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When I hear that a certain food is genetically modified, it raises a red flag for me. I’m leery of anything that is altered from what nature intended. Especially when it’s something I might put into my body.

Now, I understand not everything in modern life is perfectly natural. Most of us do not solely depend on the food we grow in backyard gardens. 

With most food needing to travel to grocery stores and then sit out while on display, a few preservatives are used to keep that food from going bad before it’s purchased. 

But when fruits and vegetables are grown with GMO seeds, I get concerned. I don’t want to put a bunch of laboratory GMOs in my body if I can avoid it. Even meat is affected because more than 95% of animals used for meat and dairy in the U.S. eat GMO crops.

What are GMOs? 

What’s particularly worrisome to me is how many of the foods we eat on a regular basis are genetically modified. As well as the fact that we can’t see GMOs, so we’re dependent on food sellers to properly label them.

Before I get into some ways to avoid GMO foods, let’s take a quick look at what GMOs are, why they are used, and whether they’re safe. 

A GMO (genetically modified organism) is a plant, animal, microorganism, or other organism with a genetic makeup that has been altered in a lab using genetic engineering. 

The result is a combination of plant, animal, bacterial, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.  

Driven by the almighty dollar

As to why they are used, well, it’s all about economics. Generally speaking, GMOs control weeds and lessen crop loss, which saves farmers money. 

For instance, GMO fruits & veggies require less fertilizer, pesticides, and water to grow, assuming they have been genetically altered to fight off drought and disease. Some GMOs merely make crops look better, which can lead to more sales.

There is great debate regarding whether GMOs are safe for consumption. Most scientists say they are…

But many consumers are not so convinced. Concerningly though, most trust the government and rarely question what they purchase and eat. 

Foods likely to contain GMOs

Here’s a list of foods that are most likely to have been genetically engineered well before we see them on store shelves.

  • Corn and corn-based products like corn oil, corn starch, and high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Dairy products. Cows actually produce genetically modified milk. How is that possible? Because they are given genetically modified growth hormones rBGH or rBST to increase their milk production. 
  • Soybeans and soy products. Soy is genetically modified even more than corn is. This includes soy protein, soy flour, and soy lecithin. Soy is frequently used as an additive in various foods.
  • Apples and potatoes. GMOs keep these foods from bruising as easily, and unfortunately, appearance is everything to some consumers.
  • Aspartame. Made from GMOs, this artificial sweetener can be found in a variety of products, including sugar-free gum and diet sodas. If you use Equal and NutraSweet, you’re putting GMOs into your body. 
  • Canola oil – also called rapeseed oil – is made from genetically modified crops. The exception is canola oil made in the European Union. 
  • Sugar beets. It’s reported that about 95% of sugar beets are genetically modified.
  • Papaya. A while back, a virus wiped out nearly all of Hawaii’s papaya crop. Since then, nearly all of them are grown with GMOs.

How to avoid GMOs 

As we’ve seen, it’s a challenge to avoid GMOs in your food. But there are ways to limit your consumption of them. 

One way is to make sure your food is locally grown. Small local farms are more likely to have GMO-free products than the big industrial farms. When in doubt, ask farmers how their food is grown. 

Another way is to purchase foods that are labeled as “100% organic.” Please note the “100%” designation. It’s perfectly legal to label food as “organic” if it’s 30% or less genetically modified.

A third strategy is finding products that have “Non-GMO Project Verified” on package labeling. This wording can only be earned through independent testing. And it means that throughout the entire process – growing, harvesting, processing, storing, and packaging, GMOs have been avoided.

Regarding produce, another way to determine if it contains GMOs is to examine the sticker number on the label. If it’s a 4-digit number, it was conventionally grown. If it’s a 5-digit number beginning with 9, the produce is organic. If it’s a 5-digit number starting with an 8, it is genetically modified. 

We may not be able to avoid all GMOs in our food, but we can certainly limit our intake of them if we work at it.