Genetically Modified Food: 7 Things Every Shopper Needs to Know

Are you trying to sort out the pros and cons about genetically modified food and genetically modified organisms (also known as GMOs)? Here's what you need to know to shop wisely at the supermarket.

By Perri O. Blumberg
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    1. Genetically modified foods have been linked to serious health issues.

    Foods that are genetically modified have had their DNA structure changed, with a goal of improving the organism. This might make it more resistant to herbicides, so that it can grow while weeds around it are treated.

    However, several studies have shown a potential connection between genetically modified foods and illnesses such as cancer, infertility, and severe allergies. But the health risks are not entirely clear: many of these studies were conducted on animals, and the results might be different for people. While European countries are banning GM foods, at the same time their researchers are encouraging the technologies. In the U.S., labeling genetically modified foods has become a hot political topic, even though there are no long-term studies on GMOs because they are relatively new to our food stream. Concerned? Read on.

    2. Genetically modified soy and corn are probably in many of the foods you buy.

    About 90 percent of the country's soy and corn crops are genetically modified. Since almost all processed foods contain their derivatives—and corn, the nation's largest crop, is a staple for animal feed—chances are high that you are eating genetically modified foods. How can you tell? For now, there are no labels required as there are in countries like Britain. Look for ingredients like maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), dextrose, soy lecithin, and corn starch. And unless your meat is grass-fed and specifically GMO-free, it's likely to have been affected, too.

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    3. It's not just plants; animals are being genetically engineered, too.

    The AquAdvantage salmon is a genetically engineered fish that grows to maturity in half the time of its natural cousins (one and a half years compared to three), and the company behind it is in the final stages of the lengthy, FDA-required New Animal Drug Application (NADA). If approved, it will be the first genetically modified animal in the U.S. food supply.

    This isn't the first time scientists have played with animals' genomes; the University of Guelph created the Enviropig, aka "frankenswine," in an effort to help pigs' digestion. But those GM pigs were subsequently killed off when the project lost funding.

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    4. Today, 80 percent of your grocery store's items are derived from GMOs.

    In addition to corn and soy, other foods that have been approved for genetic modification in the U.S. include canola oil and animal products like milk, eggs, and meats. Also on the list: sugar beets, papaya, alfalfa, zucchini, and yellow squash.

    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    5. You can decode how your food was grown by checking its produce sticker.

    Codes starting with "9" are organic. Codes starting with "4" mean the food was likely treated chemically with an herbicide, pesticide, or both. Although codes starting with "8" are meant to designate genetic modification, most supermarkets have not adapted that labeling practice with their produce, so it's best to ask. Examples: Organic - 973634, Conventional - 450801.

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    6. Remember: organic food can still have traces of GMOs.

    "Though organic rules prohibit the 'use' of genetic modification in organic agriculture...if pollen blows from genetically modified corn into your organic cornfield and pollinates a few kernels, you aren't 'using' it — at least according to the USDA's interpretation of those rules. In fact, some of the organic corn that's fed to organically raised chickens or pigs, does contain a small level of GMOs," explains NPR. Also: Organic largely means the type of farming methods involved, i.e., no chemicals or synthetic additives. Organic farmers try their best to avoid contamination, but especially for crops like corn and soy, it can be particularly difficult.

    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    7. You can check for the Non-GMO Project Verification logo.

    This non-profit organization is currently the only third-party verification, offering a Non-GMO Shopping Guide and app. However, rising in popularity are retailers like Whole Foods, which recently became the first supermarket in America to require labeling on any GM foods. Also in January, high-level executives from some of the U.S.’s largest food corporations like Wal-Mart, General Mills, Pepsi-Frito Lay, Mars, Coca-Cola, and others met with the FDA to review a mandatory federal GMO labeling law.

    Sources: Dr. Robert DeMaria D.C., N.H.D. also known as The Drugless Doctor; Angela Pellegrini of non-GMO certified Saffron Road; Huffington Post; Non-GMO Project; Non-GMO Shopping Guide; Mother Nature Network; Farmer's Weekly; Institute for Responsible Technology,  


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    Your Comments

    • Olivia

      GMO foods aren’t all that bad. Yes, some can be harmful, but other help out. For example, some of the rice we use is implanted with a Vitamin A gene. This gives us the Vitamin A we need. So they aren’t all bad.

    • Bob

      *Claims to show you pros and cons of genetically modified food*

      *shows cons and disproven nonsense, plus free advertising for the non-gmo project*


      Today we’ve all become laboratory RATS being used for science experiment unknowingly. GMO foods are detrimental to human health and shouldn’t be encouraged at all.

      • Canadaman

        I agree with your statement but this food is stuff you have been eating for years and you never changed!

        • areyoucrazy?

          Keep telling yourself that. Cancer, autism, musculature diseases, just to name a few have skyrocketed since the introduction of GMO. If it is so safe why does the industry block legislation for full disclosure? Why does Monsanto, Bayer, etc only serve non gmo organic foods in their cafeterias? Educate before you bloviate.

    • heidi

      I am outraged about gmo foods. Something must be done to stop our foods from being genetically modified. The effects on our health are horrible…cancers, tumors, kidney and liver problems. Gmo’s should be illegal

      • Canadaman

        I dont think so

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        Well then you should try win-prize-money. co m

      • johhny villa

        What does this have todo with GMO

      • Mark

        scam scam scam

      • NotASpy

        what the hell?

    • David Kilpatrick

      All food–plant and animal–is genetically modified either by nature or man, or it would not have survived; EVOLUTION! When I was a kid, fifty years ago, corn and cotton seeds were being hybridized as were also tomatoes, peppers, squash, and practically every other vegetable my parents grew in our gardens! There are many things we should be worrying about in this world, war, poverty, racism, pollution, environmental degradation, pesticide poisoning, etc., etc., ad infinitum, but GMO foods isn’t one of them! Find something that really matters!

      • standwithRand

        Ignorant fool, take the blindfold off and look at the facts.

      • Mark

        i noticed you wrote pesticide poisoning in “worrying about other things”

        ^^^^^ That relates to GMO foods.

      • johhny villa

        I pity you and every other idiot who hasn’t woken up to reality.

      • Mark

        Haha….keep telling yourself that when you cancer….natural evolution and GMO foods are completely different things….

      • areucrazy?

        Do you know what GMO is? It is not hybrids, it is not mixing pollens or stock roots. It is taking genes from an animal and inserting it into the genes of a plant for consumption and vice-versa. Its why GMO corn can no longer from a legal stanpoint be called corn. It is no longer a plant but is now a plant/animal new type of species. They are also inserting pesticides and herbicides into the gene structure and guess who ends up eating it? GMO is a money grab control scam. Please research the topic.