Choosing to avoid genetically modified foods is a decision to take better care of your health and the health of your loved ones. It’s also a smart way to do your part to tell manufacturers what you are willing to spend your money on. Money talks and consumers really do drive the market. Avoiding GMOs protects the environment and it makes a difference in the local economy.
While making the decision to avoid GMOs may have been an easy one, sticking to it can be a bit more difficult. It can be difficult to find foods that are not GMO-free. This guide will help by taking a look at several different approaches. Armed with knowledge and a plan, your shopping trips and meal planning will be easier. You’ll be able to realistically commit to your decision to keep genetically modified foods out of your body and out of your home.
Avoiding the Big 5 Contaminants
The first and easiest way to avoid Genetically Modified foods is to avoid foods that contain:
- Soy Beans
- Sugar Beets
- Hawaiian Papaya
These seven crops are produced primarily by genetically modified seeds. In fact, over 80% of soy, corn and cottonseed are now genetically modified. From soy sauce to the bread you eat, even your taco shells, they’re all made from genetically modified organisms.
The ingredients can be deceptive or difficult to identify. For example, corn syrup in your ketchup is likely made from GMO corn. Even honey often comes from bees who have visited GM canola plants.
This generally means avoiding all processed foods, which isn’t necessarily a bad idea if you’re striving to improve your health. It also requires you to become adept at reading labels. If a product contains any of the above ingredients then it’s likely to be genetically modified. The Non-GMO project identifies the following ingredients as ones to look out for when you’re reading labels and trying to avoid GMO foods.
Common Ingredients Derived from GMO Risk Crops
- Ascorbic Acid,
- Sodium Ascorbate,
- Vitamin C,
- Citric Acid,
- Sodium Citrate,
- Natural and artificial Flavorings,
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup,
- Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein,
- Lactic Acid,
- Monosodium Glutamate,
- Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP),
- Xanthan Gum,
- Yeast Products.
If you’ve looked at the label of a simple can of soup or a bottle of tea then you have likely read these ingredients. So the first step to avoiding GMOs is to become proficient at label reading and avoid the largest GMO crops.
The next step that you can take is to buy organic. This step opens up a few doors for you because it does enable you to buy things like bread and soymilk without worrying about eating genetically modified foods.
According to the Organic Trade Association, in order for a product to be certified organic, “The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is prohibited in organic products. This means an organic farmer can’t plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and an organic soup producer can’t use any GMO ingredients. To meet the USDA organic regulations, farmers and processors must show they aren’t using GMOs, and that they are protecting their products from contact with prohibited substances, such as GMOs, from farm to table.”
However, it’s important to be keenly aware of the certification on the product versus other labeling and packaging. For example, a loaf of bread might say, “made with organic wheat.” That doesn’t mean the other ingredients in the loaf of bread are organic or non-GMO. It has to be a certified organic product and go beyond using some organic ingredients.
When shopping in the produce isle at your supermarket you may notice that the organic section is quite small. This is because some crops are entirely produced as genetically modified and cannot be organic. Hawaiian Papaya is an ideal example, 98 percent of the papaya grown in Hawaii is GMO. It’s also important to know that organic isn’t always necessary. You can find tomatoes for example that have been crossbred with other tomatoes. They’re not organic but they’re not GMO either.
You have to learn which producers are non-GMO and that can take time. For example, if you want non-GMO tomatoes it’s helpful to learn that AMCO Select One tomatoes are GMO free and have been verified by the Non-GMO project as are BackYard Farms Brand, Carmelina, Dassi Family Farms and Double Diamond Farms. You’ll want to learn what brands your supermarket stocks and which ones are on the approved list. You can visit the Non-GMO project list of verified products
Additionally, you can rest easy when buying the following fruits or vegetables:
- Leafy greens
As of 2013, these crops have not been planted from GMO seeds.
Buy From Retailers Committed to Non-GMO
In addition to buying organic and learning which food producers provide non-GMO produce, you can shop at retailers who have made a public commitment to make sure consumers are making informed buying decisions.
They may have non-GMO sections in their market or commit to reducing the GMO products on their shelves. These retailers are generally natural foods markets or health food stores. It’s important to know that stores like Whole Foods do still have some GMO foods. Whole Foods recently released the following statement:
“We’ve committed to labeling all food products in our US and Canadian stores to indicate whether they contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) by 2018. Many are already labeled and much more will be labeled ahead of this deadline.
Currently, we offer over 25,000 certified organic products and about 8500 Non-GMO Project Verified products in our stores.”
The Non-GMO labeling takes us to the next piece of information you can take with you to the supermarket.
Look for products labeled with the “Non-GMO Project Verified seal.” Manufacturers have to go through a rigid process to earn this seal. The “Non-GMO Project” Requires:
“Ongoing testing of all at-risk ingredients—any ingredient being grown commercially in GMO form must be tested prior to use in a verified product.” (Source: http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/understanding-our-seal/)
At risk ingredients change from year to year and presently include:
- Sugar Beets
- Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash
Monitored risk foods include:
- Chard and table beets
- Siberian kale
- bok choy,
- Chinese cabbage,
- Acorn squash
- delicata squash
- patty pan
The “Non-GMO Project” uses an action threshold that matches that of the European Union. It means that any product containing more than 0.9% GMO cannot be considered for certification. You’ll also be happy to know that they maintain verification with an annual audit and onsite inspections so certification can be lost.
What About Meat and Dairy?
When eating meat and dairy it’s important to look for organic and grass-fed labeling. Presently there is no genetically modified livestock available in the supermarket. That’s not to say they aren’t working on it. They are.
However, most livestock including cows, pigs, and chickens are fed genetically modified crops. If you’re trying to stay completely free of GMO ingredients you’ll want to buy organic dairy, organic and 100 percent grass-fed meats as well. Note: some livestock is “Grass Finished” this means they ate regular feed when they were young and developing and then fed grass at the end before they were sent to slaughter.
Fish and Seafood
There will likely soon be genetically modified salmon in your supermarket and the FDA is looking at several other genetically modified fish. Unfortunately, farmed fish, like farmed livestock, are often fed genetically engineered food. Buy wild caught fish instead. And avoid can fish that is packed with genetically modified oils like cottonseed, rapeseed, and canola oil. Look for fish packed in water or 100 percent olive oil.
There’s An App for It
Both the Center for Food Safety and the Non-GMO Project offer applications that help you avoid genetically modified foods when you’re shopping. The Center for Food Safety App is called the “True Food Shoppers Guide.” If you have either an iOS phone or an Android Phone you can add this app to your list of resources. You can learn more about it here.
The Non-GMO project’s application is called the Non-GMO Project Shopping Guide and is only available for iOS phones. You can download the application here.
- Buy whole foods and avoid the top 5 most common genetically engineered crops.
- Learn to read labels and look for hidden GMO ingredients
- Buy organic
- Look for products labeled with the “Non-GMO Project Verified seal.”
- Learn which brands and retailers support and provide non-GMO foods.
- Buy organic and grass-fed meat and dairy.
- Learn which crops are considered safe and which crops are almost always genetically modified
- They say buy wild caught fish and fish packed in water. That comes with other problems. As a fish farmer. I think and feel that buying fish from the farm is safer because we are regulated. Look for non-GMO raised fish. 97.3 percent of fish eaten in the US comes from China. I would only source US fish. Give US Catfish a try.
Hope it helps