How to Avoid
Genetically Modified Food

genetically modified food

If you live in North America it is difficult to avoid purchasing products in the supermarket that do not contain at least some genetically modified food. But if you know how to identify which food is genetically modified you can keep your consumption of it to a minimum. Following are some tips on how you can avoid GM foods:

1. Buy foods that are labeled as being “100% organic.” U.S. and Canadian laws do not allow food labels that say “100% organic” to contain any genetically engineered food, including foods that have been fed genetically modified feed. Be aware, however, that if the food is simply labeled “organic” it can still contain up to 30% of genetically modified food.

2. Look for food labels that specify the product is “non-GM” or “GMO-free.” They are not common, but by supporting the manufacturers that produce products without genetically engineered food you encourage other manufacturers to follow their lead.

3. Know which products and the foods that derive from them are the most likely to have been the result of genetic engineering. For instance:

  • Soybeans - This includes soy flour, soy isolates, soy lecithin, soy protein and isoflavones. Ensure that soy based products such as tofu, soy milk, edamame and the like carry a food label stating it is organic to be sure it doesn't include GM foods.

  • Corn - The corn-based product most difficult to avoid is high fructose corn syrup. It is included in a large percentage of processed foods and baked goods, not to mention soda. Any food label with “corn” anything on it should be avoided unless it states it is 100% organic. Popcorn is an exception, as there is currently no genetically engineered popcorn on the market. Do avoid the kind with artificial “butter flavor” however, as the flavoring is likely to have genetically modified food in it. If you like, melt a little real butter to sprinkle on your plain popcorn.

  • Canola or Rapeseed - Canola oil, made from the rapeseed plant, comes almost certainly from genetically engineered crops, unless you are located in the EU, where no genetically modified crops of rapeseed exist. It is used extensively as cooking oil and in margarine, though is not a healthy oil to use due to its high levels of omega-6 fatty acids and because, like other polyunsaturated fats, goes rancid easily when heated.

  • Cottonseed oil - Cottonseed oil is a primary ingredient in shortening, vegetable oil and margarine, none of which are healthy fats. It is also used extensively in processed foods such as potato chips and other fried snack foods.

  • Dairy - To boost milk production, some farmers inject cows with the genetically engineered hormone rBGH or rBST. They also may be fed genetically modified food in the form of feed and hay unless the product specifically states that it is organic. Look for products that advertise themselves as rBGH- or rBST-free.

  • Sugar beets - There is no way of knowing if a product labeled as containing “sugar” comes from only sugar cane or if it also includes sugar derived from beets, as labeling is not required. To avoid beet sugar look for products labeled as being made with evaporated cane sugar, 100% cane sugar or organic sugar.

4. Avoid sweeteners that use aspartame. Aspartame is derived from genetically modified microorganisms and is the sweetener used in products such as NutraSweet® and Equal®. Artificial sweeteners in general are worse for your health than sugar and should be avoided whenever possible.

5. Buy fruit juices that are 100% juice. Most fruit juices apart from papaya are not from GM foods, but the sweetener used in many fruit juices (and sodas as well) is high fructose corn syrup, which is almost certainly from genetically modified corn.

6. The numbers on the stickers you find on produce indicate how the product was grown.

  • A 4-digit number indicates the food was conventionally grown.
  • A 5-digit number beginning with an 8 is a genetically modified food. However, not all GM foods can be identified because PLU labeling is optional.
  • A 5-digit number beginning with a 9 indicates it is organic.
grass fed beef

7. Buy 100% grass-fed meat.Though most cattle in the U.S. are grass-fed, they spend the last three to four months of their lives in feedlots where they may be given GM corn and other GM grain products in order to increase the amount of “marbling” in the meat. Meat from feedlot animals also has higher levels of saturated fat and less healthy omega 3 fatty acids than grass-finished animals.

To avoid meat with GMOs, make sure the animal was 100% grass-fed or pasture-fed (sometimes also referred to as grass-finished or pasture-finished). There is also the slight possibility that the animals were fed GM alfalfa, although this is less likely if you buy meat locally. For animals such as pigs and poultry that cannot be 100% grass-fed, it's better to look for meat that is labeled as 100% organic.

Look for wild caught fish instead of farm raised, as farm raised fish are fed fish meal containing GM grains and sometimes meat and bone meal. Eggs should be labeled 100% organic, as those labeled only “free-range“, “natural“, or “cage-free" are not necessarily free of genetically modified organisms.

8. Buy as much food as you can at local farmers' markets. Most genetically modified food comes from large industrial farms. At a farmers' market you can also talk directly with the farmer to find out how the food is grown. These markets usually provide a range of products, such as organic meat, grains, baked goods, etc. Another idea is to become a member of a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm where you receive a box of fresh, seasonal produce each week during the growing season. Your neighborhood co-op is another place to find healthy, non-GMO products. Local Harvest is a website where you can find the markets and farms nearest you.

9. Buy whole, fresh foods rather than processed ones. Foods that you cook and prepare yourself are almost always healthier than anything you can buy ready-made. And cooking healthy food doesn't have to be a big production. There are many simple but delicious and healthy meals that you can prepare in less than 30 minutes that do not involve any genetically modified food.

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