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Avoiding GMOs: Three Easy Tips

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are plants or animals produced by genetic engineering. They were introduced into our food supply in the mid-1990s and are now common ingredients in packaged and processed foods in the United States.   

Not to be confused with traditional breeding techniques like open pollination or hybridization, genetic engineering involves modifying a plant or animal’s DNA in a lab by inserting, deleting or silencing genes with the goal of producing very specific traits. For instance, genetically engineered corn designed to survive being sprayed with pesticides that would otherwise kill it.

new labeling law will inform people whether or not a food has been produced with genetic engineering, but the law’s regulations are still being developed. In the meantime, if you want to pass on GMOs, here’s what you can do:

1. Avoid at-risk ingredients

Certain foods are more likely to be produced with genetic engineering than others. The majority of corn, soy and canola used in processed and packaged foods has been genetically engineered, unless the item is USDA Certified Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified. Look for common ingredients like canola oil, corn syrup and soy protein, for example. Most of our sugar in the United States comes from genetically engineered sugar beets (not sugarcane). So, if you’re in the mood for something sweet, look for desserts with “evaporated cane juice” listed in the ingredients or another alternative sweetener.

When you’re cooking at home using fresh produce, it’s easier to avoid genetic engineering. With the exception of some varieties of conventional zucchini, summer squash, sweet corn, apples, potatoes and papaya, you’re not likely to find genetically engineered produce.

Be aware that the vast majority of conventional farm animals eat genetically engineered corn, soy and alfalfa. You may also wish to seek out organic cotton, since most conventional cotton is genetically engineered as well. Certified organic products cannot be grown from GMO seeds, so choosing organic is an excellent way to avoid GMOs (see Tip #2).

Want this info at your fingertips? The Center for Food Safety offers a non-GMO shopping app for mobile devices.

2. Learn your labels

Certified organic products cannot be grown from genetically engineered seeds, including crops used as feed for organic livestock—so purchasing USDA Certified Organic food is one way to reduce your consumption of genetically engineered food. You can also look for the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal which means the product was independently tested and verified as having been produced without genetic engineering. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean the product offers all the other benefits of organic.

3. Look for locally grown products

There are lots of great reasons to choose locally grown products, and one of them is the availability of information. It’s much easier to know how food was produced when it’s grown closer to home, you may even have the opportunity to meet the producer!

Co-ops have strong relationships with local growers and producers in order to provide the freshest, highest quality products to shoppers—this includes products that are organic and not produced with genetic engineering.