Buying Organic Food: GMOs and the ‘Natural’ Food Label

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Source: via Melissa on Pinterest

Once again, the conversation about GMO foods has come up. Someone on Facebook posted a story about a certain boxed cereal, which, when taken to a lab by a consumer, was found to be made with 100% GMO ingredients. The label on the box said ‘Natural’, so people were angered to see that the ingredients were GMO.

The Natural label means nothing. ‘Natural’ means there was minimal processing of ingredients to make a product. The ingredients can be GMO, artificial ingredients, antibiotics and/or conventionally grown with pesticides. There are no rules or standards for the ‘Natural’ label.

The USDA Natural label applies to meat and poultry only. It still tells you, though, that the meat has been minimally processed. It does not say how it was raised.

What is ‘natural’ food?

For people to get worked up about a cereal labeled ‘Natural’ is silly, because it does not mean it contains organic ingredients or not contain GMOs. If you don’t want to eat genetically modified food, buy USDA Certified Organic food. Make sure the label says USDA on it and 100% Organic. That way, you know the ingredients were grown without pesticides and in a way that builds healthy soil and takes care of the environment. If you buy anything less than that (95% Organic, Made with Natural Ingredients or Natural), it may have GMOs in it.

The integrity of organic under pressure

That said, the purity of the USDA Certified Organic label is even questionable. On our farm, we don’t say anymore that we grow to organic standards, because they are getting diluted. Synthetic ingredients are seeping into the list of allowable substances that can be used and still qualify for organic certification. In 2002, when the list was created, there were 75 items. As of 2009, that number was 245! It’s not getting better.

The major corporations that are buying up small organic businesses want to dilute this list and the standard further. They claim they cannot acquire the ingredients necessary to meet the USDA Certified Organic standard, so they would like to replace those ingredients with non-organic, unnatural and GMO filler. They would like to use the filler they are already using in their conventional food. They want to save money and have a wider audience for their product, so they want these fillers to labeled Organic. It’s all about making money, not the integrity of the Organic label or the health of their customers.

Organic food – who owns what

Here is a chart from the Cornucopia Institute showing who owns what.

Chart courtesy of The Cornucopia Institute. Click the chart to open in a new window and view in full size.

Heinz owns Hain Celestial, which owns Celestial Seasonings Tea, Arrowhead Mills and Spectrum Organics, to name a few. It is deceiving to think you are buying from small, organic homegrown operations, which is exactly how they all started out. Celestial Seasonings Tea was a small organic tea company in Boulder, Colorado back in the 60s. Now it is just one of many companies owned by a mega-corporation. Their teas are now labeled 100% Natural. They’re not organic anymore.

General Mills owns Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen. Buying organic is not the down-home thing to do like it was 40 years ago.

Buying organic food: be educated

As consumers jump on the Organic bandwagon, food processors, which you can see are big corporations, will do what they can to get their share of the market. That now means adding non-organic and GMO ingredients, which has nothing to do with organic food.

I can’t believe I had to have this conversation about the ‘Natural’ label last night on Facebook. I was even educating my own friends! The only food that has no GMOs in it is grown to Certified Organic standards, or you grew it yourself.

Educate yourselves on what you buy and eat. Stop eating processed foods. Eat whole foods, buy organic, grow your own, or buy from a local farmer, whom you have interviewed about his supply chain and growing methods. Those are the only sure ways to know what you are putting in your body.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.