Fourteen years ago, Congress passed a set of national standards for organic food and established the National Organic Program to regulate it. The legislation was hundreds of pages long, but the core principles were clear:
— No synthetic pesticides or fertilizers
— No irradiation
— No sewage sludge
— and No genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
For 14 years, there has been a reliable way to avoid eating GMOs: Buy Organic. Organic farmers are certified by third-party agencies that work under the auspices of the officials at the National Organic Program.
Organic farmers and eaters were among the first people to question agriculture’s growing shift towards the use of GMOs, which they saw as an unnecessary and untested way for companies like Monsanto to increase sales of their pesticides. The organic movement also provided support for efforts to restrict and regulate GMOs all over the country, although most of those failed in the end.
But a funny thing happened along the way. The anti-GMO movement took on a life of its own. Instead of promoting Organic, the anti-GMO folks at some point decided they needed their own label and their own certification. There are now thousands of food items that are not organic, but are labelled as “non-GMO” — or some similar term.
The problem is, there are no rules. No oversight. No approval by a regulatory agency like the USDA or the FDA. The fact is, you (yes, you!) could start your own non-GMO certification agency tomorrow, in your living room.
The only GMO crops grown currently are corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and canola. Most of the food made with those products is highly processed and not particularly healthy anyway. And just because the corn, soy, and canola used to make those tortilla chips or other tasty snack food is not GMO does not mean the crops were grown without other harmful chemicals.
While it is true that the non-GMO food movement has created a demand for non-GMO (but non-organic) crops, it is a very small market. And it seems at least plausible to suggest that much, if not all, of this market could have been supplied by organic food. Instead, consumers are getting confused by the two different labels. They are increasingly asking why organic foods do not have non-GMO labels on them.
It is extremely unlikely that the Food and Drug Administration will ever step up to support and regulate the non-GMO label. The agency has an official policy that genetically modified food is no different than any other food. And its upper echelons are filled with former Monsanto executives.
The anti-GMO movement is a well-meaning cause with good goals. But they lost sight of those goals when they decided to go it alone and start a label that is now competing with organic and creating confusion among consumers who are seeking healthier food alternatives.
In the future, there will almost certainly be more and more GMO food sold for human consumption, and it will become even harder for non-GMO verifiers to keep up to keep up with all the food companies seeking to label their products. But there will still be one label that you can count on to assure you that your food is not genetically modified: Certified Organic.