I wasn’t planning on six of the seven of us getting sick one after the other over the last few weeks with some sort of virus which has caused this post to be delayed much longer than I hoped. That and the four bushels of tomatoes I was canning and turning into sauce has kept me away from writing the past two weeks.
My last heavy post was all about why GMO’s are harmful and really something that you should want OUT of your diet. You can read it here if you missed it.
So let’s get some good news rollin’ and see what can be done to try to AVOID GMO’s as much as possible.
Let me say this as well. I don’t really see how it’s possible to not ever consume GMO’s in your diet. Now, that doesn’t give you an excuse not to try, but it does mean that our food system is rather contaminated so you might find it a bit frustrating when you realize how prevalent they are and how many changes you might have to make.
Go slowly if you need to. Every ounce of GMO’s that are out of your body is a good thing. Don’t try to be perfect because perfect just doesn’t exist in the food world. I’m still going to eat out occasionally, I’m still eating in other people’s homes and at parties and special events. GMO’s will most likely be in those foods.
So for me, I do the best I can at home and I try to avoid GMO’s when I’m out if I can help it. But when I’m out, I give thanks and try not to stress about it.
But really, it’s about steps. Small changes. Baby steps if you will. Sort of like, Bob. Remember him?
Baby steps, friends. Keep that in mind. So, here we go.
These are the major GM crops in our country: alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, soy, sugar beets, zucchini and yellow summer squash, and papaya.
I look at zucchini, yellow squash, and papaya as not the main issue here. Maybe because I only buy zucchini locally and ask my farmer if they’re GM. Or maybe because I don’t eat papaya. Those aren’t the major ones to be concerned about (although you shouldn’t eat them if you’re not sure they’re GM). What concerns me about these crops is more that a “successful” GM happened and it can happen with other crops (like the apple that could potentially hit the market).
You might look at that list and think, no big deal, right? I don’t eat alfalfa or use canola oil or even know what sugar beets are.
Here are the main problems with avoiding the above list.
- They are in just about every processed food around. No joke! Over 80% of processed food in the grocery store contains one or more of these GM crops.
- They hide in ingredients and additives.
- Almost our entire seed supply of the five biggest crops listed are GM. Did you know that about 90% of canola, corn and cotton grown in the US is GM? And that 94-95% of all sugar beets (used to make sugar) and soy is GM. And that stuff is in everything!
- Alfalfa (in addition to corn and soy) is fed to cattle. Cattle is then eaten or used for dairy products like butter, yogurt, sour cream, cheese, ice cream etc… So most likely your dairy, unless labeled as certified-organic, is GM. Chickens are supplemented with feed that is GM contaminated. So there goes your chickens and eggs that are likely GM.
So, if you’re trying to avoid GMO’s, what should you do?
Here are a few practical tips to get you started.
- Read labels
One of the most important things you can do as a consumer is read labels. Now, I realize that when you’re in the grocery store with your young kids running around, reading labels is hard. You might find that you sort of give it a quick scan, decide it’s probably fine, and assure yourself next time you’ll take more time to check the labels.
When you’re first teaching yourself to read labels, you can just start with the packages you have at home, rather than at the store when your time for shopping is already limited. Be a little crazy and make it an “at-home-date-night.” Read over the list of ingredients I’m posting further down, or do some further research and have a general list of the ingredients nearby that you are trying to avoid. You can download the non-gmo shopping guide here and keep it with you.
Start with one label from something in your pantry. Keep track of all the ingredients that might be GM to get an idea of how many you find in a product. You could even write them down and tally how many you find. That part isn’t as important as just training yourself to know what you are looking for. Once you start reading labels, it will get easier to recognize ingredients you are trying to avoid while you’re shopping.
Sometimes it will be obvious on the label if a product is GM. For example, if you see “canola oil” or “soybean oil” on the label, it’s going to be GM. Here are some examples of other ingredients you will see that are obviously from a GM source.
Corn: high fructose corn syrup, corn meal, corn syrup, corn starch and corn flour
Soy: soybean oil, soy protein, soy isolates, soy lecithin, tamari, vegetable proteins, TVP, soy sauce
If a product says “vegetable oil,” it’s likely GM because the likely ingredient is canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil or cottonseed oil. Vegetable oils you want to avoid anyway because they are likely rancid by the time they hit the shelves of the store.
If a product lists “sugar” as an ingredient, you really have no way of knowing if sugar beets were used or if cane sugar was used. I’ve sometimes seen “pure cane sugar” listed on a product. That should be non-GMO because sugarcane is currently not a GM crop. However, you can’t be totally sure it hasn’t been combined with beet sugar at some point. So unless a product says “organic sugar,” chances are it’s GM. I’ve taken my chances with buying products that list pure cane sugar with the hopes the company is listing it correctly. Just know that you can’t be totally sure unless it says organic.
Now, many of those are pretty obvious since the label clearly names the big five crops. But what about the invisible ingredients? The ones derived from soy or canola or corn that you might not realize come from those places?
You can check out the complete list of invisible ingredients here from the Non-GMO shopping guide provided by the IRT. They list almost 100 ingredients you might see on a label that are from GM sources. Chances are, these kinds of ingredients are ones you skip over, simply because you’re not sure what they are, or because you can pronounce them and you’ve been told if you can pronounce the ingredient, it’s ok. That rule works sometimes by the way, but not always.
Oh, heck, just for fun, I’ll list them here for you, just the ones I didn’t mention above.
Aspartame (another reason to avoid artificial sweeteners), baking powder, caramel color, cellulose, citric acid, cobalami (Vitamin B12), colorose, condensed milk, confectioners sugar, corn masa, corn sugar, cycoldextrin, cysteine, dextrin, dextrose, diacetyl, diglyceride, erythritol, Equal, food starch, fructose, glucose, glutamate, glutamic acid, glycerides, glycerin, glycerol, glycerol monooleate, glycine, hemicellulose, hydrogenated starch, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, inositol, inverse syrup, inversol, invert sugar, isoflavones, lactic acid, lecithin, leucine, lysine, malitol, malt, malt syrup, malt extract, maltodextrin, maltose, mannitol, methylcellulose, milk powder, milo starch, modified food starch, modified starch, mono and diglycerides, MSG, Nutrasweet, oleic acid, Phenylalanine, phytic acid, protein isolate, shoyu, sorbitol, soy milk, starch, stearic acid, tempeh, teriyaki marinades, threonine, tocopherols (Vitamin E), tofu, trehalose, triglyceride, vegetable fat, vitamin B12, Vitamin E, whey, whey powder, xanthan gum, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
Also, keep in mind that your meat and dairy products might not have labels to read, but if they are not organically sourced, the feed from the animals is likely a GM feed.
Another helpful tool for label reading is this free, handy little app called BUYCOTT.
It’s really helpful when shopping to avoid GMO’s and also, it makes you feel like a rebel. Personally for me, I don’t even want to support companies that are anti-GMO labeling or knowingly use GM’s in their products without wanting consumers to know. Most companies are owned by a larger parent company so sometimes you think you’re supporting a smaller company when in fact they are owned by a larger company. Sometimes even if you’re buying organic, you’re still supporting a company who is pro-GMO. For example, Cascadian Farms is an organic company but they are owned by General Mills, who is a member of the GMA (Grocery Manufacturers Association) and has donated money in large sums to anti-labeling campaigns. So even thought their products are “organic,” I really don’t like buying from them if I can avoid it.
When you download the app, you can choose the campaigns that you want to support and those you want to avoid. So for GMO’s, you might choose the “Say No to GMO” campaign, or “Demand GMO labeling,” or “Buy Organic Brands that Support Your Right to Know.” There are campaigns for all kinds of issues by the way. If you choose too many campaigns, you might not ever be able to buy anything!
Anyway, once you choose your campaigns, you can scan the barcode for the product you want to buy. It will then show you the product and whether or not it meets the requirements for the campaigns you are supporting and avoiding. Sometimes a product might be on your good and bad list so you have to decide how you feel about it, but if you’re starting off with some simple “avoid GMO campaigns” you probably won’t get into that. In addition to showing the campaigns you support, it also gives you contact information for the company as well as the ability to connect with them on social media.
It’s a pretty handy little app and fun to play around with. In all that free time we all have. Again, you can start with products you already have at home.
Another source you can use without having to read too many labels at once and to help you see if GMO’s are in the foods you buy is to use the database from the Environmental Working Group. This is their page on GMO’s if you want some other good reading. Their website in general is a great educational source that will give you plenty of reading on health issues. They have some other super helpful databases, but we’ll just look at their food scores database for now. You can find it here.
EWG will tell you how they give scores to foods by using a combination of Nutrition Concerns, Ingredient Concerns, and Processing Concerns. You can use the search bar and search for a product you know you buy all the time. For example, I searched a common household name, Honey Nut Cheerios.
Then a bunch of pictures will pop up and you can choose the one you want.
Honey Nut Cheerios is ranked a 7.0 (on a 1-10 scale where 1 is the healthiest). You can then see the pros and cons to the product based on their rating scale as well as information on the ingredients that may contain GMO’s. There are many great features you can click on to get more information that I could spend an entire post writing about but the website is very self-explanatory.
WARNING—you may get a little obsessed searching the products you know and love. It can be an overwhelming amount of information, all of which is GOOD to know, but A LOT to take in at once.
Baby steps, friends.
2. Buy organic
A classic way to avoid GM food is to buy organic. When you see the USDA certified-organic label on a product, it means that the company had to follow the strictest standard of any labeling out there. To bear this label a company cannot use GMO’s in their products. They use a third-party verifier and a complex system of accountability to ensure the company can proudly bear this label. Organic food has other merits because it cannot be grown with synthetic pesticides, sewage sludge or petroleum-based fertilizers or use antibiotics and hormones with their animals (just to name a few).
3. Look for the Non-GMO project verified label
Because labeling products that may contain GM ingredients isn’t required in our country (although it is required in over 60 countries currently), this project was started and is currently “North America’s only independent verification for products made according to best practices for GMO avoidance.”
You can find again, an abundance of information on GMO’s on their website.
Basically, when you see this label on a product, it means that the product was verified to have been through the process of “consensus-based best practices for GMO avoidance.” This doesn’t mean the product is completely void of GMO’s. They use a threshold of 0.9% which is what European Union law states is allowed in a product before it must be labeled that it contains GMO’s. However, companies that are participating with the Non-GMO product are willing to undergo testing and show consumers they are producing a more trustworthy product. You can read more about how a product is verified here.
Baby steps, friends.
That was surely a lot of information to take it but hopefully you picked up some practical information about how to get started avoiding GMO’s and some more sources for information. This little clip will help summarize as well and support those of you who are more visual.
And by the way, if you are reading this and thinking that you didn’t ask for this, that you didn’t want this in your food without being told, it should anger you. It should anger you that you have to go through all this extra “work” to make sure your family is eating healthy and avoiding something you didn’t want in the first place. If it makes you angry, know it makes me angry too.
So if you feel that way, I’m sorry to say that it’s the truth about the food world we live in. But you can make a difference! You can buy products from companies that are labeling their products and are letting consumers know what is in their food. You can stop supporting companies that are purposely feeding you garbage. You can contact your senators and tell them to support legislation that mandates labeling for GMO foods.
In order for change to happen, we need people who aren’t reading this and shrugging and tossing the information aside. We need people who want to change, who want to make a difference, who want to take their hard-earned money and support farmers and companies who care as well.
You can’t do it all at once. So keep Bob in mind and take your first baby step.
We need a revolution! Want to join me?