What Are GMOs?

What are GMOs?

GMO stands for genetically modified organism. Genetically modified foods have had their DNA (genetics) changed in order to gain some sort of advantage for those producing them. What kind of advantages?

  • Delayed ripening (longer shelf life)
  • Resistance to pesticides (avoiding crop wipeout due to insects)
  • Resistance to viruses or blight
  • Resistance to herbicides (weed killer)
  • Prevent bruising on fruits and vegetables (consumers purchase non-bruised items that are more attractive)

GMO foods contain material that cannot be found in nature.

GMO foods are approved in the United States, but in more than 60 other countries, including Japan, Australia, and the entire European Union, they have either greatly restricted or banned the selling of GMO foods.

In the United States the major companies that produce GMO foods are trying to prevent GMO labeling on food, as they know it would affect consumers’ opinions and consumption. Consumers have been fighting to have a label stating that a product contains GMOs; GMO producers are strongly lobbying and fighting against it. (Google California and Washington State GMO labeling bills for more information). As of 2013, 64 countries across the world require GMO labeling (again, excluding the U.S.)

There are numerous studies on GMOs, many say they are safe, many say they are harmful. The only thing I will say is this: one of the largest companies that produces industrial grade weed killer also produces GMO crops that are resistant to their herbicide. This one is easily Google-able if you want to learn more.

Below is a list of the most common genetically modified foods in the United States:*
  • Alfalfa (first planting 2011)
  • Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
  • Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop; approximately 988 acres)
  • Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Sugar Beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop in 2010)
  • Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approx. 25,000 acres)
*This information was taken directly from The Non-GMO Project’s website, nongmoproject.org
This list is important because so much of our food in the United States is packaged and contains oil as a preservative. The oils are often canola, corn, soybean, and/or cotton seed, and are therefore at a high risk of being GMO. “Vegetable” oil also contains a combination of those same oils, which means it too is most likely GMO.
-Soy is in numerous packaged products, including salad dressings, soups, powdered beverages and non-dairy creamers, cheese, frozen desserts, whipped toppings (frozen and in cans), infant formula, cereals, pasta, soy sauce and other Asian products, and pet foods. The list goes on and on and on.
-Corn is also an issue. Corn is the one that saddens me the most since there are few things better than eating corn in the summer. But that corn, even if it comes from a farm market, is most likely GMO. Corn seeds can cross-pollinated with other corn up to 20 miles away! That means even if you have non-GMO corn growing in your yard, if there is a farm growing GMO corn within 20 miles, your corn is at risk. Many farmers growing organic corn were shocked to find that their crop no longer qualified as organic- why? Cross pollination from another farm. I have yet to find USDA Organic/non-GMO fresh corn in a grocery store, but it is readily available canned or frozen.
-Corn syrup (from GMO corn, as most is) is in many, many packaged foods as a sweetener. For the companies making these products it is more readily available and cheaper, thus they use it over sugar. A few years ago there were corn syrup ads on TV saying that corn is “just like sugar” and that “everything is fine in moderation.” I specifically remember one with a girl eating a Popsicle. Where are those ads now?

If you are looking to avoid GMOs, it is best to make sure that any of the listed items above that you purchase are Non-GMO Project Verified and/or USDA Organic. You can pretty much guarantee that grocery store non-organic corn, soybeans (edamame), sugar beets, alfalfa sprouts, papaya, zucchini, and yellow summer squash are all GMO. Non-organic corn syrup, soy sauce, vegetable oil, canola oil, cotton seed oil are also most likely GMO.

How can you avoid GMO foods?
Luckily for us, there is a non-profit organization, The Non-GMO Project, that verifies that foods do not contain GMOs. Once verified, companies can put the Non-GMO Project seal on their foods so that consumers know. I look for their logo on everything! They have already verified thousands of items, and are in the process of verifying thousands more. Their website is my bible: nongmoproject.org. You can look up any items you already purchase to see if they’ve been verified or look up items while you shop if you’re looking to make non-GMO choices. The site is clear and very easy to navigate. Please note: many items that are non-GMO verified do not have the seal on the front, such as Organic Valley dairy products. Therefore, it is important to look the item up if it doesn’t have the seal on the package.
Also, the USDA Organic seal means the foods or products that bear it are non-GMO. Get more information here.
USDA Organic
However, it is important to note that non-GMO does not necessarily mean organic.
If an item is Non-GMO Project verified and has the seal on its packaging, but not the USDA Organic seal, the product was made with non-GMO ingredients but those ingredients were most likely grown using pesticides or herbicides. Its kind of like what we learned in math class growing up: every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square. Same thing here: every USDA Organic product is non-GMO but not every non-GMO verified product is USDA Organic.
Organic Non-Gmo Facts
Therefore, if you are looking for the best of the best, non-genetically modified foods that were grown without chemicals or pesticides, look for items that have BOTH the Non-GMO verified seal AND the USDA Organic seal.
Organic Non-GmoNote: If the product just has the USDA Organic seal it is non-GMO, so you only really need to look for that, but the Non-GMO Project is a third-party and verifies that what the USDA has stated is true.
Another great site for information on GMO Awareness

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