Genetically-Modified Foods: What to Watch Out for

Genetically-modified foods, which fall under genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), is a controversial topic. Scores of heated debates, books, lectures, and studies have become available to the general public since the first GMO in 1994, and still, people fall on both sides of the issue. Here I’ve compiled important questions and information to consider when deciding on this issue and what to watch out for if you prefer to avoid these foods.

What is a GMO?

A GMO is created when genetic engineering is used to transfer a gene from one species into another, creating a new species not normally found in nature to yield desired characteristics. Concern comes from the potential or realized unintended consequences of such a change anywhere in the food chain or ecosystem.

Genetically-modified food concerns

Amount in processed foods

Since about 80% of all processed foods contain one or more GMO ingredients, and a diet high in processed food is common, many people may be exposed to GMOs at a level they are not comfortable with but do not even know it.

Use of herbicides

About 80% of GM crops were created with the intention of tolerating heavy use (up to 15-fold!) of herbicides or producing their own insecticide. GM crops can never be recalled once planted and have been found growing along highways, parking lots and wild fields after introduction into the environment. This has led to the development of “superweeds” – weeds that selectively survive because they survive use of herbicides. Superweeds have been shown to impact millions of acres in 22 states. The World Health Organization officially classified glyphosate, the main herbicide used on GM crops, as “probably carcinogenic to humans.

Lack of biodiversity

When GM crops are drenched in herbicides, the crops may survive but neighboring lands and natural habitats may struggle. One example is the milkweed plant, a major food source for monarch butterflies, that is near extinction in crop fields which leads to monarch butterfly survival challenges.

Common genetically-modified foods

The main GM crops grown around the world include soybean, canola, cotton, corn, potato, yellow summer squash, zucchini, sugar beet and alfalfa (mainly used for cattle feed).

  • Soybean. Nearly all the soy grown in the US is GM soy. It’s primarily used to make animal feed, soybeans, soybean oil, soy lecithin and soy proteins.
  • Corn. Corn is the number one GM crop grown in the US. GMO corn is heavily used to feed livestock and as well as make processed foods and sweetened beverages.
  • Canola. 95% of canola is GM and is used to make vegetable cooking oil, margarine and is used in packaged and processed foods.
  • Potato – GM potatoes were developed to reduce pests, disease and to reduce browning and bruising.
  • Yellow squash and zucchini. Some of the first GM foods on the market but not as prolific in the market.
  • Sugar beet. 99.9% of all sugar beets harvested have been genetically modified and over half of the available granulated sugar available at grocery stores is produced from this.

How to minimize GMO foods

  1. Limit processed foods since most processed foods contain GM ingredients, cut back on anything in a box or package with a lengthy ingredient list, especially if it is sweetened, and/or contains corn or vegetable oils.
  2. Choose organic. Organic standards exclude GM ingredients from their products. According to the USDA, this applies to organic farmers planting seeds, organic cows being fed, and any organic food manufacturer creating products. To get the most bang for your buck and body, choose organic foods that top the dirty dozen list to minimize GMs and pesticide/herbicide residue.
  3. Avoid major GM crops. Look to avoid most non-organic corn, potato, soybean, sugar, canola, summer squash, and zucchini. You can do this by choosing organic packaged foods more often, eating whole, fresh foods, and limiting sweetened foods in your diet.
  4. Choose a non-GMO project-verified seal. This hybrid butterfly check-mark logo on packaged foods represents the most stringent third-party non-GMO verification in the United States.

Limiting, avoiding, or embracing GMO foods is a personal choice.

If you choose to limit your intake, eat more organic, fresh, and whole foods and non-GMO project-verified products to reduce your exposure and help preserve the environment.

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