Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to Avoid Genetically Modified Food

I have stumbled across a few posts with tips to avoid genetically modified food or organisms (GMOs).  Since there are no mandatory labeling requirements for GMOs, how can you tell if something is genetically modified?  According to, "if you really want to avoid the influence of genetic engineering, buy fresh organic produce. If you want to buy processed foods and avoid genetically engineered ingredients, you will have to read product labels. If the label mentions any of the ingredients listed below without explicitly qualifying it as organic, then the product probably contains genetically engineered ingredients."  The following list was compiled from the safe-food website as well as from wikiHow:
  • Soybeans: Gene taken from bacteria (Agrobacterium sp. strain CP4) and inserted into soybeans to make them more resistant to herbicides.  The following are soy products:  soy flour, soy oil, lecithin, soy protein isolates and concentrates. Products that may contain genetically engineered soy derivatives: vitamin E, tofu dogs, cereals, veggie burgers and sausages, tamari, soy sauce, chips, ice cream, frozen yogurt, infant formula, sauces, protein powder, margarine, soy cheeses, crackers, breads, cookies, chocolates, candies, fried foods, shampoo, bubble bath, cosmetics, enriched flours and pastas.
  • Corn: There are two main varieties of GE corn. One has a Gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus 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.  The following are corn products:  corn flour, corn starch, corn oil, corn sweeteners, syrups. Products that may contain genetically engineered corn derivatives: vitamin C, tofu dogs, chips, candies, ice cream, infant formula, salad dressings, tomato sauces, breads, cookies, cereals, baking powder, alcohol, vanilla, margarine, soy sauce, tamari, soda, fried foods, powdered sugar, enriched flours and pastas.
  • Rapeseed/Canola Oil:  Gene added/transferred to make crop more resistant to herbicide.  Products that may contain genetically engineered canola derivatives: chips, salad dressings, cookies, margarine, soaps, detergents, soy cheeses, fried foods.
  • Sugar Beets:  Gene added/transferred to make crop more resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.
  • Rice:  Genetically modified to resist herbicides; not currently available for human consumption, but trace amounts of one GM long-grained variety (LLRICE601) may have entered the food supply in the USA and Europe. More recently, golden rice, a different strain of rice has been engineered to produce significantly higher levels of beta carotene, which the body uses to produce vitamin A. Golden rice is still undergoing testing to determine if it is safe for human consumption.
  • Cotton:  Engineered to produce Bt toxin. The seeds are pressed into cottonseed oil, which is a common ingredient in vegetable oil and margarine.  Products which contain cotton are:  oil, fabric. Products that may contain genetically engineered cotton or its derivatives: clothes, linens, chips, peanut butter, crackers, cookies. 
  • Potatoes: Right now the only potato that has been genetically engineered is the Burbank Russet, but you still have to look out for potato starch and flour. Products that may contain genetically engineered potatoes or derivatives: unspecified processed or restaurant potato products (fries, mashed, baked, mixes, etc.), chips, Passover products, vegetable pies, soups. Fast-food chains appear to have responded to consumer concerns and requested genetically natural potatoes.
  • Dairy Products: Cows injected with GE hormone rBGH/rBST; possibly fed GM grains and hay.  The following are dairy products:  milk, cheese, butter, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, whey. You have to ask several questions when you are looking at dairy products. Have the cows been treated with rBGH? What kind of feed have they been given? If they are not being fed organic grains, chances are quite likely that they will be eating genetically engineered animal feed. What does this do to their milk products? No one knows.
  • Animal Products: Because animal feed often contains genetically engineered organisms, all animal products, or by-products may be affected.
  • Papayas
  • Farm Raised Salmon
  • Aspartame/AminoSweet - Addictive and dangerous artificial sweetener commonly found in chewing gum and "diet" beverages. A building block of aspartame, the amino acid phenylalanine, is usually manufactured with the aid of genetically modified E. coli bacteria. This process has been used industrially in the USA for many years.
"Please note that a food may contain some of these items and yet be free from genetically engineered organisms, but we have no way of knowing without tracking down every brand, every product and every ingredient. Even reading labels is no guarantee that you will be able to avoid genetically engineered ingredients, because manufacturers are not required to list every little ingredient, enzyme or organism used in the manufacturing process. The following products may also be genetically altered, contain or originate from genetically engineered organisms: candies, cookies, breads, cereals, corn syrups, oils, juices, detergents, dough conditioners, yeast, sugar, animal feed, vitamins and enzymes used in the processing of cheese."

This is quite the list and almost impossible to check every label to find out if it contains these ingredients.  It is upsetting that as consumers in the United States, we do not have information up-front indicating if something contains a GMO.  The European Union (EU) has specific requirements for products containing greater than 0.9% of GMOs to be labeled as such.  The EU feels that "labeling provides information for consumers and allows them to make an informed choice. In the case of pre-packaged products consisting of, or containing, GMOs, the list of ingredients must indicate "genetically modified" or "produced from genetically modified [name of the organism]". In the case of products without packaging these words must still be clearly displayed in close proximity to the product (such as a note on the supermarket shelf)."  Why can't Americans have the same ability to make an "informed choice" with mandatory labeling?

Since there are no mandatory labeling requirements in the US, the following taken from wikiHow is a list of 8 steps that can be taken to avoid genetically modified food in the absence of specific labeling.
  1. Become familiar with the most common applications of genetic modification.
    • See the list above for the most common applications of genetic modification (i.e. soybeans, corn, etc). 
  2. 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. 
    • 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.
    • Eggs labeled "free-range", "natural", or "cage-free" are not necessarily GE-free; look for eggs to be 100% organic.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 GMOs, 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.
  5. Seek products that are specifically labeled as non-GM or GMO-free. 
  6. Shop locally.
    • Although more than half of all GM foods are produced in the US, most of it comes from large, industrial farms.
  7. Buy whole foods.
    • They don't mean the supermarket chain of the same name.
    • Favor foods that you can cook and prepare yourself, rather than foods that are processed or prepared (e.g. anything that comes in a box or a bag, including fast food). 
  8. Grow your own food.
Until there is more information available to determine if GMOs are safe both short-term and long-term and in the absence of any mandatory labeling requirements, as a consumer, we have to take the extra steps to determine if a product contains a GMO and make our own "informed choice."

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