An organic farming group wants to stamp out the confusion over organic and non-GMO certifications. The California Certified Organic Farmers association introduced a new organic certification seal last week that declares “Organic is Non-GMO & More” for use by its certified suppliers.

In recent years the two labels have been at the center of an ongoing debate about their commonalities and differences. The U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in certified organic products. But the Non-GMO Project, a third-party certifier of GMO-free food products and ingredients, contends it goes further to verify ingredients are free of genetic modification, as reported in Specialty Food Magazine last year.

 “Organic is the original non-GMO standard,” said Jake Lewin, president of CCOF certification services, who was closely involved with the creation of the new seal.

CCOF Organic Non-GMO Seal

Growing concern among the organization’s members about how to communicate the attributes of organic to consumers led to the launch of the initiative. “This was our effort to provide a tool and a pathway to addressing those concerns,” Lewin said.

Courtney Pineau, associate director of the Non-GMO Project, said the certifier applauds the CCOF’s effort to build awareness around organic certification. “The ‘non-GMO’ claim on this new label is accurate in that GMO avoidance is a central tenet of the National Organic Program,” she said. “However, in the context of the Non-GMO Project's Standard, in order for a product to be labeled as ‘Non-GMO Project Verified,’ all major GMO risk ingredients must be tested prior to use to ensure that they are compliant with the Non-GMO Project's 0.9% action threshold.”

The CCOF neither encourages nor discourages its member companies from getting non-GMO certification, Lewin noted. “It’s a marketplace decision,” he said.

A number of plans are in place to build awareness of what goes into organic certification—the “and more” in the new seal’s tagline, Lewin explained—geared toward both the industry and consumers, including the environmental benefits of organic certification.

“And on the other side,” he continued, “we are working very hard to be responsible around implementing the standards around GMOs, including GMO testing within our certification program and paying very close attention and advocating for ongoing standards and guidance in regard to GMOs.”