Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are becoming ubiquitous in the food supply, whether as whole foods found in the produce section of your grocery store or as ingredients incorporated into the processed foods you buy.
Unlike many countries in the world, the US doesn’t require the labeling of GMOs on food products. This means that the only way to be sure you’re avoiding them is by purchasing food that is specifically labeled as not being a GMO (in the case of whole foods) or containing any GMOs (in the case of processed foods).
Should You Be Worried About Genetically Modified Foods?
The first question you need to answer is this: Does it even matter? Why worry about genetically modified foods? After all, there seem to be lots of studies out there saying that GMOs are safe, right? But here’s the thing— not all research studies are created equal. One way the potential impacts of GMO foods are tested is by feeding GMOs to rats.
The studies that say GMOs are safe tend to feed rats the GMO food for 90 days, which for humans is the equivalent of 15 years. But when you think about it, we all eat several times a day every day for many more years than just 15. What about the long-term impact?
Along comes a study from France that fed rats GMO corn for two years, the equivalent of 60 human years. Now that’s more like it! And what happened? The rats that ate GMO corn (whether it made up 11%, 22%, or 33% of their diet) died earlier and in greater number. Needless to say, proponents of GMO food ween’t thrilled with the results of this study.
Should you be worried? It’s a decision only you can make, but I’m certainly not interested in finding out the long-term impact of eating GMO foods!
How are GMO Foods Even Made?
Plants are genetically modified by taking a gene from one organism’s DNA and splicing it into the DNA of another organism. This is often done to quickly give a plant some kind of characteristic that will help farmers be more successful in growing it. For example, a particular fish gene spliced into a tomato plant made the tomato plant more resistant to frost.
Another example is cassava, a starchy tuber that is a staple food for many in spite of the fact that it has little protein and lots of cyanide. What to do? Using certain genes from corn and beans, scientists were able to induce a four-fold increase in cassava’s protein while at the same time reducing the cyanide content by 55%. Great!
But again, what are the unintended consequences of all this genetic engineering of our food supply? We simply don’t know. And yet, somehow, the GMO food industry has been given a total pass to do whatever they want, and everyone is supposed to just consider these foods safe until proven otherwise.
As previously mentioned, the US doesn’t require GMO labeling, so you can’t even make an informed decision about your food if you wanted to. California tried to pass its own GMO labeling law back in 2012 with Proposition 37. It failed to pass, no doubt thanks in part to the more than $25 million that GMO companies and processed food manufacturers spent campaigning against it.
Since these foods are a part of reality, knowledge will go a long way toward avoidance. When you’re wandering the grocery store wondering where the GMOs are lurking, keep an eye out for the top eight worst GMO foods.
GMO Food #1: Corn
More than 90% of all corn is GMO. Of course, you can just buy certified organic corn on the cob to eat. But in terms of processed foods, you have to keep an eye out for corn oil, high fructose corn syrup, and corn flour. It’s everywhere.
GMO Food #2: Canola
More than 87% of all canola oil comes from genetically modified rape plant seeds, and because it’s an oil, it’s a very concentrated dose of the GMO plant. Not many people still cook with canola oil, but look at the ingredients of processed foods and you’ll find it in lots of them.
GMO Food #3: Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash
These are one case where you don’t have to worry about them sneaking into processed foods, so you can easily avoid the GMO versions of zucchini and summer squash by simply buying certified organic.
GMO Food #4: Cotton
You may or may not have known that 93% of all cotton has been genetically modified, but what you probably don’t know is how much cotton ends up in the food supply. This is through processed foods that use cottonseed oil as an ingredient. That’s in addition to the fact that cotton is one of the most heavily treated crops in terms of being sprayed with chemicals.
GMO Food #5: Soy
More than 93% of all soybeans grown in the world are GMOs. It’s easy enough to say no to the tofu, but soy is very sneaky when it comes to processed foods. The ingredients to avoid include MSG (monosodium glutamate), textured vegetable protein, teriyaki, soy protein isolate, soy sauce, mono and di-glycerides, and soybean oil.
GMO Food #6: Alfalfa
Skipping the alfalfa sprouts is one thing, but GMO alfalfa is used to feed dairy cows, which means GMO alfalfa is in a lot of the milk supply.
GMO Food #7: Sugar Beets
Sugar beets win the prize, since more than 95% of them are GMOs. Unless your white sugar is specifically labeled as “pure cane sugar,” it’s made from sugar beets. And (of course) it’s found in many, if not most, processed foods.
GMO Food #8: Papaya
More than 80% of all papayas are GMOs. You don’t typically have to worry about fresh fruits being GMOs, but papaya is an exception. And although you may not often eat fresh papaya, where it shows up is in beauty products. Many lotions, creams, shampoos, and conditioners contain papaya enzymes or extract. And anything you won’t eat also probably shouldn’t be put on your skin.
Your two best options when it comes to avoiding GMO foods are to buy organic and to avoid processed foods as much as possible. It can be extremely confusing to find food the way nature intended it, but if you keep your eyes peeled you can do pretty darn well!