You want nothing but the best for your family and have decided to avoid GMOs. But what's with all the labels? Is it enough that something is certified organic or does it need to have that little non-gmo verified label? Let's take a look...
The short answer: The USDA prohibits the use of GMOs under their organic certification therefore, those products should be GMO free.
Then why the Non-GMO Project?
The longer answer: As awareness grows among the American public the call for transparency also grows. However, legislation to have GMOs labeled has largely been defeated in many states due to the monetary power of lobbys. Interestingly, some of those spending millions to defeat GMO labeling are organic food processors. To maintain transparency, the Non-GMO Project has taken on the role of verifying that products (both organic and non) do not contain GMOS and labeling those items for consumers presumably with the intention of preserving an unadulterated food system.
A little more on USDA Organic...
Although the USDA prohibits the use of GMOs to be certified organic, the USDA organic stamp is not always the gold standard for many reasons (but I'll just name a couple). First, there are loopholes. One of the best examples is the (largely open to interpretation) standard that animals raised organically have "access to pasture." This conjures up images of chickens running wild and cows grazing over acres of land. However, some farmers interpret "access" as a tiny opening to a few square feet of enclosed grass outside of a massive chicken house. For this reason, marketing terms of "free-range" and "cage-free" should be looked at skeptically. Farmers have started to use the term "pasture raised" to define animals raised in open access.
Second, the cost of the seal is pricey and some farmers who do practice organic farming cannot afford the associated costs for certification. This is one of the reasons Farmers Markets are encouraged (and growing) for purchasing locally and getting to know where your food comes from. You may find that some farmers without the certified organic seal are actually raising their animals and crops at a "higher" standard of practice.
Should I be worried about GMOs?
There is no scientific consensus as to whether GMOs are malignant because we don't have any long-term studies (and lobbys are powerful). This means that we are the guinea pigs. Short term studies haven't provided much confidence as to the safety of GMOs and most of the world rejects them hence the consumer backlash.
Ok, but how do I avoid them?
GM foods include soy, corn, dairy (in the form of rBST or rBGH), sugar beets (used to make sugar and ps Teavana loves to sell "unprocessed" beet sugar), canola, and cottonseed oil (some zucchini, alfalfa sprouts, and papayas are also). The real problem is that their derivatives are found in many, many processed foods (think HFCS, sugar, texturized soy protein, TVP). For this reason, if you want to avoid GMOs, whole foods are the way to go.
BOTTOM LINE: Avoid processed foods, choose organic where necessary, Non-GMO verified is a bonus.