As we enter the harvest and approach a holiday season full of important meals, celebrating Non-GMO Month this October is a great opportunity to practice avoiding GMOs in the grocery store.
GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding, and many shoppers prefer to avoid them. While changing shopping habits can seem intimidating at first, by following these basic tips you can feel confident that you know what you’re feeding your friends and family.
Fortunately, the produce aisle is not only full of healthy, fresh choices, but is also the easiest place in the store to avoid GMOs. Choose organic produce to avoid chemical pesticides and herbicides, and try to buy local produce to support a strong, sustainable regional economy and your local farmers. Watch out for papaya from Hawaii, zucchini and yellow summer squash, and sweet corn, all of which are common GMO crops. The Non-GMO Project has verified a handful of fresh produce items, with more being added to the list every day.
There are no genetically modified animals on the market, but GMO corn and soy are common ingredients in feed. Look for Non-GMO Project Verified dairy, eggs, meat and fish for assurance that the animals have been fed a non-GMO diet. Choosing organic, grass-fed or wild-caught is a risk-reduction strategy when a Verified option isn’t available.
If you’re scooping from a bin in the bulk aisle, a lot of what you’ll find is low risk, and with single ingredient foods, it’s much easier to know what you are getting. Most beans, grains and spices are good to go, but if you need something like trail mix, granola, or soup mix, you’ll want to find a version without high-risk ingredients, or choose a Non-GMO Project Verified option.
The products you find in boxes, cans and bottles in the center aisles of the store have the highest risk for containing GMOs. Corn, soy, canola and sugar beets show up on lots of ingredient panels, both in recognizable forms and also hiding in other, more processed ingredients. Oils, sweeteners, flavorings and vitamins are just a few of the many examples of ingredients derived from high-risk crops. In many cases it is difficult, if not impossible, to assess GMO risk just by looking at an ingredient label. Your best bet with these types of foods is to look for the Non-GMO Project Verified label. For the gold standard in food quality and safety, look for products that also bear the organic label.
Just like packaged foods, supplements often contain many additives that are highly processed corn and soy derivatives. The food-based vitamin and supplement industry is working hard to increase transparency in their ingredient sourcing, and there is a growing list of Non-GMO Project Verified choices.
For a handy printout of GMO risk crops and other basic facts, visit the Non-GMO Project website, www.nongmoproject.org. There you can also find a complete list of Non-GMO Project Verified products and many more useful resources. Finally, for special inspiration planning and making non-GMO meals, check out the Non-GMO Project Cookbook, available starting in October 2013.
At this time, genetically engineered varieties of the following U.S. and Canadian crops are in widespread commercial production: corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, cotton, papaya, zucchini and yellow summer squash. The Non-GMO Project also monitors wheat, rice, flax, and relatives of beets, canola and squash to ensure absence of contamination.