So you’ve done your homework, and you’ve decided to keep genetically engineered (GMO) foods out of your diet. Maybe you’re concerned about your health, since (contrary to what the companies that create them claim) there is no scientific consensus about the safety of GMOs, and GMO crops are often sprayed with harsh chemicals like RoundUp. Maybe you prefer not to support biotech corporations like Monsanto, or you’re concerned about the impacts of GMO crops on farmers and the environment, or the chemicals they're 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, which is why we’re working to get clear, mandatory, on-package labels on GMOs.
Where GMO Ingredients Are Hiding in Your Food
A host of GMO crops have been approved for sale in the United States, from apples and potatoes to GMO salmon, which the FDA approved in late 2015 after long opposition from the public. New ones are released every year, and most GMOs on the shelves are unlabeled. Some may have a line on the label, like "partially produced with genetic engineering," but that isn't required.
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, and these crops sneak into your food in places you might not expect, from high-fructose corn syrup to sugar (made from sugar beets) to chemicals made from soybeans are used as additives in 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 — are likely derived from GMO crops. Livestock feed is also often made from GMO crops.
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 such 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
The organic label is a federal standard for how food is produced that 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, they can’t be grown with synthetic chemicals or treated with irradiation.
The Solution: Label GMO Foods
Polls show that 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 and decide for themselves whether to eat them. Nor can we 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. Companies are currently allowed to voluntarily disclose if they are using GMO ingredients – and few, if any, do.
Over sixty countries already require GMO labeling, and it’s time for the United States to do the same.
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