April 4, 2014

The difference between non-GMO and organic farmingConsumers are becoming increasingly aware of what goes into their food, and that’s a good thing. However, as people fight against the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and seek GMO-free products, they could be making an oversight. According to NPR, many people don’t understand the difference between organic and GMO-free, a mistake that prevents consumers from getting the food they really want. As a student of an Austin culinary arts program, you should know what kind of food you’re buying and how it affects your health and the environment.

GMO and traditional farming
Using GMOs to grow crops doesn’t look much different than traditional farming. According to NPR, both conventional farms and GMO fields use fertilizers and pesticides. The chief difference is the type of chemicals used. Scientists have created GMO crops that are resistant to some pesticides. The benefit of this practice is that the pesticides will kill weeds while the crops are unharmed.

In fact, a study conducted by the Food and Water Watch found that GMO crops (most of which are pesticide resistant) require more herbicide use than non-GMO plants, because the GMOs don’t succumb to the chemicals. So not only are conventionally farmed foods grown similarly to GMOs, they contain fewer pesticides.

According to Grist, farmers don’t make huge financial gains off of GMOs.The seed costs a lot of money up front, more in fact than organic seeds. However, the payoff comes in stability. While conventional and organic crops could fail (and some do), GMO products are less likely to be effected by a bad season. Some farmers even pay less in insurance on their farms if they use GMO seeds, the idea being that they’ll remain financially stable.

The organic difference
GMO-free products are simply crops grown without the genetic modification that then requires the use of more pesticides. In the U.S., companies are not required to label products that contain GMO?s, however, the manufacturers of non-GMOs do tend to label. Consumers flock to non-GMO food because they believe it’s more natural than genetically modified products. And while this may be true, it seems as though non-GMO is quickly replacing organic in terms of popularity. According to NPR, many think of the term non-GMO as an alternative to organic that comes with a smaller price tag. However, organic farming is altogether different.

While conventional and GMO farmers use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, organic farms must seek alternative methods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines organic in a complex manner, but one important element is that these products aren’t grown using chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Furthermore, organic-labeled meat wasn’t raised with any antibiotics or growth hormones.

According to NPR, Illinois farmer Allen Williams has organic, conventional and GMO farms. He uses chicken litter as fertilizer, rotates crops to control pests and hires workers to pick weeds at his organic farm. This process requires more time, effort and money than his other farms. Allen’s and other organic farmer’s products costs a lot more money because the growing process is so labor intense. GMO-free products are not the same as organic, because while they have not been genetically altered, the crops may have been grown with pesticides. That’s why they are cheaper than organic food.