Understanding Food Labels

Organic vs Non-GMO? Understanding Food Labels

When consumers go to the grocery store these days, they are often confronted by a lot more information than really ever before. This is especially true in the produce department where the array of fruits and vegetables are always diverse and colorful. But one additional difference in the last few decades is the introduction of new labels for fruits and vegetables that are grown or processed in different ways. Some of the labels that have become more common are “organic,” “non-GMO,” “all natural,” or “clean,” but what do these terms mean? And how are they different from one another?

The Origin of Food Labels

Prior to the creation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1930 (in its current form), food manufacturers were not obligated in any way to accurately provide information about the food they produced. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1990s when new laws were passed that forced companies to include the Nutrition Facts labels that are now ubiquitous. During this time, fresh produce generally wasn’t required to be labeled since it is considered to be raw, unprocessed, or lightly processed.

One of the laws passed in the 90s, though, was the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), a piece of legislation that required the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create standards for produce produced “organically.” The law had come about in part because a cohort of small farmers banded together to counter the practices of the increasingly dominant industrial agriculture industry. Rather than just anyone being able to claim, “this is organic,” the new policies set specific criteria for what can actually be labeled organic.

Common Labels Used for Produce

Of course “organic” isn’t the only type of label to be found in the produce section of the grocery store these days. While concerns about farming practices and public safety may have been an early driver of this kind of practice, in more recent years it can at least partly be explained by changes in consumer interest and behavior. For decades there has been a growing interest in healthy living and eating, and the demand for natural and sustainably-farmed fruits and vegetables has never been higher. Below are some examples of these labels and what they really indicate:

  • Organic: Organic foods are produced following strict farming and processing standards that emphasize sustainable practices and the avoidance of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or other additives. To be considered certified organic, a food product must have been grown on soil that has been free of prohibited synthetic substances for at least three years. They also must not be produced with the use of prohibited practices like genetic engineering and ionizing radiation. For products that have multiple ingredients, 95% of the ingredients must also be individually certified organic.
  • Non-GMO: GMO stands for “genetically modified organism,” which means deliberately changing the genetic makeup of a plant or animal in a way that either cannot or would not occur naturally. Debate about the use of GMO foods and ingredients has been ongoing since the 1970s, and questions about their use are typically related to the perceived potential health effects. Because of this food producers may opt for the non-GMO label in order to allay consumer concerns, but it isn’t technically a designation granted by the USDA or FDA. Instead, there are a handful of private, non-governmental organizations that grant the designation if a food is less than 1% genetically modified.
  • Natural: Another common label and descriptor found in countless foods and ingredients is the word, “natural” (or sometimes all natural). To date, there is still no USDA or FDA-specified criteria for the use of the term natural, but in practice governmental organizations use it to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic has been added or used to make the product. This means that consumers encountering the label must make their own judgment about whether it truly is “natural.”
  • Clean: The labels “clean” or “clean label” are newer terms that may not yet have reached a large proportion of consumers, but their use is being driven by concerns over nutritional labels and how difficult they are to understand for most people. Even with max accuracy, the thinking goes, the average person doesn’t know how to decipher a list of ingredients that are made up of complex, multisyllabic words like maltodextrin or ascorbic acid. But the “clean” label can go beyond just being easier to read; for some food producers it may also indicate that there are just fewer ingredients in general.

Contact Silva for More Information

Giving consumers accurate information about the foods they buy has become a default expectation in the last few decades. At Silva, part of our commitment to providing good-for-you ingredients means offering products that can be labeled organic, non-GMO, natural, or clean. We understand that food manufacturers have a wide variety of products that are geared toward different customers, and that’s why on our website we note the versions each of our products are available in.

At Silva, we believe that there are no shortcuts to premium ingredients. That’s why we have invested extensive time and resources towards making our state-of-the-art processes and facilities the best in the business. From sourcing to cleaning to packaging, we take great care at every step along the way to ensure only the best ingredients in terms of both quality and food safety. To learn more about our premium dehydrated ingredients and partnering with Silva, please contact us today.