In case you didn’t know, “GMO” stands for Genetically Modified Organisms.
The pet food industry is slowly becoming aware of the damage that genetic manipulation causes to our household companions.
But there are several important details to know about Non-GMO products. It is important to properly understand the differences between these and organic products if you want to choose the healthiest and safest foods for your pet.
Organic basically means choosing responsibly, because every time we pick a particular pet food product, we are doing a lot more than just taking something to feed our beloved friend. We are impacting a food system that encompasses everything, from the farmers who grow the vegetables and raise the animals, to the whole environment in which we live.
That’s the organic way of thinking. But focusing on our dogs’ health – what about non-GMOs?
Let’s take a look at the Non-GMO Project, the institution that makes an effort to evaluate food products and put a label on those which are non-GMOs.
The “Non-GMO Project” label tells us that the ingredients that make up the product to which it is attached contain less than 0.9% – that is, practically nothing – of GMOs.
We agree that this is a good thing. However, there is a lot that label doesn’t tell us about the product. It does not tell us how it was manufactured, what ingredients it contains, or where it comes from.
But let’s not just stay with that notion. Let’s see one by one the differences between organic and Non-GMO.
In the US market, USDA regulations for organic products explicitly prohibit the use of genetic modifications in its ingredients. For those of us who want to avoid GMOs in our pets’ food at all costs, the best way to do it is to buy certified organic food.
We must keep in mind, however, that the USDA certification indicates that at least 95% of the ingredients are organic, so a USDA certified organic product could have up to 5% non-organic ingredients. But even that 5% of ingredients cannot include GMOs, according to the regulations.
Still, there are some tricks that pet food producers use to introduce GMOs into our pets’ diet, even if their products are USDA certified organic. That is why you should go for a “100% organic” label. Or for products that, in addition to being USDA certified for organic products, have the “Non-GMO Project” label. This way, you are completely sure that there won’t be any trace of genetic modification on your furry friend’s plate.
Organic dog food from Europe must bear the EU certification seal. This certification applies the same criteria as the USDA in terms of non-GMOs, but is less prone to fraud and “tricks” that allow placing organic certification seals on products that are not truly organic. That’s why the EU organic certification has more credibility than USDA’s.
Due to the widespread of GMO-related issues, there is a huge boom for non-GMO labels, but because the FDA does not set any standards in this regard, virtually anyone can say that a product is Non-GMO.
This does not apply to the “Non-GMO Project” labels, which are only awarded after a verification process and are therefore fairly reliable. Setting aside that labels, no other non-GMO claims found on a pet food package are reliable.
Even the Non-GMO Project verification process for a product takes on average only between 3 and 6 months. In contrast, it takes a farmer at least three years to convert his crops to achieve USDA Organic certification. You can imagine how much stricter the USDA organic certification is.
Organic crops cannot be exposed to synthetic pesticides, and also contain much less pesticide residues.
Organic regulations explicitly prohibit the use of certain toxic pesticides on crops. On the other hand, in non-GMO crops, this prohibition has no effect. Therefore, non-GMO crops can be contaminated with toxic pesticide residues such as organophosphates whose effects could be lethal for our pets.
Additionally, there are many Non-GMO products, such as potatoes, spinach, and kale, that are among the most contaminated with pesticides, according to the EWG Dirty Dozen ranking.
For organic crops – although the use of natural pesticides is allowed – it has been shown that there are much lower levels of chemical residues, compared to common crops.
Have you heard about glyphosate? You should know it’s the most widely used herbicide on the planet. Guess what: it is prohibited in organic crops but can be used freely on non-GMO crops.
Why is glyphosate a bad thing? Take wheat as an example. Even if your dog has no problem with gluten, wheat can be a problem, even if it’s non-GMO.
The reason is that glyphosate toxins can build up in the dog’s body, the more it is exposed to them. Many non-GMO products contain wheat and may seem healthy, but they can be seriously contaminated with glyphosate.
Non-GMO crops can be treated with biosolids, which is a fancy way of referring to everything that goes down the toilet, including hospital waste and general industrial waste.
Those biosolids can be contaminated with all kinds of things, including heavy metals like lead.
It has been shown that some contaminants can remain as residues in the food we feed our pets, and can be deadly for livestock that feeds on pasture fertilized with biosolids.
Non-GMO meat can come from animals raised on steroids and growth-promoting drugs, such as ractopamine. Drug residues that stimulate growth have been found in meats we feed our pets.
On the other hand, it has been shown that ractopamine causes cardiovascular problems, particularly in dogs.
Antibiotics are also used in non-GMO animals to make them fat, which is not allowed in organic animals.
Antibiotics have been used for years in farm animals, not only to prevent infections, but to make them fat. The problem is that pets that consume the meat of animals fattened with antibiotics also incorporate those antibiotics into their bodies, which can kill good bacteria, such as probiotics, that affect the absorption of nutrients or the consumption of calories. As a result, our pets can become obese and, at the same time, have nutritional deficiencies.
Many chemicals are classified as obesogens that cause the body – both animal and human – to store fat. The reason is that these chemicals are endocrine disruptors. Extended exposure to them can lead to weight gain in our pets.
Many synthetic pesticides used on non-GMO crops are endocrine disruptors, and fertilizers from sewage sludge waste also contain endocrine disruptors.
To prevent obesity for your dog, you need to minimize your friend’s exposure to obesogens, which can be achieved by feeding it an organic diet. Organic regulations – both USDA and UE – explicitly prohibit all use of obesogenic chemicals, but non-GMO products do not.
Let’s be honest; not all organic products are perfect. While it is preferable to choose unprocessed organic products to feed your pet than just non-GMOs, you should always read labels carefully to see what a food product actually contains.
Even organic products can contain additives that don’t do your dog any good.
For example, monosodium glutamate is prohibited in organic foods (thanks God!) but there are other permitted ingredients, such as certain textured proteins, that act as excitotoxins to enhance the flavor of food and encourage the dog to eat more.
Another incredibly allowed ingredient in organic foods is carrageenan, which is of no benefit and is associated with significant potential risks, such as gastrointestinal inflammation and decreased immunity.
Lastly, there are controversial organic ingredients, like canola oil, which have become very popular in the human nutrition arena due to its heart-friendly properties (oh, really? but what about your overall health from canola?). However, it is unknown if it has beneficial effects on the body of dogs, and studies with rats have determined a shortened lifespan. That’s why the presence of canola oil in dog food is not necessarily a positive thing.
Holistic doctors insist that food is medicine. Following that principle, the best way to preserve your dog’s health is to give it the best food possible. Non-GMO is a start, but even if you take every precaution to remove everything genetically modified from his diet, the food you feed can have many other harmful long-term consequences. Using certified organic is one step in the right direction, however it may not always be enough.