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Ways to Avoid Eating Genetically Modified Foods

Ways to Avoid Eating Genetically Modified Foods

Food is not the same anymore. Our food habits, cultivation methods, its acquisition, nutritional value and the food price index have vastly changed. We are truly facing a global food crisis. Apart from the lack of food, the global economy is now plagued with the problem of genetically modified foods. What was an answer to food scarcity has now become a problem itself.
Urvashi Pokharna
Last Updated: Apr 23, 2018
The food in question is derived from genetically modified organisms or GMOs. If you may ask what is the need to avoid genetically modified or biotech food, let me tell you it does more harm than good to your body. Apart from causing emotional distress, irritability, aggressive behavior and physical lethargy, modified foods are suspected to cause cancer, toxicity, malnutrition, obesity, immune-suppression, autism, infertility, cardiac problems, hypertension, diabetes and several types of allergies. Several studies have been able to link these foods to a variety of changes in behavior and health. Many environmental organizations around the world have been fighting for the cause to prevent the likelihood of GM foods showing up on your platter. You would be startled to know what you have been putting in your stomach and that of your family's. Knowing what is bad for you is not sufficient knowledge.
What is Genetically Modified Food
Genetically modified or biotech food or GM food is that derived from organisms whose genetic makeup has been altered using the tools of modern technology to produce food that is resistant to viruses as well as insects affecting crops and poultry animals and has a better shelf life. The DNA structure of these organisms is vastly manipulated by recombinant DNA, mutagenesis through electro and chemical poration, bio-ballistics and micro-injections containing hormones such as the infamous bovine growth hormone, also known as rBGH or Prosilac. Sadly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has invariably allowed the production and sale of genetically engineered hormones to grow non-food as well as food crops, since 1993.
Crops that are commonly grown using means of genetic engineering are cotton, tobacco, sugar cane, golden rice, soybeans, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, coffee, grapes, cantaloupe, Hawaiian papayas, flax and oilseed. GM tomatoes, cucumbers and pepper are widely prevalent in the Chinese markets. Fortunately, the production of GM tomatoes and potatoes is not supported by large U.S. Corporations due to the absence of any economic benefits of growing such crops. Take a small recap of the history of GM foods and you will realize that they were never favored by European nations. However, EU now seems to soon follow the footsteps of the United States due to contamination of non-GM crops by the genetically engineered variety. Almost 87% of cotton grown in India is a GM variety that was developed to make the crop resistant to droughts. It is favored by farmers all over the country as it has been documented to increase profits.
How to Identify Genetically Modified Foods
GM foods are everywhere in your supermarket aisles, grocery stores, restaurant menus and perhaps, even your local farmer's market. You'd be surprised to know that it is not just children and adults that are at the risk of consuming food derived from genetically modified organisms, but even new-born babies are exposed to it. In fact, even when the fetus has newly developed, it is exposed to high levels of toxins from the food consumed by the mother during pregnancy which may even cause gene mutations. If you are an American, the fight to avoid modified foods is tougher for you because the law of the land does NOT make it obligatory for manufacturers to classify the food products as genetically modified on the labels, if so is the case. Even if it says GM-free, it may not be completely true. This leaves you vulnerable to thousands of chemicals that you unknowingly chow down and later suffer numerous diseases! On the other hand, countries like Japan, Malaysia, European Union and Australia have made labeling regulations mandatory so that the consumers can make an informed decision. Hence, you can easily distinguish a GM variety from organic ones. A loophole in the European law in this regard is that it excludes milk and poultry products from these regulations.
Identifying GM Oils
Yes, you read that right. Even your edible oil comes from GMO. Oils such as soybean oil, canola oil, flax-seed oil and cottonseed oil are likely to be GM oils. This is because a high percentage of crops, that these oils are derived from, are genetically modified. Apart from these, cottonseed oil is also a GM oil. It is popularly used in Australia for frying purposes, in mayonnaise and salad dressings. However, there are other oils that are mostly GM free. These are: olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil.
Artificial Sweeteners from GMO
Using artificial sweeteners may seem like a smart idea to avoid extra calories. However, in turn, you may be exposing yourself to a diet sweetener commonly used in food products. This sweetener to watch out for is aspartame and has been identified as the cause of several fatal diseases. It is derived from genetically modified bacteria. Aspartame commonly appears in about 6000 consumer products such as chewing gums, packaged juices, candies, desserts, diet sodas as well as non-diet beverages, cereals, instant foods, chewable vitamin supplements and antibiotics.
Additions of GM Foods
GMO-derived food flavorings, additives and enzymes are frequently used to manufacture various kinds of foods that you buy from your local supermarket. In fact, it is also used to add color to health supplements. Soy lecithin, a GMO product, frequently appears on the label of your supplements. Vitamin enriched food is generally genetically modified too due to the use of GMO to develop this quality in food. Do check the label on your next purchase.
In Popular Foods
Mint - As mentioned above, aspartame is used in the production of chewing gums and mints, especially the sugar-free varieties.
Beer - The use of genetically engineered enzymes to speed up biological processes is popular in breweries.
Bread and Baked Goods - Hotdogs, burgers, croissants, pastries and variety of breads and baked goods are produced using genetic modification.
Dairy Products - It is a widely known fact that cows in the United States are injected with the bovine growth hormone in large number to stimulate the production of milk. Hence, even the milk products are not untouched by genetic engineering. Cheese may also be a GM food as it is made using cow milk that is almost always produced from genetically modified cows. In fact, cheese is produced from a genetically modified enzyme called chymosin.
Wild Salmon - Also dubbed as the 'frankenfish', the transgenic wild salmon could soon debut at your local supermarkets if AquaBounty Technology successfully obtains the consent of the FDA. It will reduce the maturity period of salmon from 3 years to 16-18 months! Since the FDA has already deemed GM fish to be fit for human consumption, this fate is likely to transpire. Consequently, the fish that you eat couple of years thence may also be contaminated or outnumbered by the GM salmons, leading to their extinction.
Price Look-Up Code
One of the best indicators of genetically modified produce is to look up the produce label or PLU code. A price look-up code is the array of numbers printed on the sticker or tag of a commodity This is a voluntary coding system that has been effective since 1990 and is administrated by the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS) of Produce Marketing Association (PMA) in the U.S.
Their website states that if this code starts with the digit '8', it indicates that the produce is genetically modified. However, a prefix '9' means that it is organically produced. These codes generally are 4 to 5 digits long and are scanned at the time of sale. They may be accompanied by a GS1 DataBar Stacked Omnidirectional bar code.
This system came into being for the ease of segregation of inventory according to the methods used to manufacture it. Since it is a voluntary system, a retailer may design his own PLU coding system.
How to Avoid Eating Genetically Modified Foods
Buy Organic Produce
There are divisions at the grocery stores and in fact, entire stores devoted to selling organic produce. Such food is grown without the use of any chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Here is some good news, according to the new agricultural laws, any food grown using GMO cannot be certified as organic! BUT, GMO testing is not mandatory to acquire an organic certification on the produce. Make an effort to buy your groceries only from health food stores such as Whole Foods Markets that advocate the use of only organic produce. The food labels must say "organic", preferably "100% organic" or "made from organic ingredients".
Substitute Sugar
Since sugar is derived from GM beets, it would be a wise decision for your health to substitute sugar with other natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and molasses. Avoid artificial sweeteners at all costs. Make sure you get your hands only on organic honey. Due to the food chain, bees may gather nectar from GM canola crops. This is especially the case with Canadian varieties. Diet foods, candies and prepackaged desserts are also big culprits. There is nothing you would be losing out by substituting because it contains absolutely no nutrients.
Shop Smart
Stop buying all types of food, especially processed varieties, that contain:
  • Corn and its derivatives: corn syrup, cornmeal, corn oil.
  • Soy and its derivatives: soy milk, soy flour, soy protein, soy lecithin, soy oil.
  • Textured vegetable protein
  • Dextrose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Glucose, Fructose
  • Citric acid
  • Lactic acid

This can be easily done by paying attention to food labels. Refrain from any unnecessary use of antibiotics by switching to alternate medicine for easily curable health ailments. Also, avoid consuming chewable vitamin tablets, specifically vitamin C. Cross out margarine from your grocery list entirely! Favor butter instead. Switch from cow milk to goat milk and its dairy products. You can even satisfy your cravings for corn by going for sweet corn as only 3% to 5% of it is genetically modified in the United States, as stated by Cornell University's website for genetically engineered organisms. You can now breathe a sigh of relief because your popcorn is also safe from GMOs. If any poultry products say "100% grass fed" on the label, it is a safe bet to buy them too.
  • Infant formula and baby food
  • Enriched flour and pasta
  • Alcohol
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Ice-Cream
  • Vanilla extracts
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Protein powder
  • Salad dressing
  • Mayonnaise
  • Margarine, Peanut Butter
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
  • Tofu
  • Soy Sauce
  • Baking Powder
  • Meat substitutes
  • Bread
  • Cereals
  • ALL confectionery goods
Invest in a Kitchen Garden!
One of the best remedies to avoid eating modified foods is to grow your own food. This way you will be absolutely sure of what went in to grow your fruits and vegetables. Although, this method is not feasible to procure all types of food such as whole-grains and poultry, at least your save yourself by significantly cutting down food bought from stores. In fact, it is way cheaper to grow your own food because your only investment would be seeds, natural fertilizers, water, a little bit of your time and efforts. Just ensure that the seeds you use to grow your food is not genetically modified.
Shop at the Farmers' Market
While you cannot be a 100% sure that the food will be non-genetically modified, there is high probability that the produce at the farmers' market is
  • cheaper, fresh and seasonal
  • organically grown with no/minimal use of chemicals
Since you buy food directly from the farmers, you will provide support by increasing their sales and encouraging them to produce more food locally. On the plus side, you also get to interact in person with those growing your food and directly ask them if they use any means or sources of genetic modification. In fact, there already may be Certified Organic farmers at your local farmers' market! If you have trouble growing your own food, why not sign up with a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm and get nutritious food at cheaper prices? Save big on your health and wallet. These days farmers even sell poultry products (milk, eggs and meat) as well as whole-grains at these markets.
Stop Eating Outside
That is a drastic measure but it would be a great step towards investing in your health in the long term by avoiding consumption of food from restaurants. Eateries do not favor investing in non-processed food as they need to store it for long durations and fresh food perishes quickly. Your restaurant order food is likely to be high in sodium and unsaturated fats along with a high dose of chemicals used to produce the ingredients.
Unfortunately, the production of GM food is growing by leaps and bounds throughout the world to match pace with the rising statistics of diseases plaguing the global population. It has even reached the baby food you have been gladly feeding your little ones.
  • Three-fourth of all processed food available at American supermarkets is produced using genetically modified ingredients.
  • Monsanto is the leading producer of genetically engineered seeds in the United States.
  • 134 million hectares of agricultural land is globally dedicated to the cultivation of GM crops.
  • The National Agricultural Statistics Board's annual report published in the summer of 2010 records the prevalence of GM crops - 95% sugar beet, 93% soybeans, 93% cotton and 86% corn.
  • Since 1996 when GMO were popularized in the U.S., the percentage of people suffering from 3 or more chronic ailments has risen from 7% to 13%.
  • In India, cattle grazing on GM cotton crops resulted in a recorded high rate of cattle mortality within the next month. GM corn has had similar effects on buffaloes and chickens in Philippines and cows in Germany.
  • GM food has the ability to modify the DNA structure of bacteria present in your intestines. These effects may stay forever in your body.
  • In 1990, European scientists raised environmental and health concerns regarding the consumption of GM food which led to the formulation of strict regulations regarding food labeling to limit the availability of such foods in the market. Nevertheless, a decade later, those scientists have been proved right.
  • Did you know - GMOs are also used to manufacture shampoos, detergents, soaps and cosmetics.

GM foods are, in reality, food built-in with chemicals and pesticides to minimize the prevalence of diseases in crops. Now, imagine what have you been eating all along? May be it is not the food increasing our waistlines that we should be concerned about anymore, it is modified or biotech foods that we all need to be protected against and preserve the balance of nature without interfering with the ecosystem. The benefits of genetic engineering in biotechnology are severely over-rated. There are better sustainable scientific strategies present that, if further developed, can produce better yields without disturbing the ecological balance of Mother Nature. If even some of us boycotted GM foods, the government may be compelled to minimize their presence in our food chain just like the EU.
Remember, what can change cause genetic variations in your food, can do the same to you.

Suggested for further reading: Please refer to the world bestseller on the truth of genetically modified foods, 'Seeds of Deception', written by Jeffrey M. Smith, a leading spokesperson on the dangers of Genetically Modified Organisms. He is also the founding Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology. His second book 'Genetic Roulette' that states evidence documenting the harmful effects of GMOs on our health.