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Does Non-GMO Mean Organic? Does Organic Mean Non-GMO?

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I had the day off this week so we grabbed the kids and did our weekly Costco run before the crazy weekend crowds. We were strolling through the hummus and cheese section when we suddenly stopped in our tracks. There was a brand new product with a beautiful, brightly colored label. It had all the right words…Non-GMO and gluten free.  But it did not mention that it was Organic.

This got me thinking – I knew that organic food meant non-GMO, but does Non GMO mean Organic? If a product was organic, why wouldn’t they advertise that on the label? I had to know. The more I researched it, the more confused I got. So I went straight to the USDA website for answers. Boy did I open a can of worms. There were pages of information, all of which linked to additional pages.

I spent several nights reading through the USDA  site and I have pulled out what I feel is the things consumers need to know when trying to decipher Organic and Non-GMO labels. I’m also including links to the pages in case you want to see it for your self.

What Does Organic Mean?

When I first asked this question, I doubted whether I would be able to write an entire blog post on the answer but once I started researching it, it became apparent that this wouldn’t be an issue. So what does organic mean? Well, It really depends on what we are talking about. There are different meanings depending on the industry. I’ll focus on Packaged Foods, Cosmetics and Textiles. This information is taken from the USDA website

Packaged Food Products:

100% Organic:

  • Must contain 100% organic ingredients, not including water and salt
  • Label must say “Certified by…”
  • After reading below, I think you will agree with me that looking for 100% Organic products are the way to go


  • Must contain at least 95% organic ingredients
  • Must not contain Sulfites
  • Label must say “Certified by…”
  • Allowed to include non-organic items that are identified in The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. There is a whole list of ingredients on this list. Though I was disappointed to see how long this list was, there were a few ingredients that jumped out at me:
    • Carageen – We already know that this should be avoided. They have been linking it to a whole host of health issues
    • Colors derived from produce – Are you kidding? So all those organic foods that are colored with beets, carrots, red cabbage and tumeric may not be organic. These are products that are geared to children. Though the small amount of non organic ingredients may not have a health impact, it is upsetting that they are still allowed to imply the product is organic
    • Animal intestines used for sausage casing – So we are paying a premium for organic sausage but are still getting the casing from conventional cows who were given hormones and antibiotics.
    • Celery powder – this is often used as a preservative in meats or other nitrate free foods

Made with Organic … (specify ingredient)

  • Must contain at least 705 organic ingredients
  • Must not contain sulfites – there is an exception for wine
  • Label must have an ingredient list identifying organic ingredients
  • Label cannot show the USDA Organic Seal

Some Organic Ingredients:

  • May contain less than 70% organic ingredients
  • Label must have an ingredient list identifying organic ingredients


The requirements for Organic labeling of Cosmetics is the same as Packaged Food. For example, Organic must use 90% organic ingredients.

However, the USDA does not regulate the labeling of cosmetics. Therefore there is no required testing or certification of these products. This is a good reason to stick with reputable companies when it comes to choosing chemical free cosmetics. I have often wondered how big mainstream brands could afford to have just a couple of organic or chemical free products when the rest of the product line did not make these claims. It would be possible if all they need to do is add a few organic ingredients and change the label.


I couldn’t find many details on textiles. Wool, cotton, flax and other raw materials are monitored separately. It actually looks like the textiles are relatively straightforward compared to food and cosmetics. But I did find some information that I thought was helpful.

  • Products that are GOTS certified may be sold as organic but cannot bear the USDA Organic seal. If you aren’t familiar with GOTS, it is a third party, international organization that has guidelines for Organic textiles. In many ways, the guidelines for these products are stricter than the UDSA organic certifications. I will often purchase sheets and clothes that are GOTS certified because they are often more affordable than those that can be labeled organic. For example, I buy sheets on clearance from Pottery Barn Kids because all their sheets are GOTS certified. However, their same organic Pottery Barn sheets have a very large mark up!
  • Products labeled as organic cannot be mixed with non organic fibers

So, Does Organic Mean Non-GMO?

There was so much confusion about this that the USDA had to come out with an entire article on the subject. In the end, they did confirm that Organic foods cannot contain GMO products.

However, organic certification is based on the process that is used to produce a product. It is not granted based on testing of the final product. Therefore there is the chance of cross contamination from a GMO crop that is nearby. If there was no intent to cross the two, the product can still be considered GMO free. I understand the theory behind this, as it is probably impossible to prevent if a farm has both GMO and Non-GMO crops. But again, this is why I will be looking for the farms that are 100% Non-GMO. I just can’t expect a farm with both to be able to guarantee purity.

This is another example of why GMO crops should not be developed. If GMO crops were not around, we wouldn’t have to be concerned about cross contamination.

non gmo mean organic

And does Non-GMO Mean Organic?

So now back to the original question I had after my Costco shopping trip. Does Non-GMO mean a product is organic? Short answer is No. Non GMO does not mean organic. If a product has a non-GMO label, it simply means that all the ingredients were tested and confirmed to be non-GMO. It does not imply anything in regard to being organic.

This is so important and I wish it was discussed more. We ended up purchasing the dip at Costco because we glanced at the label, saw the non GMO label and assumed it was organic. We will need to be more diligent in reading the labels in the store.

So What Does All This Mean?

So what does all this information mean to you? Well, I can tell you what it means to me. When I shop for my family, I will be looking for both the USDA Organic and the Non-GMO verifies labels. It is a shame that we need to question every label and read every ingredient just to know what we are eating. It is just one of the reasons we have started a garden this year.

For the sake of our sanity and our families, we need to find a healthy balance. It is important to me that my family eat organic and Non-GMO so that is what I will be looking for. Your concerns may be different.

In the end, we need to speak with our wallets. These products are more expensive, but maybe we just buy less of it. But if consumers continue to fall for these tricks, they wil continue what they are doing. I already see the shift in the grocery stores to organic and natural foods and I love it! Let’s continue to let them know what we want and educate our children.

What are you looking for when you shop? Were you aware of the difference between Organic and Non-GMO?


Connect with me on Insta, Facebook or Twitter, I’d love to hear more!

By on August 25th, 2017

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