Ask Leah! The Ingles Dietitian

Sponsored: Organic vs. non-gmo

ingles dietitianWhat’s the difference between organic and non-gmo (not genetically engineered)? 

I frequently hear from people who believe that there are various health attributes associated  with products that are labeled “organic” or “non-gmo”  but this is not the case nor is it the intent of those labels.  Let’s look at some facts:

• ORGANIC - The USDA certified organic label is overseen by the US government through the Department of Agriculture for the certified organic program and is an agricultural certification for produce and raw, fresh items and ingredients in processed products.   It is important to remember that “organic” does not imply a product has nutritional superiority and it has nothing to do with food safety. (information on the National Organic Program).

Organic means: “...a food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”

Manufacturers, producers and suppliers must apply to the USDA for a USDA organic seal. The approval process for organic certification involves submission of information and a site visit.  The cost can range $200-1500. A company that knowingly uses the organic seal for a product that is not organic can be fined up to $11,000 per violation.

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• NON-GMO - The non-gmo project seal program is run by the Non-GMO Project, not affiliated with the US government,  and it is not an organic certification program . Some companies may use other verbage such as “gmo-free” or “non-gmo” on their labels as there is no legal or governmental definition or standards for use of this term. 

The Non-GMO Project is a 501(c)3 non-profit started by retailers and members of the natural foods and organic industry that charges a fee for companies to verify that products and ingredients are not from genetically engineered seeds and that products can be traced and tested at “critical control points”. Once the company is verified they are licensed to use the “Non-GMO Project” seal. 

According to Non-GMO project website the cost is “customized” but reports indicate that costs to the farmer or brand can be several thousand dollars. 

What’s the bottom line?:  If you purchase products that are USDA certified organic or contain ingredients that are USDA certified organic, these by definition are “non-GMO”.   


Leah McGrath, RDN, LDN

Ingles Markets Corporate Dietitian



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