Non-GMO & Organic: What’s the Difference?

October 2023 - Community & Environment

Non-GMO (genetically modified organism) foods and organic foods represent two completely different aspects of food production. Hand-in-hand, and for different reasons, they offer the healthiest choices for you and the planet. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Changing how food tastes, looks and lasts is nothing new. From the time our ancestors started to farm, they enhanced crop traits through a slow, “selective breeding” process. Over time, this resulted in significant, lasting genetic changes, in plants and animals.

Think about dogs: Every size and shape of dog we know today is the result of efforts by humans, over 30,000 years, to domesticate wild wolves by breeding them for certain traits to make them tamer.

Plants grown for food have also become unrecognizable over hundreds of years of trait selection:
• Corn has evolved from a wild grass into the sweet, juicy niblets we love today.
• Bananas, first cultivated about 10,000 years ago in Papua New Guinea, were rounder, less fleshy, and sweet with large, hard seeds.
• Carrots in 10th century Persia and Asia Minor were purple or white with a thin, forked root.
• Peaches, first domesticated about 4,000 BCE by the ancient Chinese, were small and cherry-like, with little flesh and a slightly salty, earthy taste, much like a lentil.

A Dramatic Change
While selective processes are still used, a dramatic breakthrough came in 1973. Two scientists created the world’s first genetically engineered organism when they cut a gene that encodes antibiotic resistance from one strain of bacteria and pasted it into another, transferring that resistance into the other organism.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

An Unnatural Process
GMOs are living organisms artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering.
Using transgenic techniques, the DNA of one organism is modified with the DNA of another, to create new combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and virus genes that don’t occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.

The result is an organism that can tolerate herbicides; resist insects, diseases and drought; provide increased nutritional value; or develop certain traits in plants, like potatoes that resist browning.

Growing Concerns
With this technology comes great concern about the impact on our health and ecosystems.
• Long-term impacts of GMOs are unknown. Once released into the environment, these novel organisms cannot be recalled.
• Biotechnology companies own and restrict GMO use, and work to have patented ownership of the food supply. Three chemical companies now control about 60 percent of the world’s seed supply.
• GMOs are a serious threat to farmer sovereignty and national food security.
• Worldwide, over 80% of all GMOs grown are engineered for herbicide tolerance, and use of toxic herbicides has increased 15-fold.
• GMO crops are responsible for the emergence of “superweeds” and “superbugs” which can only be killed with more toxic poisons like 2,4-D (found in Agent Orange).
—Source: Non-GMO Project

The Non-GMO Project
The non-profit Non-GMO Project works to build and preserve the non-GMO food supply through education, research and collaboration.


Organic agriculture is based on the sustainable cultivation of land for food production, with practices that nourish the soil, respect and nurture animals, and care for water resources.

Techniques include crop rotation, companion planting, mulching, green manures, raising animals in a natural environment and the use of natural predators to discourage weeds, disease and pests.

Organic foods are grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, growth hormones, additives, antibiotics, artificial preservatives, irradiation or genetically modified seeds.

A Little History
Organic farming practices arrived in Canada in the 1950s, influenced by the rise of biodynamic agriculture in Europe and concerns about the rise of chemical pesticide use in the 1940s.

By the 1970s, organizations in six provinces had been established to lobby for government support and to promote organic practices. Certification programs followed and then the National Canadian Organic Standards, backed by government regulation and oversight, were made law in 2009, to ensure that products labeled “organic” are grown by organic farming principles.

Certification and Enforcement
Getting Organic certification in Canada is a rigorous process; it can take a manufacturer or producer up to three years to prove they meet the standards of care required by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Farms must undergo annual inspections and keep records to trace every certified organic product back to the farm on which it was produced. 

This article was published in The Good Life magzine.

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