“Non-GMO” and “Organic” are two words that you’re bound to find on food packaging at your local grocery store – but what do they mean? In this post, we’ll explain what non-GMO and organic mean, as well as the benefits of filling up your fridge with non-GMO foods!
Organic: What Does It Mean?
Organic foods are grown without the use of any pesticides, weed-killers, fungicides, or artificial fertilizers. Instead, organic methods of farming rely on the use of natural solutions to keep their crops healthy.
There are tight government regulations on what constitutes certifiably organic food, so if you see that “organic” label at your grocery store, it means that the food you’re looking at has met strict standards based on the way it was grown.
How Is Organic Food Grown?
Organic farmers use several unique methods to keep their crops growing. Below are quick descriptions of these farming techniques to get you familiar with how organic food is grown.
This organic farming technique involves planting different crops on the same piece of land over a long period of time. When using the crop rotation technique, farmers will plant and harvest one crop one year, then switch to another one the next year. For example, a farmer might plant corn one year, harvest it, then plant and harvest wheat on the same land the next year.
Switching out crops like this might seem like an arbitrary practice, but it can be a huge help in growing high-quality produce without the help of chemicals. Here’s why:
- Certain crops take specific nutrients from the soil in large quantities. After a harvest, those nutrients need to be replenished. Corn, for example, tends to deplete the soil of nitrogen. Other crops can replenish the soil’s nitrogen content, allowing more corn to grow on the same land in the future.
- Pests will keep coming back to the same crops year after year. The crop rotation technique can keep an organic farmer’s field from being overrun by insects and other pests. If a farmer plants the same crops in the same spot every year, pests will consistently come back to wreak havoc on those crops, especially when there’s no pesticide or insecticide to fight them off. Without crop rotation, farmers often have to rely on lots of harmful chemicals to keep pests away from their food.
- Soil does well with variety. Switching things up can help to make your soil more fertile, even without the use of chemical-based fertilizers. In addition, pollinating insects are drawn to crops that vary, coming back to help those crops grow each year when the food a farmer grows is diverse.
Farmers don’t grow cover crops to harvest and sell. Instead, these crops are grown to add nutrients to the soil, allowing their cash crops – the ones they sell – to turn out better.
Common cover crops include mustard, clover, buckwheat, radishes, and several types of peas. Farmers plant these crops in the same areas as their cash crops. Then, the cover crops increase the fertility of the soil, helping the cash crops to grow. After a harvest, cover crops can help to return nutrients to the soil, getting the land ready for the next year of planting.
This organic farming technique involves planting crops as close together as possible. The idea here is to leave as little space as possible for weeds and other unwanted plants to grow.
Using the dense planting technique can help keep weeds from messing with a farmer’s crop, even without the use of chemicals.
Non-GMO: What Does It Mean?
“Non-GMO” and “Organic” are two distinct terms, but there’s often overlap between them. In many cases, you’ll find produce at the grocery store that’s both organic and non-GMO, but not always.
“Non-GMO” refers to food that’s made without any genetically modified ingredients (“GMO” stands for “genetically modified organism”). When you see this label on fruits, vegetables, and other produce, it means that a crop was grown without the use of genetically engineered or bioengineered seeds.
What Are GMOs?
GMOs can be plants, animals, or any other living organisms. The defining characteristic of a GMO is that its genetic material has been unnaturally altered, often to make it easier to grow. Some of the most common genetically modified crops are used to make oil – corn, soy, rapeseed, and others. These crops are often engineered to make them more resistant to pesticides and herbicides.
GMO foods are inherently non-organic – they’ve been tampered with by man to enhance some of their traits. Because commercial farming typically relies on a lot of pesticides and herbicides, GMO crops are often engineered to make them more resistant to pests – and to the chemicals that are used to keep the pests away. In the overwhelming majority of GMO foods, genetic engineering is used for pest and weed control reasons.
Why Skip the GMOs?
There are a number of reasons to steer clear of GMOs the next time you’re selecting a decadent snack. After all, we chose to create all of our MiiRO chocolates without GMOs for a reason, so we’re here to fill you in. Here are some of the biggest perks of choosing non-GMO foods:
Herbicides Aren’t Good for You
The main motivation to grow genetically modified crops is to ward off pests. However, while it might seem like a great idea to keep bugs and weeds away from a potential harvest, the methods used to get those pests and weeds to die aren’t great for the environment – or your body.
Many commercial farmers use a herbicide called glyphosate to keep weeds from growing among their crops and stealing nutrients from the soil. While this herbicide would normally kill the crops along with the weeds, genetically modified seeds are often planted to yield plants that can withstand the effects of glyphosate. However, research has pointed to some big issues caused by this herbicide.
Research seems to indicate that exposure to glyphosate can increase the risk of certain cancers in humans. This herbicide is used widely in the commercial farming industry, and it gets sprayed on a plethora of common crops. Because so many foods are grown with the help of herbicides, your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals can add up quickly. Uh, no thanks!
A Lot Still Isn’t Known About Them
While the current research does indicate that eating lots of GMO foods isn’t good for you, there’s still quite a bit that we don’t fully understand about them.
As of now, there still hasn’t been a reliable trial conducted that examines the effects of eating GMO foods on humans. At the moment, such a trial would be virtually impossible due to the fact that everyone in the western world has been exposed to GMOs.
GMOs Are Bad for the Environment.
Another reason to skip GMO foods is their negative impact on the environment. It’s always a good idea to make your meals (or any deliciously creamy chocolate that you snag as a treat) as kind to your body and the planet as possible, and eating non-GMO foods is definitely a step in the right direction!
Due to the excessive use of chemical fertilizers, GMO farming produces tons of harmful greenhouse gases, which can harm the Earth and our atmosphere in the long run. To make matters worse, it takes a lot of resources to produce the chemicals that are used to fertilize GMO crops, including fossil fuels.
Cross-Pollination Is a Real Problem
Cross-pollination occurs when one plant’s pollen moves to another plant. While this isn’t an issue among two non-GMO crops, it can cause big problems when GMO crops cross-pollinate non-GMO crops. Thanks to cross-pollination, many organic and non-GMO crops end up containing low levels of GMOs, even though they were grown without them.
The best way to stop GMO crops from cross-pollinating with non-GMO crops is to isolate these crops from each other. Some states in the US have agriculture laws that prevent crops from being grown too close to each other, but this isn’t the case everywhere. Ultimately, the risk of cross-pollination is one of the biggest issues facing non-GMO farmers everywhere, and more work needs to be done to minimize the risk.
The Bottom Line
So, what’s the final word on organic and non-GMO produce?
Based on the criteria that a crop has to meet to be labeled “organic,” all organic food is inherently non-GMO. Your food can’t be organic and genetically modified at the same time!
To learn more about everything MiiRO has to offer and to get inspired with tips and recipes, make sure to check out our magazine and MiiRO TV. It’s packed with helpful articles about plant-based living, cooking, and plenty of exclusive recipe videos. Or, you can just order some mouth-watering chocolate peanut butter cups or a perfectly crunchy white chocolate bar—the choice is yours.