As I stroll through the aisles at my local market, I see more and more products with the Non-GMO Project label. This made me wonder exactly what it means. Does it imply that the product is also organic? What determines whether a product can display this label on its packaging? Not wanting to be a food label fool, I decided it was time to do some self-health research.
The Non-GMO Project began in 2007 with the combined efforts of a grocery store in Berkeley, California, and one in Toronto, Canada. Each store had been doing research for their customers, solo, for years. Wanting a standardized method to make the public aware of what is in their food, they joined forces with each other and the Global ID Group.
Once a set of standards were agreed upon, the Non-GMO Project “butterfly” label was designed. In 2010, the first product was awarded this label, with more and more appearing ever since.
So what does an interested food company need to do to earn this label on their packages? It starts with filling out a form and, eventually, signing a license agreement. From there, the company needs to pick one of four independent technical administrators that the project works with to provide an impartial evaluation of their product and facilities. When awarded the designation, there’s promotion and annual evaluation/renewal involved.
That all sounds good, right? Initial testing followed up by evaluation once a year to make sure things are still on the up-and-up. I like the sound of that. My question about what determines if a food package can display this label has been answered.
But, the trickier question is always what the label implies. After all, the authorities tend to allow vague labeling that can even be a little deceiving. A perfect example is the head-spinning array of egg carton labels. Yikes!
I can’t tell you why, but to me, the Non-GMO Project labeling implies that the product contains organic ingredients—organic being more nutrient dense and wholesome by nature. But is my assumption accurate? Turns out, it isn’t.
As the Food Babe states on her website, a product containing zero genetically modified ingredients is eligible for the Non-GMO Project label.
That’s all it means. While the label does make the product inside more desirable to a certain extent, it says nothing about the ingredients used—how they were raised, the number of pesticides they were exposed to, how the crops were fertilized—or any number of the talking points that organic labeling covers.
For a product to be labeled “organic,” it can’t be raised with the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or growth-promoting antibiotics. It can’t be fertilized with sewage sludge. And (get this) it can’t contain any GMO ingredients. It’s got you covered.
From this self-healther’s perspective, the Non-GMO Project label can certainly offer some peace of mind. But when you reach for the occasional processed food, the more important label to look for is still organic.
What food label have you been making assumptions about? It just might be time to educate yourself about what it truly means.
Image from iStock/kat-co.