Americans consume a monumental amount of processed food produced with genetically modified ingredients. For 2012 plantings, the USDA reported that 88 percent of corn and 93 percent of soy are genetically modified (also termed “genetically engineered”). Canola oil, cottonseed oil, sugar, and even papaya are also largely genetically engineered.
Throughout the world, many countries strictly regulate genetically modified organisms. In some countries, GMOs are banned. In the European Union (EU), products containing more than .9 percent of GMO ingredients must be clearly labeled. And because Europeans are so adverse to genetic modification of their food supply, GMOs are pretty scarce in EU countries.
In the United States, without USDA labeling requirements for GMOs, consumers are left to puzzle out their purchases for themselves.
Caveat emptor is an ancient Latin phrase that means “buyer beware.” Nowhere is this more applicable than when shopping for groceries to avoid an unwitting purchase of a GMO-laden product.
Fortunately, it’s actually quite easy to avoid GMO ingredients. Here’s how to do it, in a few easy steps.
1. Look at the label.
2. Look for the USDA Organic seal. If the seal is present, your GMO risk is small.
3. Look for the Non-GMO Project seal. If this seal is present, your GMO risk is very small.
4. The use of the word “natural” on the label has no legal meaning at all. It can mean anything the manufacturer chooses. Products labeled “natural” may contain GMOs as well as pesticide and herbicide residues.
5. If the label has neither the USDA Organic seal nor the Non-GMO Project seal, look carefully over the ingredient list. If the following ingredients are present, the product most likely has GMOs: canola, corn, cottonseed, papaya, soy, sugar.
6. If any of these items are present, do not buy the product if you wish to avoid GMOs in your food.
What the Labels Mean
If the item displays the USDA Organic Seal on the label, your GMO risk is small. GMOs are prohibited in the production of organic food. However, there may still be “adventitious” contamination that occurs inadvertently during growing, harvesting, transporting, storage, and manufacture. For this reason, the organic food industry is very enthusiastic about a grassroots, industry-wide initiative called the Non-GMO Project (nongmoproject.org).
Products displaying the Non-GMO Project Seal have gone through an extensive verification and testing process to ensure that GMOs constitute less than 1 percent of the total product. However, such products may still have been produced with pesticides, herbicides, and other agricultural chemicals.
Therefore, both seals together is your best bet. USDA Organic means the ingredients are free of agricultural chemicals and not made with GMOs.
The Non-GMO Project uses the EU standard of a ceiling of .9 percent GMO content. Products with .9 percent or less may use the Non-GMO Project seal.
Without any seals, you must read the label carefully to make sure that the top GMO-risk crops—canola, corn, cottonseed, papaya, soy, and sugar—are not present. These crops are largely genetically modified, so if they are present, chances are quite high that the product does contain GMOs.
Stores on the Non-GMO Bandwagon
So far, at least two stores in Eastern Iowa are taking action to avoid stocking GMO products on their shelves. The Golden Dome Market on the campus of Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, has a purchaser whose mission is to eliminate any product that poses a GMO risk. Everybody’s Whole Foods, Fairfield, is labeling certified non-GMO products and continuing its efforts to educate its customers about GMOs.
Iowa’s Awareness Campaign
Here in Iowa, the GMO Awareness Campaign aims to inform both consumers and natural food stores about how to avoid GMO purchases.
You can be a part of this campaign. Look up your local natural food store on Facebook and leave a cordial comment. Remember that many natural food storeowners are as much in the dark as consumers on this issue. So be gently informative, but also state your position. As a customer, you vote with your dollar.
To stay informed, subscribe to The Organic and Non-GMO Report, Non-gmoreport.com, (641) 209-3426. Mention this article for a discount.