How to recognize NON-GMOs on food packaging labels

April 22nd, 2015 by

What is (or isn’t) in your food?

As a studio full of packaging designers, we are probably more aware than most about what goes into our food. We look at ingredient lists day-in and day-out, we read FDA labeling guidelines, we watch our clients modify their product formulations for things like scaling production quantity and shelf stability. We are constantly in touch with our inner “target consumer” and work hard to communicate what they are looking for on front panels of our product packaging designs. We are intimate with the various seals, claims and certifications used on Food Labels.

And then everyone started talking about GMOs — Genetically Modified Organisms. What are they? Why does it matter to me as a consumer? Well, there is a lot of information online about GMO’s already, so I’m not going to school you on all those details. Feel free to read up and make up your own mind here.

So, does the consumer even care? Enter the long-winded debate about whether to pass legislation requiring labeling of products using Genetically Modified Organisms. Well, a lot of products who don’t use GMOs took it upon themselves to label it anyway. You’ve probably seen this symbol, designed by our friends at DDW for the non-profit organization, Non GMO Project:

NonGMOProject

They have tasked themselves into educating people about GMOs and helping consumers navigate their options on shelf. For those interested in avoiding consumption of GMOs, this symbol has become the symbol to look for on food labels. But, here’s the good news….

If you are already committed to eating Organic foods — either for your health or the sustainability of a healthy planet — then Non GMO products are already (mostly) covered by this symbol on food packaging:

 

4colorsealJPG

The term “organic” is also confusing, and there are a couple different ways to label organic foods. Here’s the break down:

Certified Organic / USDA Organic
By the definition of the seal above, the product is required to be 95% Organic, and the remaining 5% must be on the USDA’s National List of Approved and Prohibited Substances list. (Okay, so it turns out that there are a couple loopholes in here, like Cornstarch and Soy Lechithin, that can be used if another Approved item is not available.) But on a whole, your in good hands with the USDA symbol.

100% Organic
Even better, would be to look for products that specifically say “100% Organic.” These products are required to contain 100% of organically produced ingredients (excluding only water and salt). This currently is the only label that would rule out GMOs entirely. No loopholes.

Made with Organic Ingredients
This means only “up to 70%” of the ingredients are organic, which leaves a potentially 30% or more that is non-organic. The “remaining non-organic ingredients are produced without prohibited practices, including genetic engineering” according to the rules, however, again there are some loopholes here.

So, if you are trying to avoid GMOs, in today’s (un-legislated) shelf, don’t worry. Your best bet is to look for the term “100% Organic,” the Non-GMO Project Verified Logo, or the USDA Organic logo.

Hopefully this information helps clarify some some of these confusing terms and helps you navigate packaging front label designs on your retail shelves!