How to Avoid GMOs In Your Food

Published Mar 14, 2016


Food System

Are there GMOs lurking in your pantry? Without clear on-package labeling, GMO foods are surprisingly hard to avoid.

Are there GMOs lurking in your pantry? Without clear on-package labeling, GMO foods are surprisingly hard to avoid.

So you’ve done your homework, and you’ve decided to keep genetically engineered (GMO) foods out of your diet. Perhaps you’re concerned about your health, since (contrary to the claims of companies that create them) there is no scientific consensus about the safety of GMOs. Maybe you’re concerned that agribusinesses spray GMO crops with harsh chemicals like RoundUp

Maybe you prefer not to support biotech corporations like Monsanto. Or, maybe you’re concerned about the impacts of GMO crops on farmers and the environment, or the impact of the chemicals that such crops are bred to withstand.

Whatever your reasons, it should be easy to avoid buying foods with GMO ingredients. You should have the right to decide what you and your family eat. Unfortunately, the reality is a bit more complicated. That’s why we’re working to get clear, mandatory, on-package labels on GMOs.

Help us fight for transparency. Support work like this today!

Where GMO Ingredients Are Hiding in Your Food

The U.S. has approved a host of GMO crops for sale. They include everything from apples, to potatoes, to salmon, which the FDA approved in late 2015 after long opposition from the public. 

New ones hit the shelves every year, and most don’t have labels. Some may have a line on the packaging, like “partially produced with genetic engineering,” but companies don’t have to include it.

However, you’re most likely to find GMOs hiding in the ingredient lists on processed food. In 2014, 93% of corn and 94% of soybean acres in the U.S. were GMO. These crops sneak into your food in places you might not expect, from high-fructose corn syrup, to sugar (made from sugar beets), to soybean-derived chemicals added to processed foods. 

Additives including corn starch, corn meal, corn syrup, glucose, dextrose, canola oil, cottonseed oil, soy oil, soy flour, soy lecithin, and “protein extracts” — present in many processed foods — likely come from GMO crops. GMOs are also often ingredients in livestock feed.

Is it Non-GMO? Decoding Labels on Your Food

There are many labels in the supermarket that you might, quite reasonably, think mean a product contains no GMO ingredients. But these labels are often misleading. Here are some common ones and what they really mean:


You might not consider GMOs to be “natural,” but this term is barely regulated. A product labeled “natural” could well contain GMOs.

Non-GMO or GMO-Free

Some companies have responded to pressure from their customers by voluntarily labeling products that don’t contain GMOs.

Voluntary is the key word here: when some companies put this phrase on their labels, it means whatever the company chooses. There is also a third-party verified label, the Non-GMO Project Verified seal, which requires companies to comply with a certification program in order to use this label on their products.

Organic: Your Best Bet to Avoid GMOs in Food

“Organic” represents a federal standard for how companies or farmers produce their food. That standard requires a product to contain no GMO ingredients. This includes not only organic crops but meat as well: animals must eat only organically grown feed for their meat to be organic. 

Organic foods come with other benefits, too — for instance, companies can’t grow them with synthetic chemicals or treat them irradiation.*

The Solution: Label GMO Foods

Polls show that about 90% of Americans support mandatory labeling of GMO foods. Yet, no existing label gives people all the information they need to tell which foods contain GMO ingredients. That means people can’t decide for themselves whether to eat them. 

We also can’t rely on companies to voluntarily disclose their GMO ingredients.The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, which represents the biggest food companies, has spent millions of dollars lobbying against GMO labeling.

Our laws allow companies to voluntarily disclose if they’re using GMO ingredients — but few companies, if any, do.

Over sixty countries already require GMO labeling, and it’s time for the United States to do the same.

Help us fight for transparency. Support work like this today!

*Irradiation is the process of exposing food to ionizing radiation to extend shelf-life and kill pests, as well as viruses and bacteria.

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