GMO Food Excluded from Organic Certification

I enjoyed my recent opportunity to speak with a number of customers at Kroger Supermarkets when I was there signing copies of What to Feed Your Baby. Some had come because they heard my interviews at WSB (that felt particularly wonderful). And some were shoppers that had specific questions they wanted to address, with implications far beyond childhood.

Interestingly, the topics were similar:

An organic farmer asked me what I think about GMOs and another individual asked whether organic products are worth the extra expense. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are often crops that have been changed through genetic engineering in order to introduce a desired trait. Some modifications are done to improve resistance to infestation or to a sprayed herbicide. Or to increase production, or prolong the edible shelf life, or even to add nutritional value. Using modern techniques of inserting a splice of DNA into a gene in order to supply more food for the world's growing population is not, generally, a bad idea. This used to take years with hybridization done to blend and better the plant stock. Now it is done scientifically -- a modern adaptation of a traditional technique -- by finding the right DNA linkage and implanting it into the gene of another plant, obtaining the intended result.

But the question of course is: are GMOs it safe?

The answer is probably yes, though we don't entirely know yet. The first product, a tomato that has a longer-shelf life and is more resistant to freezing was only released in 1994. And while no study has yet shown a problem for those consuming these products (and there are dozens of them now), some people have some concerns. A new crop of weeds and worms are resistant to some herbicides (in the same way that some bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics).

So those who are cautious about what pesticides and fertilizers are used to produce what they eat, and limit their intake to organic foods, would want to know what foods are genetically modified. If they stick to foods labeled as organic, GMOs are avoided, because organic certification excludes GMOs.  

However, other foods do not require that labeling--as yet. Foods can even be called "natural" and not be organically grown or certified. So the interested public is now lobbying for labeling along with FDA regulation so individuals can make up their own mind about what they choose to eat at home and in restaurants. Already several groceries have indicated that by 2018, their products will be labeled even if the USDA has not required it. Advocates for GMO labeling and more include which provides

more information on GMOs

That brings up the larger question, are organic products worth the premium you pay for them?

I have to hedge that answer. Studies have not shown any difference in outcomes for individuals eating organic foods compared to those who don't. But (big but here), the organic movement has been in evolution since the 70s when organic farmers began organizing in California. Wider regulation in Europe and the US has only been in place for the last 20 years. So not all the data is in--though organic advocates do anecdotally say they feel better and plan to continue, even with the extra cost.

BOTTOM LINE: Organically certified products exclude GMOs, and require specific health-conscious farming methods. However, nutritional studies have not shown any difference in outcomes for those eating only organically grown foods, as of this date--though organic advocates are rarely hesitant to tell you they feel better and plan to continue.

Dr. Stan Cohen 10 March 2016

Dr. Stan Cohen is one of our founders and our CEO as well as the Chairman of our Medical Advisory Board. Dr. Stan is an internationally recognized expert in pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition. He is a Read More

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