Overview of Genetically Modified Food

Why You Should Avoid GM Food

Genetically modified food (GM food) have been a hot topic since the first discovery. Tinkering with how organisms are made may seem futuristic but most of us have consumed GMO without even knowing it. This article will highlight what GM foods are, their pros and cons and what foods you should watch out for. 


What are genetically modified foods?

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is created in the lab using scientific methods to splice characteristics or traits of one plant on to the DNA of another plant in order to obtain a desired result (such as resistance to pests to higher yield results). While on the outside this may appear to be a potentially beneficial process for humans, the negatives associated with genetic engineering (GE) and genetic modification (GM) are quite substantial.


Negative impacts of genetically modified food 

If you have yet to do any reading on the concerns many scientists and medical professionals are raising about genetically modified foods and agriculture, you’ve got a bit of catching up to do. Genetical engineering is a highly complex issue with far-reaching impacts on the earth as a whole and on individuals, too. But to get you up to speed, the Organic Consumer’s Association (OCA) has a very good summary of the major hazards of promoting genetically engineered crops and foods, and here are the highlights:

  • Toxins and poisons, causing disabilities, short and long-term health problems, and even death in some cases.
  • Increased cancer risk because of genetically engineered hormones given to feed animals.
  • Skyrocketing food allergies as a result of foreign proteins being spliced into the gene structures of our foods.
  • Reduced food quality and nutritional values.
  • Increased exposure to pesticide residues because of the agrochemicals being used on GE crops (contrary to GE propaganda which argues that these crops don’t need as many chemical treatments).
  • Genetic pollution as bees, birds, and insects pollute non-GMO crops with GM genetic matter, resulting in the potential loss of wild species of plants and insects.
  • Reduction in the populations of beneficial insects and soil fertility.
  • Contributions to the creation of superbugs and superweeds as well as new viruses and pathogens as these pests become immune to the herbicides and pesticides genetically built into GE crops.
  • Dismantling of small farm systems that support farming families. [1]

If that’s not enough to convince you, check out the following campaigns that will educate you on all of the intricacies of genetically modified organisms and their hazards for the planet and for your body:


Examples of genetically modified foods

There are only a few GM vegetables and fruits that are allowed to be distributed and/or grown in the US, yet because these are highly versatile foods, they can be found in a vast number of processed and prepared foods - everything from soda to potato chips to veggie burgers to pasta. These are the genetically engineered crops allowed in the US food supply:[2]

  • Corn (including canola and corn oils, high fructose corn syrup, etc)
  • Cotton (including cottonseed oil)
  • Flax
  • Papaya
  • Potatoes
  • Radicchio
  • Rapeseed
  • Rice
  • Soybeans
  • Squash/zucchini
  • Sugarbeets
  • Tomatoes




  How to avoid GMOs in your diet  



It can be a challenge to really avoid genetically modified foods in your diet, whether you’re buying organic or not. Believe it or not, between 70% and 75% of all processed foods available in grocery stores in the US are made with at least one genetically engineered ingredient, so you can imagine that GE foods will be hidden in ingredient lists of many of your favorite foods.[3] But there are things you can do to minimize and in fact completely cut GMOs from your diet if you work at it.

  1. Buy organic foods: By nature, Certified Organic foods cannot contain GMOs and are therefore a safe bet if you’re trying to stay away from genetically modified ingredients in your diet. 
  2. Recognize the codes: GMO produce is given a five digit code that is used by the tellers as they bag your food which starts with an “8”. You can recognize organic produce by the five-digit code that starts with a “9”. Non-organic foods will only have a four digit code.
  3. Scan ingredient lists: If you’re looking for packaged foods like pizza or pasta sauce, scan the ingredient list. If it contains any of the foods listed above (especially corn, soybeans, canola, or cottonseed), it is 70% to 75% likely to contain GMOs. Either choose a product without these ingredients or look for an organic option instead.
  4. Shop by brand: There are certain brands that have sworn off of GMOs as much as possible. Many are participating in the Non-GMO Project Standard Product Verification Program for best practices of GMO avoidance.
  5. Scan by labels: There are certification bodies that work to ensure consumers are informed if their food has GM ingredients. Ecolife's article on Certified Organic Labels lists a few for you. 

To get even more advice about avoiding GM foods in tonight’s dinner menu, check out these GMO-free guides to shopping and eating:

  • Participating Products database - Non-GMO Project: Browse by product type or brand to find out which of your favorites are GM free and which are not.
  • Non-GMO Shopping Guide - Institute for Responsible Technology: This guide provides basic guidelines as well as recommended brands and foods for a GMO-free pantry. The website also has ideas for how to dine out on a GMO-free diet and ideas for how you can help prevent the spread of these crops.



1 Cummins, R. (n.d.). Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops. Retrieved June 21, 2010, from Organic Consumers Association: http://www.organicconsumers.org/ge/gefacts.pdf

2 Genetically engineered crops allowed in the US food supply. (n.d.). Retrieved June 21, 2010, from Say No to GMOs: http://www.saynotogmos.org/avoiding_gmos.htm

3 Genetic Engineering: The Future of Foods?(n.d.). Retrieved June 21, 2010, from US Food and Drug Administration: http://www.enotalone.com/article/8960.html

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