Local and Non-GMO: The Latest in Food Labeling. What’s It All Mean? by Kirby Wetzel, August 26 2015, 0 Comments

In terms of food trends and buzzwords, local and non-GMO are all the rage. Add them to the list of “all natural” and “organic.” Celebrities are doing it. It must be good for us, right? Out with the processed, in with the local. Local sounds good. I want to eat local food. And non-GMO, GMO sounds scary so non-GMO is better, right? Is local non-GMO? Is non-GMO organic? A lot of these terms are used interchangeably. Should they be? What does it all mean? Less than you think. In fact, there appears to be an abuse of both "non-GMO" and "local" labels -- leading consumers to believe that these products are "healthier" and these buzzwords are synonymous with "organic."

As it turns out, “local” and “locally grown” mean different things to different people. Fortune magazine recently reported that “consumers take the term ‘local’ and they infer that it’s from a small farm, they infer it’s organic, even though it may not be.” Using the term “local” makes it seem like some trustworthy person just down the road grew this for me. This is a purchase I can feel good about. I’m supporting my community! These farmers aren’t the big brand mass producers, so surely their local produce is fresh—say, fresher than produce that has to be driven in from many miles away, right? Well, not exactly. Much like the “all natural” descriptor, there is no universal rule or standard that defines "local".

In fact, Fortune magazine stated that the 2008 Farm Act defines a “locally or regionally produced agricultural food product” as one that is sold less than 400 miles from its origin. A few states also have their own rules about what defines local, but their interpretations vary. Some states require that produce marketed as local be grown within the state borders. But, as far as square miles go, all states are not created equally. Oh hey, Texas and California.

And, I hate to bring this up, but there is no mention of farming methods or farm size—only proximity to where the product is being sold. So, actually, local doesn’t have to be THAT local and pesticide and preservative use is allowed because there are no set guidelines or standards. Bubble = burst.

Now what about this non-GMO labeling? Well, GMO stands for “genetically modified organisms.” According to the Non-GMO Project, GMOs are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a lab in order to create plants that are engineered to withstand direct application of herbicides or even to produce an insecticide. A body of evidence—ever growing—has connected GMOs with health problems and environmental damage.

This Non-GMO label has become a huge marketing tool for many brands. Consumers want to feel that they are feeding their families healthful food, but many feel that an organic diet is too expensive. The problem here is that non-GMO foods only offer foods free of GMOs. Pesticides and preservatives are free to be used. These foods are no less processed than their GMO-laden contenders. This is a case of buyer-beware. The only way to really know that you’re eating clean non-GMO food free of pesticides and preservatives is to stick with the original non-GMO label—food that is labeled “organic.”

Consumers have the right to know what’s in their food and to use that information to make informed decisions. The buzzwords are catchy and trendy and you better believe that producers and sellers of food— big and small—are using this as a marketing tool. Bottom line: it’s up to us to weed (get it?) out the propaganda.