Whether genetically modified (GM) foods are beneficial or harmful is still controversial, but some people would prefer to avoid them until the evidence is clear. Most foods we eat may contain ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs)–everything from baby formula and food to our dairy to even our meat. If you live in Europe, avoiding GM foods is easier since laws require labeling. However in the US and Canada food manufacturers are not required to label if their food is genetically modified or not. As such, here are some guidelines for steering clear of GM foods in your diet, if that is your choice.

Steps
1. Become familiar with the most common applications of genetic modification. These are the products (and their derivatives) that are most likely to be genetically modified:
* Soybeans – Gene taken from bacteria (Agrobacterium sp. strain CP4) and inserted into soybeans to make them more resistant to herbicides.[
* Corn – Gene from the lepidoptera pathogen microorganism Bacillus thuringiensis inserted into corn genome to produce the Bt toxin, which poisons insect pests.May be present in high fructose corn syrup which is prevalent in a wide variety of foods in America.
* Rapeseed/Canola – Gene added/transferred to make crop more resistant to pesticides
* Sugar cane – Gene added/transferred to make crop more resistant to pesticides
* Rice – Genetically modified to resist herbicides; not currently available for human consumption, but trace amounts of one GM long-grained variety (LLRICE601) may have entered the food supply in the USA and Europe.[3]More recently, golden rice, a different strain of rice has been engineered to produce significantly higher levels of beta carotene, which the body uses to procduce vitamin A. Golden rice is still undergoing testing to determine if it is safe for human consumption.[4]
* Cotton – Used for making cottonseed oil.
* Dairy – Cows injected with GE hormone rBGH/rBST; possibly fed GM grains and hay.

2. Buy food labeled 100% organic. The US and Canadian governments do not allow manufacturers to label something 100% organic if that food has been genetically modified or been fed genetically modified feed. However, you may find that organic food is more expensive and different in appearance from conventional products. Also, just because something says “organic” on it does not mean that it does not contain GMs. In fact, it can still contain up to 30% GMs, so be sure the labels say 100% organic.
This applies to eggs, as well. Eggs labeled “free-range”, “natural”, or “cage-free” are not necessarily GE-free; look for eggs to be 100% organic.

3. Recognize fruit and vegetable label numbers. The code on that little sticker is quite meaningful. If it is a 4-digit number, then the food it ‘normal’, while a 5-digit number beginning with an 8 is GM, while a 5-digit number beginning with a 9 is organic.[6] Sometimes a market will mislabel a bin of food as organic, or not, but the sticker code doesn’t lie.

4. Purchase beef that is 100% grass-fed. Most cattle in the U.S. are grass-fed, but spend the last portion of their lives in feedlots where they may be given GM grain, the purpose of which is to increase intramuscular fat and marbling. If you’re looking to stay away from GMOs, make sure the cattle were 100% grass-fed or pasture-fed (sometimes referred to as grass-finished or pasture-finished). The same applies to meat from other herbivores such as sheep. There is also the slight possibility that the animals were fed GM alfalfa, although this is less likely if you buy meat locally. With non-ruminants like pigs and poultry that cannot be 100% grass-fed, it’s better to look for meat that is 100% organic.

5. Seek products that are specifically labeled as non-GM or GMO-free. However, it is rare to find products labeled as such. You can also research websites that list companies and foods that do not use genetically modified foods, [7], but be aware that information is often incomplete and conflicting interests may not be declared.

6. Shop locally. Although more than half of all GM foods are produced in the US,[8] most of it comes from large, industrial farms. By shopping at farmers’ markets, signing up for a subscription from a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, or patronizing a local co-op, you may be able to avoid GM products and possibly save money at the same time.

More and more small farms are offering grains and meat directly to customers, in addition to the usual fare (vegetables, fruit, herbs).

7. Buy whole foods. Favor foods that you can cook and prepare yourself, rather than foods that are processed or prepared (e.g. anything that comes in a box or a bag, including fast food). What you lose in convenience, you may recover in money saved and satisfaction gained, as well as increased peace of mind. Try cooking a meal from scratch once or twice a week–you may enjoy it and decide to do it more often.

Tips

  • If you have the land, time, and resources, grow your own food. As long as you make sure you’re not buying GM seeds, and aren’t near any GM plants which could cross-pollinate, you’ll know for sure that the food which comes from your garden is not genetically modified.
  • At chain and non-chain restaurants, you can ask which, if any, of their foods contain GMs, but the wait and kitchen staff are not likely to know.
  • Producers who label their food GM-free aren’t making any health claims regarding the product.