial pesticides.

“The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products. This means an organic farmer can’t plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and an organic soup producer can’t use any GMO ingredients. To meet the USDA organic regulations, farmers and processors must show they aren’t using GMOs and that they are protecting their products from contact with prohibited substances, such as GMOs, from farm to table,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture.


GMO-free foods grown in the United States are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture and can be grown using commercial pesticides and farming methods.

“Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination,” according to the World Health Organization.

Organic Foods:

Organic foods are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture and may not contain genetically modified organisms as well as a long list of other substances. Even certified organic foods can be grown with some commercial pesticides. You can read the full list of whats allowed and now allowed in organic foods here: National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances

“Organic operations must maintain or enhance soil and water quality, while also conserving wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge,
irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used,” also according to the US Dept of Agriculture.

Are GMO’s Safe?

There’s a lot of debate about whether or not genetically modified foods are safe.

“Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods,” according to the World Health Organization.

The bottom line:

If you live in the United States, certified organic foods grown in the United States meet stricter standards than GMO free foods. Buy organic and preferably locally grown foods when you have a choice.

The EWG offers a good guide on avoiding GMO’s if you are concerned.

Update 11/1/2016: The New York Times released an interesting article arguing that genetically modified crops, in many cases, offers no higher crop yields than non-GMO grown foods. Plus, farmers are using more weed killers like round-up in genetically modified crops than non GMO crops. Read the full article in the New York Times





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My name is Rebecca. I was born in Sweden, where nature is a guiding force. I was raised in Silicon Valley where innovation rules. My true north is a place where both values merge. I have two high energy kids and a mutt named Sadie. I’m married to my best friend, who I met when I was 17. We juggle life, work, love, and friends in the San Jose, California suburbs. It's fun. I’m trying to answer one question: "How can I live the life I love, sustainably?"

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