Welcome to Organic Shopping: A Mom’s Guide! Here, we’ll explore tips and tricks so you can shop for organic and Non-GMO foods – and know what all those labels mean. Ready to get started?
A Guide to Healthier Shopping
I’ve heard a lot of confusion lately regarding how foods are labeled or discussed. I know, I know – between organic and food sensitivities, you probably want to throw up your hands and order takeout, letting the chips fall where they may. Never fear – you don’t have to give up! In this guide to Non-GMO and organic shopping, I will clear up the confusion and share with you how I shop for my family. I’m going to make this guide as informative AND painless as possible.
Genetically Engineered (GE) vs. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
According to the Non-GMO Project (we’ll get to who they are in a minute), most genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are genetically engineered (GE) “with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals.” So GMOs are a type of GE.
Some people confuse selective breeding as a form of GMO – they say that whenever you affect the genetics, you are modifying them. For example, when you buy Cotton Candy grapes, they have been crossbred with different types of grapes to get that flavor. This is called cross breeding.
When GMOs are used, you are introducing something that cannot occur naturally. In “Unhealthy Truth,” Robin O’Brien explains it like cats and dogs: You can breed different kinds of cats and dogs with selective breeding, but you cannot breed a cross between a cat and a dog. That will never happen in nature.
Comparing USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, and GMO-Free
How can you avoid buying foods that contain GMOs? It’s not easy. Right now, companies are not required to label whether or not they use GMOs in their food in the U.S. The only way to ensure that you are avoiding GMOs as much as possible in your food supply is to look for labeling that can guide. Here is a rundown of the labels you might find.
The USDA has set standards for what the definition of organic means when their seal is granted. This label means that no synthetic pesticides, irradiation, growth hormones, antibiotics or GMOs are intentionally used within production.
I want to make sure that you know that it’s only “USDA Organic” that is certified with these standards. The organic seal means it contains 95%-100% organic product/ingredients. If it says, “made w/organic” it has to contain at least 70% organic ingredients. Less than that it can’t be labeled as organic, but organic ingredients used are labeled as such in the ingredient list. That means the USDA Organic seal gives you the foods with the highest content of certified organic ingredients.
Non-GMO Project Verified
The Non-GMO Project (NGP) is a non-profit organization which independently verifies that products do not contain more than 0.9% GMOs. That 0.9% gives reasonable room for accidental GMO contamination – like seeds blowing over into a neighboring farm.
NGP tests the ingredients individually rather than the product as a whole, for more accurate detection. This is why some companies struggle to get the labeling – their vendors can’t get demonstrate compliance.
In addition, high-risk ingredients, like corn, need to be tested often. So the Non-GMO Project exists as a way to verify that the products were manufactured to avoid GMOs.
“GMO-Free” means different things to different manufacturers and isn’t well defined, so it may be best to look for products that have been through a third party program, such as Non-GMO Project Verified or Organic Certification. This helps you to make sure you are getting what you think you are buying.
Tips and Tricks to Shopping Healthier
As a concerned mom, grocery shopping has gotten a lot easier once I learned about these labels. I can feel confident that my highly sensitive kids are avoiding GMOs as much as possible. Adding in organic produce, grass-fed organic meats and eggs, organic supplements and purified water daily rounds out their diet nicely. Here are the tips and tricks I use to ensure they are getting the good with none of the bad.
- Look for Food With These Seals
Look for the Non-GMO Project and USDA Organic labels on products. I always use this as a starting point for shopping for new brands.
- Read the Ingredient Label
Even then, because my children have so many reactions to food, my next step is to read the label. This was a challenge at first – you may have to look things up to see what they are and if they are safe with regard to your child’s allergies or food reactions, such as knowing all the names for “dairy.”
- Stick to Brands I Trust
Once I find brands that I trust and my kids like, such as Silk, I keep using those and make myself familiar with the labels. This way I can spot check and recommend them to people who are looking for alternatives for other food sensitivities.
- Recheck Labels Periodically When Organic Shopping
Companies do change ingredients, so make sure that the Non-GMO Project Verified seal verified label or USDA Organic label is still there and that the ingredients have not changed – OR have changed for the better. Always check when you hear about a company making changes in the news, such as if a brand was acquired or had a major shakeup.
- Clarify Vague Definitions
If an item is labeled “GMO-free” or “Organic” but does not have those official seals, I would email the vendor about it. They may be in the midst of getting Non-GMO Project verification. Because the guidelines are so strict, it may be that something cannot pass the guidelines but is not made with GMO ingredients.I recently had a client who was working to get the Non-GMO Project Verification label but was told by her supplier that this label cannot apply to beeswax. “GMO-free” can be found on packages and usually means there is no DNA in the product, not that the ingredients were sourced from non-GMO sources.
UPDATE: See below for a news update on USDA Organic standards.
- Never Leave Home Without a Plan for Saving Money
Apps and coupons save me tons of money while I’m organic shopping! I use supermarket loyalty cards and track local supermarket sales on organic in their flyers – you can check these online or in your newspaper. I scour the web for great coupons, rebate apps, and follow great brands committed to providing Non-GMO Project Verified.Read more tips at my frugal organic shopping series.
More Money Saving Tips for Organic Shopping
Finally, if you are still struggling to find or afford food that is organic and Non-GMO Project verified, you have a few other options:
- Avoid GMO produce and the “dirty dozen” and buy conventional produce that is thick-skinned, such as bananas.
- Look for fruits and vegetables that are not produced with pesticides and/or herbicides. Try a farmer’s market or local stands. Out here in PA, local Mennonite and Amish stores or roadside stand often sell chemical-free produce.
- Grow your own! I don’t have a green thumb, but if you do, this is a great option and one that the kids may love to get involved with.
That’s some insight into how I keep my family’s food clear of GMOs and do my organic shopping. Share your tips for healthy eating!