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Avoiding GMOs: Four Easy Tips

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, were introduced into our food supply in the mid-1990's and, in their relatively brief existence, have become fully entrenched in the food around us. Not to be confused with traditional breeding techniques like open pollination or hybridization (which occur courtesy of natural reproduction), GMOs must be created in a laboratory. Scientists change the plant or animal’s DNA by inserting novel genes—typically from an unrelated species—with the goal of producing very specific traits. For instance, some GMO plant varieties are designed to tolerate toxic pesticides. Simply put, GMOs aren’t natural. Despite the fact that GMOs don’t occur in nature, they are commonly found on supermarket shelves without any labeling.

We believe everyone deserves access to information so they can make informed decisions for themselves about whether to choose or avoid GMO food. If you want to pass on GMOs, here's what you can do:

1. Avoid at-risk ingredients

Certain foods are more likely to contain GMOs than others. Think processed foods—anything that contains corn, soy or canola ingredients probably contains GMOs. A few likely culprits include canola oil, corn syrup and soy protein. And, here’s a little known fact: most of our sugar actually comes from sugar beets (not sugar cane) and most of those sugar beets are genetically modified. So, if you’re in the mood for something sweet, look for desserts with evaporated cane juice listed in the ingredients or another alternative sweetener.

When you’re cooking at home using fresh, unprocessed ingredients, it’s pretty easy to avoid GMOs. With the exception of zucchini, summer squash, sweet corn and papaya, you’re not likely to find GMO produce. Just remember to reach for non-GMO oils, like coconut, safflower or olive oil for your next salad or sauté.

If you’re really passionate about avoiding GMOs, be aware that conventional farm animals eat GMO corn, soy and alfalfa. You may also wish to seek out organic cotton, since most conventional cotton is GMO these days. The good news is that by federal law, certified organic products cannot contain GMOs, so choosing organic is an excellent way to avoid GMOs (see Tip #2).

Note: For a fun and useful tool, our friends at the Center for Food Safety have created a handy non-GMO shoppers guide application for mobile devices.

2. Learn your labels

The federal government will only certify foods as organic if they are grown or produced without GMOs—so choosing the USDA organic seal is always an easy choice. You can also look for the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal which means the product was independently tested and found not to contain GMOs. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean the product offers all the other benefits of organic, just that ingredients weren’t genetically modified.

We applaud manufacturers who go the extra mile to ensure their products don’t contain GMOs and label them as such. But as more GMO products become available (GMO apples and salmon are in the works), wouldn’t it be much simpler if the companies who choose to grow or sell GMOs labeled their products?

Co+op, stronger together food co-ops support Just Label It because we believe that consumers have the right to information about their food—such as whether a food contains GMOs—which can help inform decisions on what they want to buy and eat.

3. Look for locally grown products

There are lots of great reasons to choose locally grown products, and one of them is the availability of information. It’s much easier to know what ingredients are going into the food you’re buying and how it’s produced when it’s grown close to home. Co-ops have strong relationships with their local growers and producers in order to provide the freshest, highest quality products to shoppers—this includes products that are organic or do not contain GMO ingredients. This makes co-ops a great place for food without GMOs.

4. Support the cause

Feeling passionate about GMOs? Make your voice heard! It's easy to send a message to your elected representatives on GMOs through Just Label It's Take Action page. In addition to the “Just Label It” movement, check out the Non-GMO Project or Center for Food Safety for other ideas, inspiration, and resources. If you feel so inclined, donate to advocacy organizations to help them continue their work calling for mandatory labeling of GMO foods.