Ask Clark’s

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What is the difference between organic and conventional produce? And how do I know if my fruits and vegetables are organic, conventional (non-organic) or genetically modified (GMO)?

 

Organic produce is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the 2002 National Organics Program (NOP). This program defines the term ‘organic’ and provides the certification, labeling and growing standards for organic foods. Organic foods are produced without using conventional pesticides and fertilizers. These standards also state that organic foods shall not be processed using synthetic ingredients, sewage, sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Before labeling with the USDA organic seal a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules and guidelines set by the USDA-Organics Program. When this is completed the use of the USDA ORGANIC seal is allowed for use on packaging.

A big concern for non-organic foods is the use of pesticides. The connection for pesticides and the long term health concerns for diseases like cancer have brought much attention to the use and overuse of pesticides. The USDA Pesticide Data Program (PDP) and Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) test foods for pesticide residues. The EPA suggests that 99% of all foods tested meet’s their criteria for safety. Foods are also tested on a random basis as well.

GMO foods are foods that have been genetically modified. Simply put this means an apple’s genes or DNA have been manipulated with another plant or animal DNA, by piecing together strands to make a product with certain outcomes. A great illustration of this is found in Monsanto’s (now owned by Bayer Aspirin Co.) golden rice which has been manipulated to include vitamin A content, this being an advantage for vegetarian individuals. The biggest argument for GMO’s is less pesticide use and greater yield of foods for a growing world population. This argument has been greatly subdued since the New York Academy of Sciences (2016) reported that GMO foods offer no greater yield. Additionally lower pesticide use was prevalent in the beginning but now is comparable to before GMO use according to the New York Academy of Sciences.  GMO grown foods, seeds, or farming practices are not allowed in the NOP.

GMO foods are foods that have been genetically modified. Simply put this means an apple’s genes or DNA have been manipulated with another plant or animals DNA, by piecing together strands to make a product with certain outcomes. A great illustration of this is found in Monsanto’s (now owned by Bayer Aspirin co.) golden rice which has been manipulated to include vitamin A content, this being and advantage for vegetarian individuals. The biggest argument for GMO’s is less pesticide use and greater yield of foods for a growing world. This argument has been greatly subdued since the New York Academy of Sciences (2016) reported that GMO foods offer no greater yield. Additionally lower pesticide use was prevalent in the beginning but now is comparable to before GMO use according to the New York Academy of Sciences.  GMO grown foods, seeds, or farming practices are not allowed in the NOP (National Organic Program)

Finally how will you know if you are getting organic, conventional, or GMO fruits and vegetables when shopping?  For fruits and vegetables a there is a standard coding system in the grocery industry. This standard is based on what is called a Program Look Up (PLU) code (which has been in place since 1990). Although this is a voluntary program, almost all grocery and produce companies use this system. This is denoted on the little sticker that is on individual pieces of fruits or vegetables. Of note, there are a few cool things about this system: These codes can be 4 or 5 digits. Four digits are for conventional and often start with the number 4. Organic codes are 5 digits and start with the number 9, while GMO foods have an 8 prefix number and a 5 digit system as well. There is also one other system that is in place to help in identifying where your produce came from. This system is called Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) which was enacted in the United States around 2004. You will notice that there are stickers or signs on either your produce itself, (this also includes meat, poultry, fish and some nuts etc.) or the price sticker on the grocery shelf. A product that comes from outside of the United States can be organically grown but obviously the USDA NOP would not be able to completely certify farms outside of United States. So when shopping for your fruits and vegetables, please keep in mind all of these factors when making your decisions.

By Starkie Sowers

Edited By Sean Obannon

 

 

 

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Reference

  1. http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/dockets/06p0094/06p-0094-cp00001-05-Tab-04-Food-Marketing-Institute-vol1.pdf
  2. https://www.ams.usda.gov/publications/content/can-gmos-be-used-organic-products
  3. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/PDP%20factsheet.pdf
  4. http://beforeitsnews.com/alternative/2012/11/know-your-gmo-bar-codes-2500740.html

 

  1. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Pesticide%20Residue%20Testing_Org%20Produce_2010-11PilotStudy.pdf
  2. Murray, Healing Foods, Atria Books New York, NY. 2005, PG 40-61
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