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What are GMOs & Why Should You Care?

What are GMOs & Why Should You Care?

Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, have been popping up on my radar now for quite some time. And, I’ll admit, I found it a bit confusing. What is a GMO, and what does it mean for ME? The following is some information I’ve learned, and I hope you find it helpful as you make your own decisions.

What are Genetically Modified Organisms?
According to Wikipedia, a GMO is an “organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods…” We’ve all heard of plants that have been developed for better pest or disease resistance – that is an example of a GMO.

Are GMOs harmful?
Regulatory agencies have approved genetically modified food that is currently on the market. However, there has been a growing movement that expresses concern over the safety of these ingredients/foods. In Europe, avoiding such foods is easier because there are stricter labeling laws; it MUST be stated on the label if there are GMOs present in the food. Here in the United States, though, we do not currently have such laws and a lot of our foods may contain GMOs.

Now, if you visit the websites of companies such as Monsanto, there is a lot of research there that will support the flip side of the argument; that GMOs are not harmful and there’s no evidence to support that. So, as you can see, it’s a highly debatable topic. I would encourage you to conduct your own research, and draw your own conclusions.

Now is a really good time to start reading labels if you aren't already!
Now is a really good time to start reading labels if you aren’t already!

I prefer to stay away from GMOs, how in the world can I do that?

Know what is most commonly genetically modified.
These would be:

  • Soybeans
  • Corn
  • Rapeseed/Canola
  • Sugar beets
  • Cotton
  • Dairy
  • Sugar
  • Papayas
  • Squash/Zucchini
  • Corn sold at roadside stands (yes, even I was surprised at this one). Buy organic corn, popcorn, corn chips only.
  • Baked goods (often contain corn or soy products)

Buy food labeled 100% organic
Fortunately, US regulatory agencies do NOT allow manufacturers to label something “100% organic” if it contains GMOs or if it’s been fed genetically modified feed. As many of you will already know, organic food is more expensive. Did you know? Just because a label may read “organic” it can still contain UP TO 30% GMOs…so be sure the label reads “100% organic.”

Check organic certification
USDA certifications, unfortunately, pale in comparison to these trusted Organic Certification institutions: QAI, Oregon Tilth, and CCOF. Check labels for their mark of approval. This applies to eggs, as well. Just because the cartons may read “free-range,” “natural,” or “cage-free” doesn’t always mean they are GMO-free. Look for the 100% organic statement.

The label on this tomato indicates it was conventionally produced.
The label on this tomato indicates it was conventionally produced.

Learn to read fruit and vegetable label numbers
This has been particularly helpful for me when buying produce in the market:

  • 4-digit numbers mean the food is conventionally produced
  • 5-digit numbers beginning an 8, it IS genetically modified. But! You cannot always assume that GMO foods will have a number identifying it, because this labeling is optional.
  • 5-digit numbers beginning with a 9 is organic.

Look for 100% grass-fed beef
While it’s true most cattle is grass-fed in the United States, they often spend the last part of their lives being finished out on GM corn (this increases intramuscular fat and marbling). Check the labels – you’d want to get 100% grass-fed or pasture-fed. This also applies to sheep and other herbivores. It is always possible that animals can be fed genetically modified alfalfa, but this is less likely if you purchase your meat locally. Again, always check the labels for 100% organic.

Look for products that are labeled as non-GM or GMO-free
I know, this one can be difficult as there are NO regulations here in regards to labeling. Some do exist, however. You can also research online for companies and foods that do not use GMOs…but know that this information can (and often is) incomplete and there are many conflicting interests out there that aren’t always evident.

Shop locally
Shopping locally allows you to speak directly to the farmer and determine how they feel about GMOs and whether they use them in their products…or not.

Buy whole foods
This means avoiding foods that are processed or prepared; these are easily found in boxed, bagged food…including fast food. Learn to read labels. I’ll admit, I was never much of a label reader until I became interested in adopting a healthier diet. After reading a few labels on processed food, you may never go back!

Squash and zucchini are a popular GMO food. Growing your own enables you to know exactly what goes into them!
Squash and zucchini are a popular GMO food. Growing your own enables you to know exactly what goes into them!

Grow your own (my favorite!)
Growing your own is easier than it sounds and it is extremely satisfying. You may want to consider growing enough to freeze or can for use during the winter months. Your grocery bill will also thank you!


View Comments (6)
  • Thank you so much for this super informative article. Over the past year I have learned about GMO’s and GE’s. I have been completely appalled by most of it and boycott every chance I get. I also have been trying to educate every single person I know about these things. This article will help me ‘sum it all up’ for all of my friends and family. I have been moving my family over to a ‘clean eating’ plan and its been tough but we will reap the benefits. I read every single label and do my research on every product we put in our mouths or on our bodies. Even our dog eats organic!!
    There is power in knowledge!!!
    Thanks again!!

    • Thanks, Amie, and good for you on becoming more educated on GMOs, GEs, and reading labels. The labels in themselves can be quite scary! Each year we add to our garden, it’s a lot of work this time of year in picking, freezing, and/or canning, but there is no substitute for knowing what exactly is in your food, and knowing where it came from.

      Thanks for reading, and good luck in your education efforts! 🙂

  • We grow our own summer squash and sweet corn. My question is: are seeds purchased at stores such as C T Garvins GMO free or have they been genetically modified?

    • Karen, that is an excellent question and one I’m sure a lot of folks are wondering about. It is my understanding that GMO seeds are CROP (ie large scale production) seeds for corn (and that would be field corn for animal consumption, not the sweet corn you & I would eat), soybeans, rapeseed, and sugar beets (to name a few), but normal garden seed is not genetically modified. At one time, there was at one time a GMO tomato on the market (FlavrSavr) but it was pulled about 10 years ago. Now, just because I say that’s my understanding, doesn’t mean you should do your own research on the topic. There are many confusing labels for seeds: “GMO,” “Hybrid,” “Heirloom,” and they all mean very different things. GMO is genetically modified, hybrids are produced by cross pollinating two different, but related, plants over many generations. Heirloom seeds/plants have, for the most part, kept their traits through open pollination (the old fashioned way of pollinating).

      If you’re wanting organic, be sure to look for labels that state, “100% organic” – that way you know. There are many seeds on the market that have growth accelerator coatings; you may want to be on the lookout for those.

      Otherwise, many seed companies (such as Burpee) are putting GMO statements on their websites these days. Depending on your brand of seed, you may be able to do a simple web search and find out quickly. I know my local feed & seed has bulk bins; if this is the type of seed you have purchased, you can probably go to Garvins and inquire where the seed actually came from (company).

      I hope this helps; but I can’t stress enough the value of doing research; even before you purchase to know where your seeds come from!

      Good luck!

  • GMO’s are for human consumption, which is why Monsanto and other companies are spending a FORTUNE to sway legislation in their favor and not require GMO labeling on FOOD. It’s a shame the power this company has, and the army of powerful people in DC who have or do sit in positions on their board – or are attached to them in some way. (Even a Supreme Court Justice!) There is this little thing called conflict of interest. I wish more people paid attention. I know when I switched our family to organic (as much as possible) several years ago – all of our health *suddenly* and drastically improved. Chronic health problems went away, even our spring pollen allergies all but vanished. I can’t even tell you the last time one of us had a cold – and we spent the last 3 years in Alaska. Our diet does so much for our health. The old adage “You are what you eat” is something to live by 🙂

  • If you want to be sure your seeds aren’t GMO – look for companies that are clear about their seed sourcing. Like Staci mentioned, hybrids are not generally GMO. That is a natural process of cross-pollinating plants for their good characteristics – just like you breed a dog for a certain look or temperament. Heirloom seeds are always a good bet too!

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