Reader question… “I am wondering what are your thoughts on genetically modified foods? I am trying to avoid GMOs wherever I can, but I’m finding it’s very difficult and I feel like I’m in over my head because I don’t know what is Ok and what isn’t. I know that because of your soy allergy you have a lot of experience reading ingredient labels and knowing what goes in the food you buy, so my question to you is, do you think it is really important to avoid GMOs, and if your answer is yes, how do you personally do it?” –Janice G.

Avoiding genetically modified foods should be easier than it is. Some countries, including those in the European Union, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, have a mandatory labeling policy for GM food products. Manufacturers are required by law to show on the label if any of the ingredients have been genetically modified. OUR government takes the opposite approach and does NOT require manufacturers to disclose that the product is a GMO (genetically modified organism). I have yet to see a “contains GMOs” label, but it is encouraging that a few manufacturers have taken the initiative and are starting to label products as GMO-free.

At this time there are four crops that are considered to be the most commonly genetically modified crops in this country. These are corn, soy, canola, and cottonseed.

  • Corn… Over 86% of all corn planted in the United States in 2010 was genetically modified. Some sources include corn on the cob in the non-GMO group, but others do not. I have also read that popcorn and white corn have not yet been modified. Recently I telephoned several major supermarket chains to ask if their frozen corn is GMO-free, and I thought it was interesting that each company had a prepared answer ready that basically said they had no idea. We eventually found sources of frozen organic sweet corn that is labeled as GMO-free. We have tried two brands so far… one was absolutely tasteless… the other brand was OK but not something I would really want again. Both brands were about twice as expensive as the usual frozen corn.
  • Soy… Because I have been avoiding soy products for years, I have learned the hard way never to buy or eat anything unless I have studied the label because I have learned that despite the new labeling laws, many of the manufacturers still do not list allergen warnings for soy on their labels even though a soy derivative is in the product. Now that genetic modification is also a concern, those of you who are still eating soy might want to think about the fact that 93% of all soy is now genetically modified.
  • Canola… It’s amazing to me that so many nutritional “experts” are still telling people to choose canola oil for its healthy properties, because 90% of all canola crops in the United States have been genetically modified to resist herbicides. Unless the label specifically states otherwise, the canola oil on an ingredient list is almost certainly GMO.
  • Cottonseed oil is easy for me personally to avoid because we already don’t eat processed foods. Potato chips, mayonnaises and salad dressings, cake mixes, brownie mixes… even Bisquick… if it’s a processed or convenience food, there’s a good chance there is cottonseed oil or a cottonseed derivative in the product. And in the United States, 93% of the cotton crops are genetically modified.

I have spent weeks trying to find non-GMO replacements for some of the food items and baking supplies that I have used for years that now suddenly contain GMOs. The single ingredients are easier to avoid… it’s much more difficult to avoid the hidden ingredients or the derivatives made from corn and soy. Many people are already trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup, but how about the corn in baking powder, corn starch, or even the dextrose (corn sugar) that is hidden in so many products (for example, iodized table salt)? Unless you live in a bubble and grow everything you eat… and if you eat meat, eggs, and milk, unless you also grow everything the animals eat… OR know for certain that these sources are GM-free… it is impossible to avoid some consumption of genetically modified foods or ingredients.

So yes, I am personally concerned about genetically modified foods, and I am trying to avoid those I can. I have purchased GMO-free baking powder, corn starch, and corn meal. I am frustrated by the lack of information that is available from the manufacturers and by the prices of the GMO-free items I have been able to find so far.

Our best recourse in the absence of a “GMO-free” label is to look for products that are labeled “100% organic.” The “100%” is important… this is the only organic labeling that guarantees the food item has not been genetically modified and does not contain genetically modified ingredients. Understandably, these 100% organic products cost substantially more than similar products with GMOs. I think it is unfortunate that the choice is being taken away from us. Many people are being forced to include genetically modified foods in their diet… even if they don’t want to… as price becomes the deciding factor.