The crops below could be considered the “big four” GM crops due to their size and widespread use.
The Big Four
Corn – Farmers in every state, according to the USDA, are growing GM corn at any given time. High fructose corn syrup made from GM corn is not easy to avoid due to the sheer number of products in which it exists. Breakfast cereals almost unanimously use genetically modified corn. If you’re buying cereal be sure it’s certified organic and/or specifically states that it uses non-GMO ingredients. Nature’s Path is one of the very few cereals that meets both of these conditions.
Soybeans – Eighty-five percent of the soybeans grown on U.S. soil have been genetically modified. Soy, like corn, is an extremely versatile crop, which means it is used in thousands of consumer foods. Soy lecithin is the most popular emulsifier used in food products and you can bet it’s GM unless the label specifically states otherwise. To avoid GM soy you’ll need to read ingredient labels and make an effort to purchase whole unprocessed foods.
Oils – Like corn and soy, avoiding GM oils means eliminating most packaged food items. GM varieties include cottonseed, canola and rapeseed. Cotton is another huge GM crop; however for food purposes it is only used to make oil. The best way to avoid GM oils is to only purchase USDA certified organic. If you’re purchasing oil for cooking, organic coconut oil is far and away the best choice because it’s one of the few oils that doesn’t degrade when heated, not to mention it carries a vast array of health benefits.
Beet Sugar – Roughly half of the sugar consumed in the U.S. comes from GM sugar beets controlled by Monsanto. Sugar beets were initially approved illegally by the USDA, without a complete environmental impact study. In 2010 the illegal crop was put to a halt, but was shortly after completely deregulated by the USDA and continues to dominate the sugar market. Again, by either buying organic or avoiding processed or pre-packaged foods altogether you can avoid GM sugar.
GM produce includes papayas, alfalfa (which is mainly grown as cattle feed) potatoes and zucchini. Other GM fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and apples have been developed, but are not available to consumers as of now. Luckily there is a simple trick that will tell you whether a produce item is GM or not. Check the PLU number (on the sticker); If it is a 5-digit number beginning with an 8, it is GM. A 5-digit number beginning with a 9 on the other hand, means it’s organic. All 4-digit PLU numbers are conventionally grown. Keep in mind that PLU labeling is optional, so this isn’t full-proof. When in doubt simply ask your cashier for the PLU number.
AquAdvantage salmon is the name of a trademarked farmed salmon that has been genetically engineered to reach market size in 16-18 months, rather than the normal three years. By simply purchasing wild salmon you can avoid this GMO.
Meat and dairy
If you’re concerned about meat and dairy products, yes most Big Ag animals are fed GMO feed; but no that doesn’t technically make them a genetically modified food. It’s a step away from an actual GM food, but GM fed meats and dairy likely contain health risks of their own. Buying only organic locally grown meats and dairy will allow you to avoid the GM fed versions, not to mention you will be supporting your local farmers.
To sum it up…
Other than a few exceptions produce and other whole foods are GM free, but most other food items that come in a box, bag or can likely contain GM ingredients from one of the four major GM crops. Since no mandatory labeling laws exist, the only way to avoid these crops for certain is purchasing USDA organic or specified GMO-free products.
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