January 13, 2014
Non-GMO Food: A Beginner’s Guide
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Just fifteen years ago, if you weren't a geneticist or an executive in a large agricultural firm, the acronym GMO didn't mean much to you. Today, almost anyone who has been a grocery store is familiar with the term, though few may actually know what it means.
A non-GMO food is a food that has not had its genetic material (DNA) artificially altered in a laboratory using the techniques of genetic engineering. The reasons for altering the DNA of a food plant or animal usually involve making it more resistant to pests or herbicides, better able to withstand harsh weather conditions, or even improving its nutrient profile. Starting in the mid 1990s, several large agricultural companies began focusing on creating GMO food varieties from some of the common and profitable crops, including corn, soybean, cottonseed oil, canola and numerous others. Since then, it has become increasingly difficult to find non-GMO foods in grocery stores or to even know which foods are non-GMO.
Though introduced relatively recently into mainstream supermarkets, GMO foods quickly sparked protest and controversy from a variety of critics, the most vocal of which have been spearheaded by a handful of consumer advocacy groups like The Non-GMO Project and the Organic Consumers Association. What's more, the message of these groups have gained traction with many consumers. As a result, a number of iconic food makers have even begun to bow to public pressure by going non-GMO or at least offering lines of their product that they can label “non GMO food.” In the latest and most high-profile response to the non-GMO food movement, General Mills announced that its iconic Cheerios is going non-GMO in the coming weeks.
As the anti-GMO coalition continues to levy a number of criticisms against genetically modified foods, their main allegation is simple: GMO foods simply are not as safe as the non GMO foods given to us by nature. Yet though there have been an increasing number of scientific studies exploring the benefits and dangers of GMO vs non-GMO foods, the fact is that much of the evidence has been vague or contradictory up to this point, and we simply don't yet fully understand the long-term effects (if any) of consuming GMO foods.
For the more cautious among us, this uncertainty is itself enough reason to avoid the potential dangers of GMO and stick with time-tested non-GMO foods. But even if you firmly resolve to purchase nothing but non-GMO foods, you will quickly encounter a dilemma once you're actually perusing the aisles of your grocery story. The problem is that the in the US, federal law does not currently require food producers to write on their labels whether their products contain GMO foods or not (though a handful of states have laws that do), leaving most consumers to guess as to what exactly it is that they're eating.
As legislative pressure mounts from both consumer advocacy groups and concerned consumers, this could very well change in the coming years. However, until then, here are a few quick and easy tips to help ensure that the foods you're buying are non GMO:
1. Look For The Seal “Non GMO Project”: This one's a no-brainer. Foods that bear this label have been voluntarily submitted to testing by one of the leading non-profit groups in the fight for a GMO-free world.
2. Buy Products That Have The “Certified Organic” Label: This is your second-best bet behind the “Non GMO Project” seal of approval. To gain the “Organic” certification, a food manufacturer cannot knowingly include any GMO foods in his product. So for all intents and purposes, the “Certified Organic” seal equals “non-GMO food.”
3. Avoid The Most At-Risk GMO Ingredients: If the “Non-GMO Project” or “Certified Organic” seals are difficult to find or simply too pricey for your budget, the next best thing is to avoid products with ingredients that are almost certainly GMO. As mentioned above, foods like soybeans, canola oil, corn and sugar made from sugar beets are almost certain to be GMO foods unless they bear a label stating otherwise.
For more information about non-GMO foods, visit the Non-GMO Project's website. And if you need more help navigating your non-GMO food options in the supermarket, try downloading one of the various smartphone apps available, like ShopNoGMO for the iPhone. Finally, redOrbit's own Brett Smith recently offered some in-depth advice of his own on how to avoid GMO foods.