Genetically Modified Foods

Food Laboratory

Genetically modified foods, sometimes called GMOs or GM foods, are foods that have been altered at the genetic level for the purpose of producing forms that have some new function or trait that producers find desirable. These foods may have a profound effect on the food supply.

Selective breeding happens when genes from two varieties of the same species are combined to produce a third variety with the favored characteristics. This practice has been carried on for thousands of years to produce new versions of crops with higher yields and hardier plants, and livestock that provides more meat.

Genetic Engineering is a newer way to modify foods and is characterized by the transfer of a single gene between two varieties of the same species or between two different species to produce a plant or animal that has characteristics that are more desirable to food producers. These transferred genes may come from plants, animals (including humans)bacteria, insects, or even viruses.

GMOs - It didn't stop with sheep

Another form of genetic engineering is cloning, where an animal is actually created through lab methods rather than by the natural breeding of two animals. At this writing, in the U.S., cloned animals are not allowed to be marketed as food, but their offspring may be sent to market with no distinction from their conventionally produced cousins. The FDA considers meat from animals produced by cloning to be the same as naturally produced meat.

GMOs - New dimension

Although selective breeding has been going on for many years, the introduction of genetically engineered foods and cloning has added a whole new dimension to the issue of genetically modified foods. It is one thing to transfer genes within a species, but the genetic transfer between species has given rise to a heated controversy that ranges from the ethical considerations, to environmental concerns to its long-term impact on health.

Click here for more information on the Food Supply and the pros and cons of GM foods.

Of course, it is almost impossible for the average consumer to avoid all foods that have been altered through selective breeding, since it has been going on for a very long time.However, if you wish to eat a minimum of GM foods, and particularly genetically engineered foods, here are some tips:

Click here for a printable copy of this list.

Ways to Minimize GMOs in Your Diet

--Buy organic. Foods that are labeled as 100% organic may not be produced using GMOs. Do not be fooled by products made with some organic ingredients, since they could also have some genetically modified ingredients.

--Buy locally from sources you know. The farmers market is a great place to buy foods that have been grown locally. Talk to the vendors about their farming practices. Sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with a local farm, where you can share in the crops, which are often produced organically with non-GMO seed.

--Grow your own food. Even a container garden on your patio will help decrease the amount of GM food that you're consuming.

--Buy foods from companies that label their products as Non-GMO. Lableling is voluntary, so companies who are willing to put the GMO free label on their products are a good bet. The health food section of your local grocery store will generally have brands such as Amy's, Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farm, Eden, Bob’s Red Mill, Health Valley Organic, Cascadian Farms, Hain, Muir Glen Organic.

--Limit consumption of corn products, since it is the most common GM ingredient in foods. Products, besides corn itself, that are made from corn include, corn syrup and other corn sweeteners such as fructose and cornstarch (often listed as "starch" or "modified food starch" on food labels).

--Other foods that are usually GM that you can limit or avoid are non-organic soy products, canola oil, cottonseed oil--also known as rapeseed oil, and sugar derived from sugar beets.

Regulations regarding GMOs

Most foods that have been genetically modified, either by selective breeding, genetic engineering or cloning, are not differentiated in the U.S. food supply, since the FDA does not consider them to be different from their original source. On the other hand, if a food has been substantially changed, such as in nutrient content or by the addition of a potential allergen, then the FDA requires that it be labeled accordingly.

These regulations may change as consumers and producers struggle to come to agreement on what should be required regarding GMOs.

Click here to go from Avoid GMOs page to Food Additives page.