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What does the USDA organic label mean? Who oversees it?

The USDA certified organic label is overseen by the United States government through the Department of Agriculture for the certified organic program.

What it DOES mean

Organic means “... a food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”

What it DOES NOT mean

The USDA organic symbol is not a certification of nutritional superiority or food safety. It does not mean fruits/vegetables are “pesticide-free.” You may see the USDA organic symbol on fruits/vegetables and you may also see it on candy, cookies and chips that have a certain percentage of ingredients that are the result of organic practices.

How/how much?

Manufacturers, producers, farmers and suppliers must apply to the USDA for a USDA organic seal. The approval process for organic certification involves submission of information and a site visit. The cost can range from $200-1,500.

What does the Non-GMO project (butterfly) symbol mean? Who oversees it?

The non-gmo (genetically engineered or genetically modified) project seal is run by the Non-GMO Project, not affiliated with the U.S. government, and is not an organic certification program.

What does the Non-GMO Project seal mean?

The Non-GMO Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit started by retailers and members of the natural foods and organic industry that charges a fee for companies to verify that products and ingredients are not from genetically engineered seeds and that products can be traced and tested at “critical control points.”

What it DOES NOT mean

The Non-GMO project symbol does not mean products are USDA certified organic, it does not mean they were produced without pesticides or antibiotics and it has nothing to do with nutrition or food safety.

How/how much?

Manufacturers, farmers, producers, and suppliers submit their information or product through a third party verification process. According to the Non-GMO Project website, the cost is “customized,” but costs can be thousands of dollars.

What’s the bottom line? If you purchase products that are USDA certified organic or contain ingredients that are USDA certified organic, these by definition are “non-GMO.” Beware of a “health halo” caused by marketing symbols!

Talk to Leah: Leah McGrath is the corporate dietitian for Ingles Markets. Follow her @InglesDietitian. Contact her at Lmcgrath@ingles-markets.com, 800-334-4936 or at www.ingles-markets.com/ask_leah.

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