Non-GMO: Meaning & Label Explained

Non-GMO labels pop up everywhere, from Superfood supplements to organic products and even our favorite snacks. 

While we know the importance of avoiding GMOs, does the GMO-free or non-GMO label hold any weight? 

This guide from Sunwink explains what non-GMO means and if buying non-GMO foods and products at the grocery store can really make a difference. 

What Are GMOs?

GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.” 

To make GMO products, scientists use genetic engineering technology to change the DNA of certain organisms. This mainly includes plants and animals. The result is a plant or animal that can’t be found in nature (although it’s not as creepy as it sounds). 

Genetically-engineered animals are mainly used for research. However, plants that have been genetically modified are present in almost every supermarket. Because GMOs are cheaper to produce, many suppliers prefer them to non-GMO produce. 

Some of the most common GMOs include corn, soy, canola, potatoes, and sugar beets. You may not eat these foods in whole form, but you may get tons of them through processed foods. GMOs are also used to feed some animals in conventional (A.K.A., not organic) farms. 

Why Are GMOs Produced?

“Genetically-modified organism” sounds like a scientific experiment gone wrong. 

But there can be many benefits to genetic modification. After all, GMOs wouldn’t be so widespread if there weren't benefits. (For instance, did you know that 93% of all corn in the U.S. is genetically modified?)

Of course, natural food is the safer choice — proven by millions of years of human consumption. But GMOs may be better in at least some of the following regards:

1. GMOs Can Be Cheaper 

Genetically-modified plants are made to be resistant to insect damage and plant viruses. At the same time, they have a higher tolerance for herbicides, allowing farmers to use more to keep pests away. 

With GMOs that are resistant to insect damage, farmers can also apply fewer pesticides to protect their crops. Pesticides are linked to serious health problems, so using less of them is not a bad thing. 

Then, for GMOs that tolerate herbicides, farmers are able to get rid of more weeds without tilling the soil. This is beneficial for soil health and cuts down on labor costs. The result? You pay less for your fruits and veggies. 

All these factors, in combination, mean that GMO crops have a higher survival rate, which gives farmers higher yields and you — the consumer — lower prices. 

2. GMOs Can Be Grown in Harsher Climates

Due to climate change, there’s a general increase in droughts worldwide. This means that farmers in affected regions may have trouble growing crops.

Well, GMOs can offer a solution to that. Some plants can be modified to grow more easily in extreme temperatures and even in salty soil. This can help to increase food production in drought-stricken areas, giving people better access to produce. 

3. Some GMO Crops May Be of Higher Quality 

Some GMO crops are modified to have higher nutritional value and look better. 

Foods such as apples are typically modified to resist crowning, while crops like golden rice are modified to have increased nutritional value. This is pretty good news for poor regions of the world, where malnutrition is a major problem. And for those with better access to food, some GMOs may taste better and last longer. 

Can GMOs Cause Health Problems?

As you can see, GMOs are not all bad. There are many legit reasons why farmers choose to grow genetically-modified crops. 

But still: There’s a reason why so many people are concerned about the health effects of GMO crops. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), GMOs are regulated by the government and are generally safe to eat

However, a few scientists think that more research is needed before GMOs are considered 100% safe for human consumption. To date, there haven’t been any long-term studies that look at the effects of eating GMOs. 

One main concern is that GMO crops — engineered to resist herbicides — might contain more toxic weed-killing chemicals. While conventional crops also use herbicides, they’re not resistant and can’t tolerate a higher amount. On the other hand, GMOs might contain higher concentrations of the stuff. 

Another concern about GMOs is that they can cause allergic reactions. This is because some GMO crops are crossed-bred with others, such as soy modified with peanut genes. If someone with peanut allergies eats such a soy product, they may experience an allergic reaction. That said, there aren’t many reported cases of GMOs causing allergic reactions. 

How Can You Avoid GMOs?

Because there’s so little long-term research on GMOs, it would be more prudent to steer clear of them whenever possible. 

But, considering how widespread GMOs are, is this possible?

It absolutely is!

Here are three ways to make sure that you avoid GMOs in your diet: 

1. Eat USDA Organic Food

Eating organic is one of the easiest ways to avoid GMOs — in addition to toxic herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. 

If something is certified organic by the USDA, then you can be sure it’s 100% non-GMO. 

For animal products, this means that you’re getting meat, dairy, or eggs from animals that have been fed and raised without GMOs. For packaged food, an organic label means that nothing in the ingredients contains a GMO product. 

2. Look for the Non-GMO Food Label

Just because something isn’t certified organic doesn’t mean it contains GMOs. 

As an alternative to buying organic, you can look for a label from the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization that verifies non-GMO products. The label should say “Non-GMO Project Verified'' and contain a small logo of an orange butterfly. 

You’re more likely to see the label on packaged food products: a box of cereal, a bag of frozen berries, or a carton of milk. Where you’re less likely to find the label is on fresh produce. 

However, most produce in supermarkets is already non-GMO. As long as you avoid non-organic corn, potatoes, apples, summer squash, papayas, and pink pineapples, you should be avoiding GMOs. 

3. Avoid Certain Ingredients 

The problem with organic and non-GMO labels is that getting them can be expensive and time-consuming. For this reason, not every company will go through the certification process. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re made with GMO ingredients!

In some cases, checking the ingredient list can be all you need to ensure your product is non-GMO. 

Here’s what to avoid:

  • Sugar: Any processed food that contains sugar (also known as fructose, glucose, dextrose, mannitol, maltodextrin, or caramel color) is likely made from genetically modified corn or sugar beets. 
  • Soy: Most soy products are genetically modified. Avoid soy protein, soy isolate, and isoflavone on the ingredient list. 
  • Corn: If a product contains corn derivatives, such as corn starch, it’s likely to contain GMOs. 
  • Conventionalanimalproducts: If an animal product like milk isn’t organic, it’s very likely to come from animals fed GMO products. 

Of course, just because a product is free of these ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean it’s non-GMO. To be 100% certain, it’s always best to look for a non-GMO label. Keep reading to find out what it means. 

Non-GMO Label Explained 

As you can see, there are several ways you can be sure to avoid GMOs. But finding products with a non-GMO label is probably the easiest way to ensure the product doesn’t contain genetically modified ingredients. 

That said, just because a product says it’s non-GMO, doesn’t mean it’s true. The main problem with such claims is that they’re made by the company and not by an objective third party. For this reason, it’s better to err on the side of caution and avoid companies that merely claim they’re non-GMO. 

However, a “Non-GMO Project Verified” label is not made by the company but by a third-party non-profit organization. 

The Non-GMO Project is located in Washington and is governed by a board of directors. The company works with advisors from all kinds of technical backgrounds, which is why they have the highest standards for what makes something non-GMO. 

Basically, the way verification works is that the Non-GMO Project creates standards for what makes something non-GMO. Then, independent technical administrators evaluate individual products to ensure they’re compliant. Some products are even sent to testing labs.

In order to be certified by the Non-GMO Project, companies must undergo the verification process every year. 

We won’t get into the Non-GMO Project standards. However, know that it’s made up of hundreds of pages that are updated constantly in light of new research. 

So, you can be sure that if you’re buying a product certified by the organization, you’re not getting a simple marketing label, but a true verification that the product is non-GMO. 

Avoid GMOs With Sunwink 

GMOs are extremely widespread and can be found in your favorite “healthy” supplements. To avoid GMOs, look for verified non-GMO products. 

Sunwink’s Superfoods are made with 100% certified organic ingredients, so you can be sure you’re getting your dose of healing plants without anything that can be harmful to your health. 


Our sources: 

How widespread are GM foods? | Vox

Chemical Pesticides and Human Health: The Urgent Need for a New Concept in Agriculture | PMC

How GMOs Are Regulated in the United States | FDA

Home | The Non-GMO Project

Technical Administrators | The Non-GMO Project

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