Know Your Food: GMO's
What Are GMOs?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. To give you an idea of just how weird this can get, in 1991 a variety of tomato was engineered with genes from arctic flounder to make it frost-tolerant. Fortunately that product was never brought to market, but it is a good illustration of how unnatural GMOs are.
Almost all commercial GMOs are engineered to withstand direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. Despite biotech industry promises, none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.
Which foods might contain GMOs?
In the Non-GMO Project’s Product Verification Program, we use three categories of GMO risk: (1) High, (2) Monitored, and (3) Low.
These crops are currently in commercial production in genetically engineered form. Contamination risk is high, and ingredients derived from these crops must be tested every time before being used in Non-GMO Project Verified products.
Alfalfa (first planting 2011)
Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop)
Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop)
Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop)
Sugar Beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop)
Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approx. 25,000 acres)
Animal products (milk, meat, eggs, honey, etc.) are also considered high-risk because of contamination in feed.
The monitored category is for crops where there are suspected or known instances of contamination from GMO relatives or other sources. We test these crops as needed to assess risk and move them to the “high-risk” category if we see significant risk of GMO contamination.
Beta vulgaris (e.g., chard, table beets)
Brassica napa (e.g., rutabaga, Siberian kale)
Brassica rapa (e.g., bok choy, mizuna, Chinese cabbage, turnip, rapini, tatsoi)
Curcubita (acorn squash, delicata squash, patty pan)
Common ingredients derived from GMO risk crops:
Amino acids, aspartame, ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, vitamin C, citric acid, sodium citrate, ethanol, flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), high-fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lactic acid, maltodextrins, molasses, monosodium glutamate, sucrose, textured vegetable protein (TVP), xanthan gum, vitamins, yeast products.
How Can I Avoid GMOs?
Because GMOs can be found in as much as 80% of conventional processed food in the United States, it can seem an overwhelming task to avoid GMOs. Planting an organic garden is a great way to be sure of what you’re eating. At the store, choose food and products that are Non-GMO Project Verified. Download the Non-GMO Project Shopping Guide app for your phone so you can scan products to see whether or not they have been verified. When Non-GMO Project Verified options are not available, choose Certified Organic products, or low GMO risk alternatives.
How Do GMOs Affect Farmers?
Because GMOs are novel life forms, biotechnology companies have been able to obtain patents with which to restrict their use. As a result, the companies that make GMOs now have the power to sue farmers whose fields are contaminated with GMOs, even when it is the result of inevitable drift from neighboring fields. GMOs therefore pose a serious threat to farmer sovereignty and to the national food security of any country where they are grown, including the United States and Canada.
How Do GMOs Impact the Environment?
Over 80% of all GMOs grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance. As a result, use of toxic herbicides like Roundup has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. GMO crops are also responsible for the emergence of “super weeds” and “super bugs,” which can only be killed with ever more toxic poisons like 2,4-D (a major ingredient in Agent Orange). GMOs are a direct extension of chemical agriculture and are developed and sold by the world’s biggest chemical companies. The long-term impacts of GMOs are unknown, and once released into the environment these novel organisms cannot be recalled.
How Do GMOs Affect Animals?
Much of the GMO corn and soy grown in North America is fed to animals, as is some of the canola and cotton. Which is why it is important to know what is in animal feed. If you are buying animal products form the store, look for the Non-GMO Project label or choose Certified Organic products.
Reproduced in part from the Non-GMO Project.