What is a genetically modified food?
It’s a food that has been engineered in a lab. This is a departure from traditional breeding techniques which use only plants and animals from the same species that are “sexually compatible”. Organisms with desirable traits like sweetness or disease resistance are selected and cross bred. Over time—usually a few generations—the offspring will start carrying that trait.
Genetic modification is different: the DNA from one type of organism (plant, animal, or bacteria) is injected into another. For example, corn has been injected with a soil bacteria called Bacilllus Thuringiensis (otherwise known as Bt). Now the corn has a new gene—an insecticide that destroys the stomach of invading pests. And you get to eat insecticides, too!
Did you know that 94% of soy and 88% of corn are genetically modified (GM)?
That means that it’s hard to find any that’s not. What to do? Don’t eat the following foods unless they’re certified organic or GMO free:
- cottonseed oil (bonus tip: don’t eat this at all, ever)
- sugar beets
- soy (edamame/soybeans)
- canola oil (bonus tip: even organic isn’t good for you)
- yellow summer squash
Did you know that soy and corn by-products are in practically everything?
Over 70% of packaged foods contain GMOs. So don’t eat products that contain additives made from the above foods. For example:
- corn syrup
Hundreds of corn-derived ingredients show up in packaged foods on a shelf near you, probably in your kitchen. Check for:
- malic acid
- xanthan gum
Want the whole ugly list? Read it here.
Did you know that almost all conventional animals eat GM feed?
Most animals are fed soy, corn, and alfalfa, and those crops are almost entirely GM. So if it’s not organic, it’s basically GM meat. And GM eggs, and GM milk.
Did you know that you’re drinking GM wine and beer?
That’s because most commercial yeast is GM. So yes, folks, start looking for organic drinks…
What about seafood?
There are no USDA standards for seafood, so it’s hard to know what you’re getting. Wild fish and seafood is naturally non-GMO because they don’t swim around munching on crops planted on the sea floor, lol. Farmed oysters, mussels and clams don’t eat corn or soy. Most grocers won’t be able to tell you what your salmon, clams or other marine animal ate but ask anyway—if they know their customers care, things will change. Don’t buy farm-raised seafood unless it is sustainably raised. If the counter person doesn’t know, then it’s not. For more info about safe fish, check out my very comprehensive article and become a savvy seafood shopper.
Did you know that new GM products are arriving on the market all the time?
Arctic brand apples are already on the market. So is genetically engineered farm-raised salmon and it’s not required to carry a label. Potatoes and tomatoes have been approved for planting and will enter the food supply soon.
What to do?
Keep your eyes open. Also keep your mouth open—ask lots of questions and don’t trust anything in a supermarket. Your local co-op is probably more responsible. Your local CSA box (community sponsored agriculture) will likely be non-GMO. And your local farmer’s market probably has the highest standards. Still, ask, ask, ask.
Starting in July, you can find out if there are GM ingredients in your grocery store food.
Scroll down to find out Whole Foods Market has decided to call out GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in their food. This article (also on their website) contains information about federal and state regulations and will help you navigate the food on store shelves everywhere.
There has been some modification/back-tracking since Whole Foods’ initial promise to ban all foods with GM ingredients from their shelves by 2018. Turns out it’s a colossal task to trace the origin of every ingredient in every product and determine whether or not it is genetically modified. For example, many yeasts, enzymes and other microorganisms used to make wine, beer, and cheeses are produced using genetic engineering. Many animals are given GM feed at some point in their lives. Sometimes farmers are not even aware of what’s in a “proprietary product” that they buy to feed livestock. So this is tricky business! Still, Whole Foods is doing more to create transparency than almost any other grocer, and shoppers will finally have choices because they will know what they are buying.
I am not happy about everything Whole Foods is doing, especially since Amazon acquired them, and don’t get me started on Canola oil, which is in almost all their prepared foods. But they seem to be leading the way with GM “right to know” labeling, so I give them credit for that. The federal labeling law will require only QR (quick response) codes on GM products, which means that you will have to scan the code with your phone and look up the status of the product on a website. The food industry knows will take longer and be a hassle, so less people will do that. Whole Foods is raising the bar by putting physical labels on products with GM ingredients that you can see right away. Although they originally intended to eliminate all GM products from their stores, this is a good start.
Whole Foods Statement
We are well on our way to providing GMO transparency for the food we sell by our self-imposed deadline of September 1, 2018. Here are just a few highlights of what shoppers can find in our stores already:
- We offer more than 11,500 Non-GMO Project™ Verified products – a threefold increase in three years.
- We offer more than 25,000 certified organic choices companywide. (Organic Standards don’t allow GMOs.)
- Our in-store kitchens and bakeries use eggs that are from hens raised on non-GMO feed and canola oil that is non-GMO verified.
- We offer eggs from hens fed non-GMO feed as well as chicken and turkey fed non-GMO feed in our meat department.
- We’ve pioneered dairy-based products like yogurt and cheese from animals fed non-GMO feed.
- We’ve launched a large-scale line of fresh, non-GMO-fed pork in meat departments across our West Coast stores, with plans to expand.
And our work continues. Part of our current focus is working closely with suppliers and manufacturers to help them meet our GMO Labeling Policy.
As you may be aware, the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law was passed by both the Senate and House and signed into law on July 29, 2016. It directs the USDA to develop a national mandatory system within 2 years for disclosing the presence of GMO ingredients, effective by July 2018. But you probably won’t see information on all products by that date. Similar to the implementation process for other new government regulations, there will likely be a grace period for compliance. (For example, the grace period for organic labeling was 18 months.)
It’s extremely important that our suppliers and customers are clear about what we expect in terms of our GMO disclosure, deadline, requirement for third party verification of non-GMO claims, and where our policy differs from the national law.
For example, the national law allows the disclosure of GMO ingredients through the use of QR (Quick Response) codes on the label. This is absolutely unacceptable for our policy. We do not consider a QR code to be an adequate declaration of GMO ingredients. If a product features a QR code, we still require an on-package GMO claim on the label in order to be sold in our stores.
We’ve been the first to do a lot of the groundwork on GMO transparency. The past three years have been a learning process as we evaluated our entire food supply chain – from manufacturing facilities and ingredient suppliers to what farmers feed their animals. GMOs are so pervasive in North American food crops, determining what does and does not contain GMOs is a daunting task.
We’ve also taken into account the regulations proposed in state laws as well as what was ultimately adopted in the new national law. Based on all of this information, we recently communicated to our suppliers some policy modifications to what we announced in our GMO Transparency Initiative in 2013. Here’s an overview of our requirements.
By September 1, 2018, Whole Foods Market will require suppliers of food to label products that contain genetically modified (GMO) risk ingredients.
Our policy identifies a GMO risk ingredient as one that is derived from a genetically engineered agricultural crop. As of September, 2016, the GMO risk crops are: corn, soy, sugar beets, canola/rape, cotton, alfalfa, zucchini/summer squash and papaya. The risk goes beyond these crops as whole products — there are hundreds of ingredients and additives derived from these crops, which also must be labeled.
Similar to the national law, we will not require suppliers to label ingredients derived from animals fed GMO feed for the purpose of our transparency deadline in 2018. That means a food product that contains a meat or dairy ingredient, but does not contain any other risk ingredient, won’t be subject to a labeling requirement. This is a modification from our original announcement and an acknowledgement of the complications in the feed supply. We will continue to actively encourage our suppliers to source animal ingredients from animals not fed GMO feed and to pursue Non-GMO fed verification. Any product labeled as “Non-GMO” or “Organic” must be verified to standards that do not allow ingredients derived from animals fed GMO feed.
The focus of our transparency commitment in 2018 is on major agricultural GMO ingredients. At this time, we will not require nutrients or minor ingredients (less than 0.9% by weight in the aggregate) to require labeling. This is a clarification from our original announcement.
Many yeasts, enzymes and other microorganisms used in the production of wine, beer, cheese and other products are produced using genetic engineering. Both the USDA Organic Standards and The Non-GMO Project do not allow the use of genetically engineered microorganisms. However, the national law does not require “produced with genetic engineering” statements on products that contain genetically engineered microorganisms. Acknowledging the complication this presents for our suppliers, we will not require products in which microorganisms are the ONLY risk ingredient to make a label claim. We encourage customers seeking to avoid GMO microorganisms to choose organic or non-GMO verified products.
We also require all non-GMO claims on food products in our stores be verified by a third-party verification program approved by Whole Foods Market. We currently allow verification through:
- The Non-GMO Project
- NSF True North
- USDA Organic (and equivalent international programs)
We are proud of the achievements we’ve accomplished so far and are excited to see all the work in development come to fruition. We think our customers will be pleased with the results. Shopping at Whole Foods Market – located in 42 states now – makes it even easier for customers who care about GMO transparency in our food.
To learn more about our commitment to GMO transparency, visit GMO – Your Right to Know.
How to access an QR code to find out what’s in that product
What you need:
- smart phone with camera feature
- pre-installed app with QR code reader (some newer phones already contain this app)
- open the app and center the QR code on your screen with a steady hand (same as depositing checks through your phone)
No matter which brand you use, you can find the app at the appropriate store (Apple app store, Android market, Blackberry app world etc.)
Learn more about QR codes—history, use, design, etc.
How to be sure it’s non-GMO
Make sure one of these symbols is on your packaged food product—all three ensure that it’s non-GMO. The Non-GMO Project seal of approvel is the most visible and appears most frequently. The NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) is not as well known but has been around longer–since 1949. If the barcode number on your produce begins with the number 9, it’s organic. Otherwise you can’t be sure. Keep in mind that if it’s a local product, it may not have gone through all the steps to be certified so ask the company.
Don’t believe that GMOs are dangerous and should be avoided?
Stay tuned for an upcoming article with piles of research…