Genetically modified(GM) foods – are they safe or harmful? While regulatory authorities have approved GM food that is on the market, some people are concerned that there is risk of harm. Most foods we eat may contain ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). If you live in Europe, avoiding GM foods is easier since laws require labeling. In the US and Canada, however, food manufacturers are not required to label if their food is genetically modified or not. Here are some guidelines for steering clear of GM foods in your diet, if that is your choice.
- Become familiar with the most common applications of genetic modification. These are the products (and their derivatives) that are most likely to be genetically modified:
- Soybeans – Gene taken from bacteria (Agrobacterium sp. strain CP4) and inserted into soybeans to make them more resistant to herbicides.
- Corn – There are two main varieties of GE corn. One has a Gene from the soil bacteriumBacillus thuringiensis inserted to produce the Bt toxin, which poisons Lepidoteran (moths and butterflies) pests. There are also several events which are resistant to various herbicide. Present in high fructose corn syrup and glucose/fructose which is prevalent in a wide variety of foods in America.
- Grapeseed/Canola – Gene added/transferred to make crop more resistant to herbicide.
- Sugar beets – Gene added/transferred to make crop more resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.
- Cotton – engineered to produce Bt toxin. The seeds are pressed into cottonseed oil, which is a common ingredient in vegetable oil and margarine.
- Dairy – Cows injected with GE hormone rBGH/rBST; possibly fed GM grains and hay.
- Sugar. In 2012 the FDA approved GMO Beet Sugars to be allowed to be sold on the market under the name…. “SUGAR” So now, when we go to buy “All Natural” Breyer’s Ice Cream, we can’t even know for sure that we are actually eating regular natural cane sugar. If you see “CANE SUGAR” there’s a good chance it’s not GMO. This is one of the biggest frustrations with labelling, as sugar is in so many things, and we might be avoiding food that POSSIBLY has GMO sugar, but really does not.
- Corn sold directly to the consumer at Roadside stands / markets. Buy organic corn, popcorn, corn chips only.
- Baked goods: Often has one or more of the common GM ingredients in them. Why do we need corn or soy in our bread, snacks or desserts? It’s hard to find mixes to use as well. Some brands avoid GMs, find one you like and try to stick with it. Organic is one option, learning how to cook brownies, etc, from scratch with your own organic oils is another.
- Buy food labeled 100% organic. The US and Canadian governments do not allow manufacturers to label something 100% organic if that food has been genetically modified or been fed genetically modified feed. You may find that organic food is more expensive and different in appearance from conventional products.
- Also, just because something says “organic” on it does not mean that it does not contain GMs. In fact, it can still contain up to 30% GMs, so be sure the labels say 100% organic.
Trusted Organic Certification institutions include QAI, Oregon Tilth, and CCOF. Look for their mark of approval on the label of the product.USDA Organic standards pale in comparison , do not consider a product 100% organic if it is only USDA Organic Certified.
- This applies to eggs, as well. Eggs labeled “free-range”, “natural”, or “cage-free” are not necessarily GE-free; look for eggs to be 100% organic.
- Recognize fruit and vegetable label numbers.
- If it is a 4-digit number, the food is conventionally produced.
- If it is a 5-digit number beginning with an 8, it is GM. However, do not trust that GE foods will have a PLU identifying it as such, because PLU labeling is optional.
- If it is a 5-digit number beginning with a 9, it is organic.
5. Purchase beef that is 100% grass-fed. Most cattle in the U.S. are grass-fed, but spend the last portion of their lives in feedlots where they may be given GM corn, the purpose of which is to increase intramuscular fat and marbling. If you’re looking to stay away from GM0s, make sure the cattle were 100% grass-fed or pasture-fed (sometimes referred to as grass-finished or pasture-finished).
- The same applies to meat from other herbivores such as sheep.
- There is also the slight possibility that the animals were fed GM alfalfa, although this is less likely if you buy meat locally.
- With non-ruminants like pigs and poultry that cannot be 100% grass-fed, it’s better to look for meat that is 100% organic
- More and more small farms are offering grains and meat directly to customers, in addition to the usual fare (vegetables, fruit, herbs).
- Shopping locally may also give you the opportunity to speak to the farmer and find out how he or she feels about GMOs and whether or not they use them in their own operation.
9. Grow your own food. This way you know exactly what was grown, and what went into growing it.
- Don’t be fooled by “natural ” or “all natural “. This is simply clever marketing and has no significance. Studies show that a consumer would prefer the “natural “label over organic! Consumers often think it means organic. It means nothing insofar as quality or health.
- At chain and non-chain restaurants, you can ask which, if any, of their foods contain GMs, but the waiters/waitresses and kitchen staff are not likely to know. Ask them to find out what oils they cook with. It is usually one of the big four: corn, soy, canola or cottonseed. You may request butter to be used instead, though these are often products of cow that ate GM corn feed, it is a secondary product.
- Producers who label their food GM-free aren’t making any health claims regarding the product.
- QCS is another organic certifying agency of merit.
- If you are growing your own plants from seed, make sure the company has taken the “safe seed pledge”.