by Rosemary Fifield
Whether you call them genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified organisms (GMO), a large percent of products on our co-op’s shelves contain ingredients from crops created through biotechnology.
To create GMOs, scientists have manipulated plant genes in ways that could not occur in nature, sometimes inserting DNA from animals, bacteria, viruses, or other plants to create desired characteristics in a crop.
Most often, those characteristics allow the crop to withstand direct application of an herbicide, such as Roundup, that would otherwise kill it. Some GMOs, like Bt corn, produce an insecticide as part of the plant itself. Despite promises to the contrary, no GMO product on the market today delivers enhanced nutrition or any other direct consumer benefit.
Unlike the U.S., most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. Nearly 50 countries, including Australia, Japan, and all of the European Union, restrict or ban the production and sale of GMOs.
Concerns about GMOs include their unknown long-term health risks to humans; environmental damage to related plants, beneficial insects, and other wildlife; loss of biodiversity; and negative impacts on farmers who do not wish to grow GMO crops but are subject to pollen drift and environmental contamination from GMO crops planted by others. For farmers who want no part of GMOs, contamination of their crops can result in loss of market and the risk of being sued for patent violations by companies like Monsanto that own the patents on GMO seeds.
When looking at the percentage of crops in the U.S. that were GMO in 2011, sugar beets top the list at 95 percent. Other U.S. crops planted as GMO were soy (94%), canola (90%), cotton (90%), and field corn (88%).
Almost all Hawaiian papayas are genetically engineered. In addition, 25,000 acres of GMO zucchini and yellow summer squash were planted in the U.S. last year. These items are currently unlabeled.
Monsanto is seeking federal approval to market GMO sweet corn that is resistant to 2,4-D, a major toxic ingredient in Agent Orange.
Some previously available GMO produce items have been taken off the market as unsuccessful. The FlavrSavr tomato introduced in 1994 and the New Leaf potato introduced in 1996 were rejected by consumers, and no GMO tomatoes or potatoes are in current production.
Many people mistakenly believe that the oversized strawberries we sell in plastic containers are GMO. They are not and never have been.
Another product incorrectly assumed to be GMO is wheat. There has never been any genetically engineered wheat on the market. As a key commodity, however, it is a target of the biotech industry.
Approximately 80 percent of conventional processed food in the U.S. contains GMOs. Beet sugar, canola, and cottonseed oil are common ingredients in processed foods including cereals, candies, crackers, spreads, and snacks.
In addition to being named as major ingredients in many types of foods, soy and corn are also “hidden” as the source of a myriad of ingredients found in processed products, including amino acids, aspartame, ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, citric acid, sodium citrate, ethanol, flavorings both “natural” and “artificial,” high-fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lactic acid, maltodextrins, molasses, monosodium glutamate, sucrose, textured vegetable protein (tvp), xanthan gum, vitamins, and yeast products.
A variety of polls (i) indicate that more than 90 percent of Americans support “right to know” legislation that mandates disclosure of GMOs on food labels. And since the Just Label It! campaign (justlabelit.org) launched in late 2011, over one million Americans have signed a petition demanding that the FDA require GMO labeling. Yet, a powerful biotech lobby and the threat of lawsuits have kept labeling legislation at bay in the U.S.
Individual states, including Vermont, Hawaii, Connecticut, California, and Washington, have their own GMO labeling bills pending in legislation. H.722, Vermont Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act recently passed the Vermont House Agriculture Committee, but not in time to be considered by the Vermont legislature before it adjourned for the year.
If it resurfaces with the next legislative session, H.722 faces powerful opposition. The Committee also added an additional hurdle: implementation would be delayed until 365 days after California and at least two Northeastern states enact similar laws.
Monsanto has made it clear that it will sue the state of Vermont should the bill pass. In 1996, Monsanto won a similar lawsuit against Vermont when the state required labeling of dairy products containing bioengineered bovine growth hormone.
Without mandatory labeling, consumers who wish to avoid GMOs have limited ways to know which products are free of them:
Purchase certified organic. The National Organic Standards do not allow certified organic products to contain GMOs.
Consult the certified GMO-free products list provided by the Non-GMO Project (nongmoproject.org). Additional brands are in the process of verification, so check the list for updates.
Below, Co-op customers will find a categorized list of brands we carry that have been certified as GMO-free by the Non-GMO project.
The Co-op carries the following products that have been verified as GMO-free by the Non-GMO Project (nongmoproject.org):
Bakery on Main Gluten Free Granolas
Enviro Kidz Cereals
Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereals
Kashi 7 Grain Cereals
Nature’s Path Cereals
Old Wessex Cereals and Oatmeals
Uncle Sam Cereals
Oils and Spreads
California Olive Ranch
Green Mountain Gringo
Napa Valley Peanut Butter Co.
Maria and Ricardo’s
Edward & Sons
Garden of Eatin’
Green Mountain Gringo
Kind Healthy Snacks
Kettle Brand Foods
Let’s Do Organics
Mary’s Gone Crackers
Nature’s Path Organics
Peace All Natural (Yogi)
Stretch Island Fruit Co.
Candy, Chocolate, & Sweeteners
Let’s Do Organics
(i) MSNBC, Reuters/NPR, Consumer Reports, ABC News, Washington Post