Sunday, January 27, 2013

Safe Shopping: How to Avoid GMOs

By Melissa Diane Smith, Illustration by Dave Klug

More and more consumers are looking for ways to avoid genetically modified foods (GMOs).
Here's why — and how you can join them

What’s the quickest, easiest way to avoid buying foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? Look for the Non-GMO Project Verified seal and the USDA Organic seal on the label.

Increasing numbers of consumers are doing just that. The Non-GMO Project Verified label is the fastest growing label claim in the natural foods industry, and sales of organic food products in the United States continue to grow each year. The Non GMO Project is North America’s only independent verification program for products made according to the best practices for GMO avoidance, and USDA certified organic products cannot intentionally include any GMO ingredients.

So, why the growing trend to seek out and buy non-GMO foods?
Here are a few reasons:

  • The desire for pure food. Many say they want unadulterated real food and don’t want to be unwitting consumers of foods that have been tampered with and have not been safety tested.
  • The desire to protect the environment. A number of shoppers say they are disturbed about the ecological impacts of genetically modified (GM) foods: GM seeds can contaminate organic and non-GMO crops, and once released into the wild, they can’t be recalled. Also, the majority of GM foods are modified to be herbicide resistant and are sprayed with higher amounts of herbicides that pollute water and harm plants and wildlife.
  • The desire to protect health. Animal studies indicate that there may be health risks from consuming GM foods, including immune system and gastrointestinal problems. In humans, the rates of a number of conditions—including allergies and inflammatory bowel disease—have risen in tandem with the introduction of GM foods.

Not surprisingly, food purveyors are responding to the growing demand. A few hundred companies now have products enrolled in the Non-GMO Project, and those companies are submitting more and more products to be verified. As of June 2012, 6,000 products were currently enrolled in the Non-GMO Project, 4,000 of which were Non-GMO Project Verified.

Check the Label

The nine genetically modified foods currently on the market are: corn, canola, cottonseed, soybeans, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya (from Hawaii only), and some zucchini and yellow squash. GMOs are hidden in countless products that contain ingredients derived from these foods, such as cornstarch, canola and cottonseed oils, soy lecithin, and sugar made from sugar beets (“safe” sugar should be labeled organic or made from sugar cane). To avoid GMOs, steer clear of these at-risk foods and their derivatives.
Or look for 23 different categories of Non-GMO Project Verified products. These include non-GMO organic cheese, non-GMO chips, non-GMO cereals, and even non-GMO candy canes. To search the complete list of non-GMO products, visit

October Is Non-GMO Month

Watch for non-GMO featured products and specials at natural food stores in October, which was named Non-GMO Month three years ago by the Non-GMO Project in an effort to raise awareness. Last year, nearly 1,000 natural food stores throughout the United States and Canada took part. Additional information and listings of non-GMO events during the month can be found at
To look for organic products as a way of avoiding GMOs, search through the Organic Consumers Association Buying Guide (, and the list compiled by the Organic Kitchen (, an organic product, research, and marketing firm.

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