How to Avoid GMOs – and Why You Should

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in our food supply has become a subject of hot debate in recent years. It is estimated that more than 80% of North American food includes GMOs. Although more than 60 countries worldwide have either restrictions or an outright ban on GMOs, and require labeling of GM ingredients so that shoppers can make informed decisions, in North America there are currently no labeling requirements.

Are GMOs safe for children and families to eat? What is their impact on the environment? And if we choose to, how can we avoid them?

What is GM food?

Essentially, a GM food is derived from an organism that has had some of its heritable traits changed, either through traditional crossbreeding techniques, using chemicals or radiation to alter the genetic make-up of the organism’s cells (called mutagenesis), or through a genetic engineering technique such as introducing a gene from one species into another species.

What the science says about GMOs

Although the agricultural chemical industry and its supporters make many claims about the benefits and safety of GMOs, growing independent scientific evidence is showing that these claims are not true. In fact, this evidence has raised so many serious concerns about GMOs that there are many reasons why people might choose to avoid genetically modified foods. Here are some of the key concerns:

  • Since these foods are laboratory made, using technology that is very different from the natural food, they may pose different risks from non-GM crops.
  • Very few safety studies have been conducted on GMOs. Currently, the government does not require that GM food be tested for carcinogenicity, harm to fetuses or for long term risks to humans and animals.
  • Some independent studies have shown that GMO ingredients can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than the natural versions of the food.
  • By definition, genetically modified crops are all sprayed with Roundup herbicide. These crops have become herbicide tolerant, which has led to “superweeds.” This has further increased the use of pesticides, not decreased it, as suggested by the GM industry. As well, this has created other serious problems for farmers, including compromised soil quality, ecosystem disruption, and increased disease susceptibility in crops.
  • GM crops use just as much energy in production as other chemically farmed crops (not less as claimed).
  • Organic farmers are struggling to prevent cross-contamination of their crops because GM seeds and pollen are spreading via wind, insects, floods and machinery.
  • GM foods distract from the causes of world hunger – poverty, lack of access to nutritious food, and access to land to grow it on – and do not solve it as suggested.

Where are the GMOs?

According to some estimates, more than 75% of food in North American supermarkets is genetically modified or contains GM ingredients. Many of these are “hidden” in other ingredients.

The most common GM foods are:

  • Soybeans and soybean-derived ingredients – including soy proteins, soybean oil, soy milk, soy flour, soy sauce, tofu and soy lecithin (an estimated 93% of soybeans are GM)
  • Field corn – cultivated for animal feed, and processed to corn flour, high fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, corn meal and corn oil (90% of field corn is likely GM)
  • Vegetable oils – vegetable oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and corn oil
  • Sugar beets – used to make sugar (excludes pure cane sugar)

The following foods may also be genetically modified:

  • Hawaiian Papaya
  • Squash (zucchini and yellow)
  • Alfalfa
  • Sweet corn – some varieties sold in supermarkets and on farm stands

As well, GMOs may be hidden in other commonly used processed food ingredients, including Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, natural and artificial flavourings, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lactic acid, maltodextrins, molasses, monosodium glutamate (MSG), Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein, Xanthum Gum and yeast products.

Top strategies for avoiding GMOs

The prospect of avoiding GMOs may seem daunting, but there are a few simple strategies you can use to keep your mealtimes GMO free:

  • Emphasize whole, unprocessed foods in your diet – This is always an excellent strategy for a variety of health reasons.
  • Buy organic – Organic certification rules prohibit GMOs from being labelled organic. When you buy organic, you avoid both pesticides and GMOs.
  • Look for the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label on any packaged foods you purchase. This is a non-profit group offering a detailed independent verification process for food producers to test and verify that to the best of their knowledge, they have avoided using GMOs. You can also do a product search online to find verified products and brands.

Learn more and get involved

Consumers have the right to know if their food has been genetically modified. To learn more about GM regulation and how you can add your voice to this important issue, visit:

Non-GMO Project

Non-GMO Project Myths and Truths Science Report 

Environmental Working Group 

Kids Right to Know (Canada)