You may be concerned about eating healthy and what it means to buy organic popcorn versus GMO-free. The answer may surprise you.

Organic popcorn is GMO-free. Though most corn is GMO, the corn that gets processed for popcorn isn’t. Part of the USDA requirements for the organic label is for the ingredients to be not genetically modified. Corn kernels make up the product. So if they’re organic, they’re GMO-free.

This article will discuss some other questions and answers regarding organic popcorn. Keep reading to understand the USDA labels, what organic means, and other pros and cons to consider.

What Makes Popcorn Organic?

The meanings of organic and GMO-free aren’t immediately apparent, even if the words give impressions to people. In the US, the Department of Agriculture defines the criteria for organic or GMO-free. Organic labels have to do with how the product is grown.

The 95 percent of ingredients in popcorn make it organic. Because popcorn is almost entirely one ingredient, the kernel, this label means that the corn they come from must be grown organically.

But that’s just for organic in general. Specifically, organic comes with four subdivisions. 

One is 100 percent organic, where every ingredient is organic, excluding salt and water. The USDA prefers to define salt and water as natural. Most popcorn sold as kernels is 100 percent organic. After all, more kernels are just corn and have no extra ingredients.

If popcorn is just organic, or 95 percent, then the remaining 5 percent can be a mix of organic and non-organic. How much of this 5 percent is organic depends on if an organic option is available for a given ingredient. 

If there’s an organic option, a product must use that over a non-organic one. If there’s no organic option, as long as that ingredient is less than 5 percent, it can be non-organic.

If the product label says “made with organic” so-and-so, that means the popcorn has at least 70 percent of its ingredients as organic. Popcorn, which is usually organic, makes up most of a package; a “made with organic” label will indicate that everything else is non-organic.

If less than 70 percent of the product’s ingredients are organic, then the producer can claim those components as organic. The packaging might say it has organic butter, for instance.

What Makes An Organic Labeled Ingredient In Popcorn Organic?

Organic popcorn, by definition, comes from corn that was grown organically.

An ingredient in popcorn labeled as organic comes from a broader agricultural system that uses resources in cycles. The cycles allow for water and soil conservation, adding benefits to the soil, avoiding synthetic chemicals, and providing habitat.

Once farmers have this system in place, the USDA must also certify the site. The farmer also can’t use GMO crops, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge. For chemicals like pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides, rules vary. Those treatments must be organic. They must also come from a list approved by the USDA.

Technically, a product can be organic without the USDA. You might grow your garden organic. Your local farmers at a market might have organic produce.

But if a commercial producer wants to claim their product is organic, they must have a USDA label on the packaging. Otherwise, the claim might not be legal. That’s where the certification is required. This regulation applies to individual ingredients as well.

While 90 percent of corn grown is GMO, those aren’t a part of the supply chain for popcorn. Popcorn is almost all organic and GMO-free. Most plain popcorn is 100 percent organic.

Some aspects of growing corn to fit into a natural cycle involve growing the crops on a rotation with other cash crops. Often one rotation will be clover. That way, the clover can help the soil bacteria rebuild accessible nitrogen in the ground. 

Farmers may also have a fallow cycle. A fallow rotation is when the field grows nothing. With corn, sometimes the ground will have debris like husks from the last time corn was grown. The debris covers the surface and protects it from erosion. Also, the husks decompose, adding nutrients to the soil.

The USDA allows pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. But the specific products must be organic and certified themselves. During some disease outbreaks, these organic measures aren’t enough. Corn earworms can be a problem. The farmers lose yields. Slowly though, chemists have developed better organic options like spinosad.

What Are the Pros And Cons Of Organic, GMO-Free Popcorn?

Organic, GMO-free popcorn’s pros are it’s more sustainable and leave no question to human and environmental health. However, organic production comes with cons, like unreliable yields for farmers and extra costs for the consumers.


The pros of organic popcorn include:

  • Conservation of soil and water
  • Safe interaction for wildlife like birds and beneficial insects
  • Building of the soil and a healthy ground ecosystem that helps the crops without chemical treatments
  • GMO-free
  • A guarantee that the farmers used conservation techniques
  • Promotes more development in the market and creates demands for developing better organic pesticides and herbicides


The cons of organic popcorn include:

  • More labor to produce
  • Potentially unreliable yields
  • More expensive than non-organic options
  • Confusing labeling may lead consumers to believe that organic is by default healthier even though there are exceptions because labels are about rules, not health.
  • Organic doesn’t exclude spraying chemical treatments like pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides that are bad for consumers—not all consumers know this.
  • Not necessarily free from pesticides and fertilizers

You can weigh the pros and cons to make a choice that’s right for you.

Final Thoughts

Organic popcorn is GMO-free. The lack of genetic engineering is one of the USDA requirements for the organic label, so you can’t have one without the other. Further, even though most corn is GMO, popcorn only comes from the 10 percent corn that’s organic.

The overlap of organic and GMO-free makes shopping for organic, GMO-free popcorn easy. And now you know what counts as organic, what different labels refer to, and the broader pros and cons of the organic and GMO-free discussion.

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