The fight to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods has always been a challenge. Large companies like Monsanto, Cargill, Nestlé, and others are opposed to GMO labeling. In 2012, California Proposition 37—a proposition seeking to label GMO food in California and keep said foods from being called “natural”—was rejected. The large companies mentioned earlier and their allies spent more than $46 million in the fight to keep this label from appearing on their products. Financial support for Prop 37 was more grassroots in nature and came in at $9.2 million.
Though other states are still fighting for labeling, the US is behind the times. More than 60 other countries around the world—including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union—have strict restrictions and bans on foods containing GMOs, yet both the US and Canada have failed to match these requirements.
Take heart: Just because our foods have yet to be labeled doesn’t mean you have to consume GMO-riddled products. Until states start passing labeling laws, here are some tips to get you through your grocery store without unwanted items.
>> Shop Organic
This is probably the easiest way to avoid GMOs. Anything that has been labeled “100-percent organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic ingredients” is safe for you and your family to eat.
>> Check Your Labels
Though GMOs are not usually clearly labeled on your foods, there are a few trustworthy labels out there that identify the absence of GMOs—look for anything on the packaging that says “Non-GMO Project Verified” or “USDA Organic.” They have easy-to-read labels that can be spotted with just a quick glance over the packaging.
>> Go Organic with Your Meats
Conventionally raised livestock are typically fed GMO-laden alfalfa, corn, and soy. Unfortunately, this comes out in the final product.
>> Watch Your Dairy Products Too
Regular (nonorganic) dairy products may have artificial hormones in them. To avoid those, look for the “No rBGH” and “No rBST” labels. Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is a genetically engineered variant of the growth hormone naturally produced by cows. According to the Organic Consumers Association, rBGH was created by Monsanto and sold to other dairy farmers as Posilac. This hormone boosted a cow’s milk production by about 10 percent, but it wasn’t without complications. Cows that were given Posilac had increased risk of mastitis, lameness, and reproductive issues. Monsanto decided to stop the use of rBGH in 2008—fortunately most other companies have followed suit.
Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) is a synthetic growth hormone similar to rBGH in that it forces cows to produce more milk.
>> Know Your GMO Food Crops
There is a plethora of crops used in many packaged foods. Cereal, frozen dinners, and condiments are just a few of the products often pumped with GMOs. Want to know which ingredients are likely to have GMOs? Here’s the list:
- Cotton seed
- Papaya (if they are from Hawaii or China)
- Sugar beets
- Yellow squash
>> Careful on the Sugar
Common knowledge tells us to stay away from high amounts of sugar, but now there is an even better reason we should lower our limits. If a label lists sugar but doesn’t specify cane sugar, it is a combo of sugar and genetically modified sugar beets. (This applies to nonorganic products made in North America.)
>> Pay Attention to Baby Formula
Infant formulas use milk or soy protein as a base. Soy products are often genetically modified, and milk can contain rBGH. Some companies even include GMO-laden corn syrup or soy lecithin in their formulas. If you want to avoid these, try Organic Baby, Little Duck Organics, Earth’s Best, Plum Organics, and other companies enrolled in the
Non-GMO Project standard. For more companies, check out nongmoshoppingguide.com.
>> Research New Apps
A good way to avoid GMOs at the grocery store is to download an app like Fooducate,
NxtNutrio, BuyCott, or any other GMO-related app. These apps let you scan barcodes on products where you shop and then identify if a GMO is present in the ingredient list. This way you have peace of mind with every product you put in your grocery cart.
>> Pick Certified Companies
There are companies out there that have already been certified GMO-free. Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Naturals, Attune Foods, Bob’s Red Mill, Eden Organics, and Rudi’s Bakery are some of the popular companies with GMO-free items. Dozens of other companies and their products can be found at gmo-awareness.com.
>> Ask Companies to Become Verified
Is there a company you like that hasn’t been verified yet? Just ask them! You can easily contact any of your favorite companies, whether through email or phone call, and ask them to get verified. If enough people do this they might be more willing to go through the verification process.
>> Utilize Local GMO-Free Sources
The best way to avoid GMOs is to shop at organic farms, community supported agriculture (CSAs), farmers’ markets, or organic restaurants in your area. Websites like eatwild.com, localharvest.org, organicfooddatabase.net, and dinegreen.com help keep you and your family in the know about where you can safely go. Oca-orca.org lists right-to-know grocery stores by region. Check it out to see if there is one near you.
Once you start incorporating these tips into your shopping etiquette, being GMO-free will be easier than you thought.
By Amy Vergin