Food labeling: GMO vs. organic
Since there is no legal requirement to label GMO food, there might be Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, in nearly every food product on the shelf - but without labeling, there's no way to know for sure. Currently, consumers depend on a label of 'certified organic' to absolutely determine whether or not a food product contains GMO ingredients, but this puts the burden of labeling on the businesses that choose not to use GMO ingredients.
Unfortunately, the process of labeling a food as 'certified organic,' which means that the farm has been thoroughly inspected for various contaminants, and contains no GMO ingredients, is long, arduous, and expensive.
Certified organic vs. organic vs. GMO
There are several different types of food producers: Farms which produce exclusively certified organic products, farms which produce a mix of natural, organic, and certified organic products, farms which produce GMO products, and farms which produce some mix of the above. To many consumers, a non-GMO product is more attractive than a GMO product, so many farmers work to avoid association with GMOs.
- What do farmers who avoid pesticides and GMOs have to do in order to get a label of 'Certified Organic,' to prove that their food is non-GMO? These farmers have to pay for certification and inspections, as well as proper labeling, and so on. According to the USDA, they also have to meet a number of criteria: "...the Organic farming systems rely on ecologically based practices such as cultural and biological pest management, exclusion of all synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones in crop and livestock production."
- What does a business that uses GMO seeds and plants have to do in order to avoid a label of GMO, which would draw attention to their ingredients, and potentially lose customers? Absolutely nothing since GMO labeling is not required.
This imbalance places the burden on businesses and farmers who do not use GMOs or pesticides or other common practices to go through the process to ensure that their produce is labeled as 'certified organic.'
Farms may produce food without the use of chemical pesticides or genetically-modified organisms, but without paying for inspections so they can attach the 'certified organic' label, they can't prove it to their customers. The lack of a label may result in lost business from those niche customers who take special care to avoid GMO foods.
Cost of organic certification: Is it really a burden for small business?
How much does it cost to get certified? According to the California Certified Organic Farmer (CCOF), the application fee is nearly 300$, and the annual inspection (billed by the hour, at 60$ per hour, with travel time for the inspectors billed by the hour at 42.50$ per hour, in addition to meals and lodging costs for the inspectors) runs an average of 500$. There are also various fees, based on your individual facility, private labeling, and a host of other issues. All of these costs add up to make becoming 'certified' difficult for very small businesses.
Organic vs. GMO: Does it really matter?
It depends on who you ask - but until the health accusations associated with GMO foods are resolved, clear labeling of those foods would be helpful for smaller businesses.
Brenda K. Oswalt, President of Dixie Diner's Club, manufacturer of vegan and low-carb foods for health-conscious consumers, told this Examiner, "Dixie uses natural and organic ingredients in its products. No GMO however. We feel there are too many un-addressed concerns at this time. In our opinion GMO product labelling with respect to possible allergy concerns is only one of the many safety questions that need to be explored prior to mass consumption of these GMO grown food crops."