Welcome back to our series, Real Food 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Better. This week we’re talking about What are GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms.
What are GMOs?
According to the Non-GMO Project, GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.
This short video explains GMOs with a little humor mixed in.
What foods are GMO?
Foods are genetically modified for a variety of reasons. The graphic below shows you the top GMO crops in the United States. The two biggest reasons to modify a plant or animal is to make it easier to produce and to be more resistant to herbicides or pesticides.
How do you find non-GMO foods?
Unfortunately, you will never find GMOs labeled on product ingredient lists. Below you’ll find 5 simple rules or guidelines that I use. If you use them, you can be assured GMOs won’t find their way into your diet.
1. Buy certified organic whenever possible. Trusted Organic Certification institutions include QAI, Oregon Tilth, and CCOF. You can find organic produce, vegetables, grains, etc. at grocery stores, farmers markets, etc. The cheapest organic products are ones you grow yourself from certified seeds.
2. If a product is not organic, look for packages labeled “Non GMO.”
I buy products with the Non GMO Project Verified logo (shown right). “The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products.” They are the only third party organization that provides such verification.
These companies are just a few of the certified Non-GMO Companies out there.
3. Choose organic or local, pasture-raised dairy and meat to avoid GMO-filled animal feed.
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.
To find local producers in your area, visit Local Harvest. They have a great website that includes farmers markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), Co-Ops, etc.
4. Avoid conventional (non-organic) at-risk ingredients and the products that include them:
- soy (soybean oil, soy protein, soy flour, soy lecithin, vegetable oil)
- corn (corn oil, High Fructose Corn Syrup, maltodextrin, cornstarch, popcorn, corn chips)
- canola or rapeseed (canola oil)
- tomatoes (tomato sauce, pasta sauce, ketchup, salsa)
- potatoes (french fries, mashed potatoes, soups)
- sugar from sugar beets -The FDA labels this as “sugar”.
- cotton (cottonseed oil, vegetable oil, margarine)
- conventional zucchini, crooked neck squash, Hawaiian papayas, peas
- conventional dairy, meat, eggs, honey, and farm-raised fish (most conventional factory-farmed animals eat GMO feed).
5. Recognize fruit and vegetable label numbers.
4-digit PLU number, the food is conventionally produced.
5-digit PLU number beginning with an 8, it is GMO.
However, do not trust that GMO foods will have a PLU identifying it as such, because PLU labeling is optional.
5-digit PLU number beginning with a 9, it is organic.
For you tech savvy shoppers, there are a few phone apps that can help you avoid GMO products.
True Food Shopper’s Guide was launched by the Center for Food Safety. It will help shoppers to quickly and easily identify foods made with GMO ingredients. It’s available on ITunes and Android Market.
ShopNoGo lists products in 27 categories and can help you create a custom shopping list. It’s only available on ITunes.
Fooducate helpers shoppers look up product and nutrition information by scanning product bar codes. This app is contains all types of foods and has added a GMO feature. It is available for both ITunes and Android.
How you used any of these apps yourself? If so, we’d love to hear how you like them.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be discussing eating real food without blowing your budget. If you have any comments or questions on this or on anything in this series, please share your thoughts with us too.
Other articles in this series and related information
Real Food 101: Part 1 Getting Started
Real Food 101: Part 2: Reading labels and identifying real food products
Stocking a Healthy Kitchen with Real Food