By Ruth Ann Clayton, RD
At the conclusion of last month’s article, “GMOs: What You Need to Know,” I promised that this month I would expand the GMO topic. Products in our food supply that are genetically modified is something you should be aware of. To me it is very simple. Do you know if the foods you and your family consume contain GMOs? Do you have a right to know? I will explain how you can make this determination based on how foods are marketed in the United States today.
To recap, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are plants or animals who’s DNA have been altered to add traits deemed desirable by producers. This modification occurs only in a laboratory and never in nature. The major traits which have been engineered cause these food sources to be herbicide tolerant and insect resistant. Controversy surrounds GMO crops as there is no definitive answer regarding safe human consumption or damage to the environment. In other words, the safety jury is still out.
The top genetically modified crops are sugar beets, corn, canola, soy, cotton, papaya, zucchini and yellow summer squash. Other crops are in various stages of production or approval. There will most certainly be more GMOs coming into our food supply.
The debate and scientific study will go on for many years, but around the world people are questioning why foods containing GMOs are not labeled. Nearly 60 countries mandate that foods containing GMOs sold within their country “must be labeled” as such. This also applies to ingredients made from GMO crops. Food such as ketchup containing high fructose corn syrup made from GMO corn or soy sauce made from GMO soy, by law in these countries must be so labeled.
The United States is the largest producer of GMO crops. Hard as it is to believe there are no labeling laws for GMOs in the US. Several states have tried to pass laws with only a few succeeding. Business concerns have spent millions of dollars to defeat these labeling efforts and that fact brings us to a very important point.
These same American companies sell their US products in other countries where GMO labeling is mandated. So, the very same products containing GMOs are labeled as such in those countries but not here. In some amazing parallel universe, they feel it is not in your best interest as an American consumer to know if their products contain GMO’s even though, because of government requirements, they do provide that service to their overseas customers. If you are curious about this fact, you will find more information on the labeling issue and your right to know at the following site: http://www.justlabelit.org.
That leaves this question for American consumers: “How can I know if the foods I buy contain GMOs?” First, concentrate on the top GMO foods, sugar beets, corn, canola, soy, cotton, papaya, and zucchini and yellow summer squash. Remember many ingredients such as lecithin from soy and sweeteners from corn are made from these foods. The label may not name one of the top GMO crops but may still contain ingredients made from them. Also many meat, egg and dairy products are sourced from animals that have been fed GMO crops, especially corn.
Second, purchasing USDA Certified Organic products will assure you are not consuming GMO ingredients. The USDA prohibits the use of GMOs in organic products from plants to animal feed. The product will have a USDA Certified Organic seal on the label.
Third, a seal from the NON-GMO Project (http://www.nongmoproject.org) can assure you a product is GMO free. According to their website, it is a “non-profit organization committed to preserving and building the non-GMO food supply, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices”. At this time, they are the only third party verification system for foods. You can find their blue rectangular seal with the orange butterfly on products which have been tested for the seven crops previously mentioned. They also regularly monitor some others due to instances of contamination in rice, flax, wheat and other crops.
On many food and supplement labels you will find both the Certified Organic and non-GMO seals where companies have gone the extra step to provide this information to their customers. You may also find the words “non-GMO” on labels that have no other seals. Most of these products are ones that would not traditionally contain GMOs in the first place. If you see such a label, it means no specific certification has been done and you either must trust the company that made the statement or question them as to its authenticity.
There is much confusion surrounding GMOs since they are so new. The issue, at its core, centers on your right as a consumer to make your own decisions. Other countries and several states feel strongly enough about your right to know that they are responding. Since labeling of GMOs is not yet required in the US (and may never be) being aware, reading labels, buying organic and looking for non-GMO certification seals is what you have to do. In fact, it is all you can do.
Ruth Ann Clayton, Registered Dietitian, is active in both the American Dietetics Association and Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine Dietetic Practice Group. Her nationally accredited Dietetic Internship and her years of experience in public health and hospital settings reflect her commitment to your health and well being.
As the co-owner of Nature’s Way, she uses her comprehensive background to research products, read labels, investigate manufacturers and provide information for her customers.