HOW TO AVOID GENETICALLY MODIFIED (GM) FOODS
Although biotech companies claim that genetically modified foods are safe, many scientists and consumer organizations warn of serious potential health dangers. The following tips can help you stay away from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Organic foods are not allowed to contain GM ingredients. Although there are a percentage of non-organic ingredients allowed in foods labeled organic, even these non-organic ingredients are not allowed to contain GMOs. (Just as with the organic ingredients, however, there is no testing required and it is possible that some contamination may have occurred.)
There are three categories of genetically modified (GM) foods: crops, dairy products and meat, and enzymes and additives created from GM bacteria and fungus. Not everyone who conscientiously avoids GM foods chooses to be strict in all categories. I mention this so that the task does not seem so daunting or difficult. It’s also a good idea to have a family member or a friend to make the change with you.
The site www.truefoodnow.org offers an extensive list of foods by brand and category, indicating if they have GM ingredients.
If you take the step of going non-GMO, I encourage you to let the manufacturers of your "former" favorite foods know that you have stopped eating them until they confirm that they have removed GM ingredients. Only a small percentage of the population making this switch may do the trick to convince major manufacturers to go non-GMO. In fact, if one of the largest food manufacturers makes the switch, it might create a landslide of other companies also removing GMOs. This happened in England, where all the major food manufacturers committed to remove GM ingredients in the same week, following the announcement by Unilever.
Currently, the major genetically engineered crops are soy, cotton, canola, and corn. Other modified crops include some U.S. zucchini and yellow squash, Hawaiian papaya, and some tobacco. GM potatoes and tomatoes have been taken off the market.
Dairy and Meat
U.S. dairy products may contain milk from cows injected with rbGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone). And both meat and dairy products usually come from animals that have eaten GM feed.
Enzymes, additives, sweeteners
Genetically modified bacteria and fungi are used in the production of enzymes, vitamins, food additives, flavorings and processing agents in thousands of foods on the grocery shelves as well as health supplements. Aspartame, the diet sweetener, is a product of genetic engineering.
Unlike many nations around the world, in the United States and Canada GM foods are not labeled. Avoiding them, therefore, is both a science and an art. Here are some techniques.
Most generic vegetable oils and margarines used in restaurants and in processed foods in North America are made from soy, corn, canola, or cottonseed—the four major GM crops. Unless these oils specifically say "Non-GMO" or "Organic," it is probably genetically modified. Non-GM substitute oils include olive, sunflower, safflower, butter (see dairy below), almond, and just about any other oil available.
Soy and Corn Derivatives
Most packaged foods contain soy and/or corn in some form: as soy flour, soy protein, soy lecithin, textured vegetable protein, corn meal, corn syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin, fructose, citric acid, lactic acid, and of course, soy or corn oil. To avoid them you’ll have to check the list of ingredients. For each type of food, there is usually a brand that is non-GM. These are often found in health food stores, but there are also plenty in supermarkets—depending on the food. Mayonnaise, for example, which is traditionally made with soy oil, comes in both non-GM soy and safflower varieties.
According to Cornell University’s website Genetically Engineered Organisms, Public Issues Project (GEO-PIE), only 3 to 5 percent of the sweet corn in the U.S. is GM, and it is very unlikely that popcorn or canned sweet corn are engineered.
Foods that may contain GM soy or corn derivatives or GM vegetable oil include: infant formula, salad dressing, bread, cereal, hamburgers and hotdogs, margarine, mayonnaise, crackers, cookies, chocolate, candy, fried food, chips, veggie burgers, meat substitutes, ice cream, frozen yogurt, tofu, tamari, soy sauce, soy cheese, tomato sauce, protein powder, baking powder, alcohol, vanilla, powdered sugar, peanut butter, enriched flour and pasta. Non-food items include cosmetics, soaps, detergents, shampoo, and bubble bath.
Fruit and Vegetables
More than 50 percent of papaya from Hawaii is genetically modified to resist a virus. Most U.S. papayas come from Brazil, Mexico, or the Caribbean, however, where there are no GM varieties. According to GEO-PIE, your chances of encountering a GM papaya "are highest in Hawaii or the continental west coast." Some zucchini and yellow crookneck squash are also GM but they are not popular with farmers.
Honey can be produced from GM crops. For example, some Canadian honey comes from bees collecting nectar from canola. This has shut down exports of Canadian honey to Europe.
Dairy Products About 22 percent of cows in the U.S. are injected with recombinant (genetically modified) bovine growth hormone (rbGH). Dairies generally collect their milk from many sources. In the U.S., if a dairy product is not labeled organic, non-GMO, or made without hormones, it is likely that a portion of the product came from cows that were injected with rbGH. You can always call or email the dairy to find out. Also, non-organic dairy farms typically use GM feed. No studies have been done on whether that affects the milk.
Meat and Eggs
Organic meat and eggs come from animals that have been raised without hormones and with feed that is non-GMO. So-called "natural" meat is usually free of hormones and antibiotics, but the animal may have been raised on GM feed. If you want to avoid this, you’ll need to ask the producer.
GM Additives, Cooking Aids, Vitamins, and Enzymes
Genetic engineering is used in the production of many food additives, flavorings, vitamins, and processing aids, such as enzymes. According to the Non-GMO Source, "Such ingredients are used to improve the color, flavor, texture, and aroma of foods and to preserve, stabilize, and add nutrients to processed foods."
Among vitamins, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is often made from corn, vitamin E is usually made from soy. Vitamins A, B2, B6, and B12 may be derived from GMOs as well. In addition, vitamin D and vitamin K may have "carriers" derived from GM corn sources, such as starch, glucose, and maltodextrin. In addition to finding these vitamins in supplements, they are sometimes used to fortify foods. Organic foods, even if fortified with vitamins, are not allowed to use ingredients derived from GMOs.
Flavorings can also come from corn or other GM sources. For example, "hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), a commonly used flavor enhancer derived from corn and soy could be GMO," says the Non-GMO Source. Vanillin can also be GM.
"Genetically engineered bacteria and fungi are routinely used as sources of enzymes for the manufacture of a wide variety of processed foods," says GEO-PIE. The live organisms are not added to the foods themselves. Rather, they are grown in vats and produce large quantities of enzymes. The enzymes are removed, purified, and used in food production. Oftentimes, the enzymes get destroyed during the cooking process and are not present in the final product. As such, they are rarely listed on the label.
One common enzyme is called chymosin, which is used in the production of hard cheeses. In the past, it was taken from the stomach linings of calves (called rennet). Since the GM variety was introduced in 1990, more than 70 percent of U.S. cheeses now use this variety. It is not allowed in organic cheese. Xanthan gum is another product that may be derived from a GM process.
Avoiding GM additives is difficult, since the label will rarely list them. You can find a list of GM enzymes and their uses at www.seedsofdeception.com or in the book’s appendix B.
The company Vector has a GMO tobacco being sold under the brand of Quest® cigarettes in the U.S. It is engineered to produce low or no nicotine.
Some GM foods are easier to avoid than others. By eating organic foods and reducing the amount of processed foods in your diet is a good way to start. I offer more tips on eating non-GMO in restaurants, in my book: ”Seeds of Deception”
© 2003 Jeffrey M. Smith- All Rights Reserved
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Jeffrey M. Smith has been involved with genetically modified (GM) foods for nearly a decade. He worked for non-profit and political groups on the issue and in 1998, ran for U.S. Congress to raise public awareness of the health and environmental impacts. To protect children-who are most at risk from the potential health effects of GM foods-Smith proposed legislation to remove the foods from school meals. He also proposed legislation to help protect farmers from cross-pollination by GM crops. Later, he was vice president of marketing for a GMO detection laboratory.
Smith has lectured widely, spoken at conferences, and has been quoted in articles around the world. Prior to working in this field, he was a writer, educator, and public speaker for non-profit groups, advancing the causes of health, environment, and personal development. This book Seeds of Deception, researched and written after he left the industry, combines Smith's passion for these causes with his extensive knowledge of the risks and cover-ups behind genetically modified foods.
Smith is the founding director of the Institute
for Responsible Technology, a member of the Sierra Club Genetic Engineering
Committee, and a member of the advisory board of the Campaign to Label
Genetically Engineered Foods. He has a master's degree in business administration
and lives with his wife in Iowa, surrounded by genetically modified corn
and soybeans. Website: www.seedsofdeception.com
"U.S. dairy products may contain milk from cows injected with rbGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone). And both meat and dairy products usually come from animals that have eaten GM feed."