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Start the New Year Right - Deciphering the Labels: Natural, Non-GMO, and Certified Organic

Going into the new year, many people like to make resolutions that range from quitting smoking to hitting the gym. No matter what your personal goal is, the common theme is to get healthier. For some, that means dieting, but for others, it is must less specific.

There has been a huge increase over recent years to supply healthy food products, but there are now so many confusing claims and labels that knowing what is all-natural or really fake, organic or a knock-off, is becoming increasingly more challenging.

We have broken down some of the most common label and nutritional claims. What you have here is a quick and easy reference, so that being healthy--whether that means cutting calories of chemically-altered products--will now be easier than ever!

What Is Organic?

USDA Organic label

Organic is a labeling term for food or other agricultural products that have been produced using practices that support farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. This means that any product claiming to be “certified organic” must meet specific standards set by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). A certified organic product must maintain or enhance soil and water quality while conserving wetlands, woodlands and wildlife.

This can get confusing, however, because there are different legal claims that a producer can make on its labeling. Each of these standards mean different things, so when you see “organic” it is not always as it seems. Below is a basic breakdown of the claims that can be made and the meaning behind them:

  • 100% organic: Any product that contains 100% organic ingredients. They can include the USDA Organic seal and claim of "100% organic".

  • Organic: Any product that contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. up to 5% of the ingredients may be nonorganic agriculture products not available as organic. They can also include the USDA seal and claim of "organic".

  • Made with organic: a product that contains at least 70% organically produced ingredients. The other ingredients have to meet specific guidelines. Can state “made with organic” on label but cannot use USDA organic seal or represent finished product as organic.

What Is GMO?

Genetically-modified corn cob

GMO is a genetically modified organism. This classification can be applied to both plants or animals if their genetic makeup has been altered in some way. Generally, this means that the DNA of the plant or animal has been altered, creating an unstable combination of genes that have not been subject to testing. The ultimate goal of this technology is to increase the yield or productivity of a plant or animal. Since this technology is relatively new, it is unclear exactly what kind of side effects could result from consuming GMO products.

According to, "To make it easier for consumers to know if the foods they eat contain GMO ingredients, the U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a list of bioengineered foods available throughout the world. Additionally, you will start seeing the “bioengineered” label on some of the foods we eat because of the new National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard."

Below is the List of Bioengineered foods as developed by the Agricultural Marketing Service.

  • Alfalfa

  • Apple (Arctic varieties)

  • Canola

  • Corn

  • Cotton

  • Eggplant (BARI Bt Begun varieties)

  • Papaya (ringspot virus-resistant varieties)

  • Pineapple (pink flesh varieties)

  • Potato

  • Salmon (AquAdvantage®)

  • Soybean

  • Summer Squash

  • Sugarbeet

Foods on the above list, or foods that contain any of the above foods, must be labeled with the bioengineered food disclosure. This disclosure may present in a variety of forms. Products that contain bioengineered ingredients will have a phrase on the package stating "bioengineered food" or "contains a bioengineered food ingredient". Alternatively, one of the two below logos approved by the USDA can be displayed on the package:

Bioengineered food labels

What Is All-Natural?

All-natural foods

Without any formal regulation by the FDA, the word "natural" can be put on almost any food product. According to, "A food product that’s made with "all-natural" ingredients could still contain hormones, GMOs, or other things some consumers worry about. Natural foods don’t have to be organically produced, and it doesn’t mean the farm animals were treated well. All-natural foods can also be high in calories, fats, sodium, or sugar."

If you want to ensure that you are consuming foods that aren't filled with artificial junk, you're better off looking for the USDA Organic seal as opposed to the words "all-natural".


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