Content Last Updated August 2013
The controversy surrounding Genetically Modified (GM) foods isn’t going anywhere. Activist groups have made their voice heard; we have seen protests around the globe, the burning of GM crops in Hungary, and murmurs of the same happening right next door in Washington. The biotech company Monsanto has backed out of Europe due to lack of support for GM crops from farmers and citizens, but continue to stipulate that the public must embrace GM foods for our own food security and for the starving developing nations.
Why Care About Genetically Modified Foods?
Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Foods
Regardless of how we feel about GM foods and their affect on our health, there is no doubt that the environmental impacts are there. More than 80% of GM food grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance. What does this mean? The use of toxic herbicides like Roundup has increased 15 times since GM crops were introduced. See my post Genetically Modified Food Pros and Cons – For Our Health & The Environment for more information.
David Suzuki on Genetically Modified Crops
“Once these new life forms have become established in our surroundings, they can replicate, change, and spread; there may be no turning back. Many ecologists are concerned about what this means to the balance of life on Earth that has evolved over millions of years through the natural reproduction of species.”
-Geneticist and Environmental Activist David Suzuki
What Genetically Modified Foods Am I Eating?
What Are The Most Common Genetically Modified Crops?
- Sugar beets
Are Genetically Modified Foods Labeled?
Because labelling laws for GM foods don’t exist yet in Canada or America, it is up to us the consumer to make informed decisions about what we put in our mouths. Luckily the list of approved GM foods isn’t getting much bigger, and if you shop at farmers’ markets, organic grocers, and avoid processed foods you are probably avoiding the bulk of GM foods.
What Genetically Modified Foods to Look Out For
What Are The Less-Common Genetically Modified Foods?
- Papaya – In the ’90s the Hawaiian papaya trees were plagued by the ringspot virus which devastated the state’s crop supply. In ’98, scientists developed a transgenic fruit called Rainbow Papaya which was resistant to the virus; GM Rainbow Papaya now makes up 77% of the state’s supply of papaya.
- Squashes and Zucchini – While not grown in Canada, some GM squashes and zucchini may be making it over the border from the USA. Approximately 25,000 acres of GM crookneck squash, straightneck squash, and zucchinis have been bioengineered to be virus-resistant.
- Milk Products – No the cow itself is not genetically modified, but RBGH aka recombinant bovine growth hormone is a GM variation of a naturally occurring hormone injected into dairy cows to increase milk production. But don’t worry, it is banned for milk destined for human consumption in the EU, Canada, NZ and Australia. Unfortunately, it may still be found in frozen desserts that contain dairy such as ice cream, imported mixed drinks with milk ingredients and products that contain milk solids and milk powder. Cheese is also at risk.
GM Ingredients In Processed Food
Much of the processed food available contain dairy, sugar, corn, and/or soy, which has led to estimates of about 80% of processed foods containing a genetically modified ingredient.
- Cottonseed oil is found in potato chips and take away shops
- Corn is everywhere (cornflakes, corn chips) or corn derivatives (cornstarch, corn syrup, corn oil, glucose and fructose).
- Sugar beets are labelled as just plain ‘sugar’ on an ingredient list so unless it is labelled ‘cane sugar’ you can bet it has probably come from a GM sugar beet.
- GM Soy is often found in the form of soy protein, soy oil and soy lecithin. Most soymilks and tofu are GM-free.
GM Ingredients Fed To Animals
Animal feed often uses GM ingredients such as GM corn, soybean oil or alfalfa. If you are looking to go completely GM-free, opt for free-range or grass-fed meat where possible.
What Foods are Free of Genetically Modified Organisms?
How To Eat GMO-Free?
There are many resources out there in support of GM-free eating. Aside from the Non-GMO Project, there is GE Free BC which lists many brands that don’t source from GM ingredients. Buy local as the majority of GM food comes from industrial farms, and eat whole foods, avoid processed foods with ingredients from suspect sources. Lastly, look for organic certification or check out the Non-GMO Project to see which of your favourite brands has gone GMO-free.
Eat More Plant-Based
Cutting back on meat and dairy can also help reduce our exposure to genetically modified organisms. See my post Health and Environmental Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet for more information on eating a sustainable diet.
More Post on Genetically Modified Foods
- Genetically Modified Food Pros and Cons – For Our Health & The Environment
- What Is Flexitarian? The Environmental Sustainability of Eating Meat
- Canada GMO Salmon Eggs Approved
- Is Your Wheat Intolerance Due To Glyphosate In Canadian Bread?
Rachel Dickens, The Conscious Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated with her Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010 from Griffith University. She strives to provide evidence-based nutrition information with a focus on plant-based nutrition and share some of her favourite seasonal recipes and sustainable eating tips.