Photo: Corn in genetic engineering laboratory

by Sabra Leomo, RD

Food is undergoing constant change. Farmers have been saving seeds from plants that have desirable traits and using them for future crops. Crossbreeding different varieties of plants, like tomatoes, has led to sweeter and/or larger tomatoes. Change is a positive thing when it is proven to be safe and effective over time.

The technique of genetic engineering is much newer than traditional cross breeding methods and was introduced to our food supply in the mid-1990s. Genetically Modified Organisms, commonly referred to as GMOs, are organisms whose genetic material has been modified or altered through genetic engineering. These manipulations to DNA do not occur in nature or through traditional cross breeding methods, rather they are engineered in a lab. Typically GMOs are manipulated to be resistant to insects, disease or to tolerate herbicides.

In the United States it is estimated that around 80% of conventional processed food contains GMO ingredients. The concern over whether or not genetically modified foods are safe to eat or not is a complex issue with many questions unanswered. Although more than 60 countries require labeling of GMOs, mandatory labeling of GMO foods is currently not a law in the United States. This lack of transparency and labeling can make shopping challenging if you are trying to avoid GMOs in your food. At this time, it may not be possible to completely avoid all foods that contain GMOs but you can definitely minimize the amount that you consume. Follow these tips to make your non-GMO shopping trips a little easier.

  • Buy organic foods that are labeled 100% organic. Organic foods are not allowed to use genetically modified seeds. One caveat, if the food item states that it contains “organic ingredients” vs. being 100% organic it may contain GMOs.

If you are watching your food budget like most of us are, check the sales ad before you shop. You can find substantial savings if you plan your shopping trip around sales and stock up whenever possible. Check Down to Earth’s monthly Super Saver Deals flyer for sales and as a bonus…Non-GMO Project Seals are shown on the sales ad.

Save money and time reading labels!

  • To make label reading easier, choose whole and unprocessed foods whenever possible. Foods that are processed may contain “hidden” additives that come from genetically modified sources. An example would be a processed food item, like a granola bar, that contains soy lecithin which may be sourced from genetically modified soy. Whole and un-processed foods don’t have as many ingredients for you to decipher.
  • Look for the Non-GMO labels on the food items that you buy. The food items may contain a Non-GMO Project Seal or the package may say “Made without Genetically Modified Ingredients”. Many food companies seek certification on their own to have their products certified as non-GMO.
  • If a food item isn’t organic or doesn’t have a Non-GMO Project seal, avoid products that come from the most common GMO crops. This includes corn, soy, canola, papaya, zucchini and yellow summer squash, sugar beets and cottonseed.

Until more research is available on the health, safety, environmental impact and crop-yield success of GMOs, mandatory labeling is warranted so that consumers can make informed choices. In the meantime, label reading and smart shopping strategies are the next best steps you can take if you want to minimize GMOs in your diet.