JUNE 1 2008





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 labelling. 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.


   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.[1] See How to Live With a Soy Allergy for more information

on avoiding soy products.

          * Corn - Gene from the lepidoptera pathogen microorganism

Bacillus thuringiensis inserted into corn genome to produce the Bt

toxin, which poisons insect pests.[2] 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


          * 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%


          * 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.[5]

   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%


   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,


          * Shopping locally may also give you the opportunity to speak

to the farmer and find out how he or she feels about GMOs and whether or

not they use them in their own operation.

   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



    * 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.




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