Non-GMO is a term that has been getting a lot of media coverage the last year or so but what does it mean? Are all products that are Certified Organic automatically GMO free? What is so special about the Non-GMO project label you see on products and is it really necessary for all products?
WHAT IS GMO?
GMOs (or “genetically modified organisms”) are organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering, or GE. This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
ORGANICS AND GMO’S
Buying 100% Organic, Certified Organic, and USDA Organic-labeled products is usually the easiest way to identify and avoid genetically modified ingredients. The US and Canadian governments do NOT allow companies to label products “100% Certified Organic” if they contain genetically modified ingredients.
Currently there are only a few high risk crops that contain GMO’s. The list below is from the NON-GMO PROJECT website.
High-Risk Crops (in commercial production; ingredients derived from these must be tested every time prior to use in Non-GMO Project Verified products (as of December 2011):
- Alfalfa (first planting 2011)
- Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
- Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop; approximately 988 acres)
- Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Sugar Beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop in 2010)
- Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approx. 25,000 acres)
Listed in Appendix B of the Non-GMO Project Standard are a number of high-risk inputs, including those derived from GMO microorganisms, the above crops or animals fed these crops or their derivatives.
Common Ingredients Derived from GMO Risk Crops
Amino Acids, Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Ethanol, Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrins, Molasses, Monosodium Glutamate, Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), Xanthan Gum, Vitamins, Yeast Products.
Monitored Crops (those for which suspected or known incidents of contamination have occurred, and those crops which have genetically modified relatives in commercial production with which cross-pollination is possible; we test regularly to assess risk, and move to “High-Risk” category for ongoing testing if we see contamination):
- Beta vulgaris (e.g., chard, table beets)
- Brassica napa (e.g., rutabaga, Siberian kale)
- Brassica rapa (e.g., bok choy, mizuna, Chinese cabbage, turnip, rapini, tatsoi)
- Cucurbita (acorn squash, delicata squash, patty pan)
You may also be wondering about…
- Tomatoes: In 1994, genetically modified Flavr Savr tomatoes became the first commercially produced GMOs. They were brought out of production just a few years later, in 1997, due to problems with flavor and ability to hold up in shipping. There are no genetically engineered tomatoes in commercial production, and tomatoes are considered “low-risk” by the Non-GMO Project Standard.
- Potatoes: Genetically modified NewLeaf potatoes were introduced by Monsanto in 1996. Due to consumer rejection by several fast-food chains and chip makers, the product was never successful and was discontinued in the spring of 2001. There are no genetically engineered potatoes in commercial production, and potatoes are considered “low-risk” by the Non-GMO Project Standard.
- Salmon: A company called AquaBounty is currently petitioning the FDA to approve its genetically engineered variety of salmon, which has met with fierce consumer resistance.
- Pigs: A genetically engineered variety of pig, called Enviropig was developed by scientists at the University of Guelph, with research starting in 1995 and government approval sought beginning in 2009. In 2012 the University announced an end to the Enviropig program, and the pigs themselves were euthanized in June 2012.
As you can see there are only a few high risk crops that are GMO. These crops are obviously not organic. You can also see that there are no GMO potatoes, or tomatoes. Superfoods such as maca or goji berries are also not at risk. We don’t think Monsanto’s or other GMO producers are targeting superfoods. Superfoods are such a tiny little player compared to the massive GMO crops listed above.
The NON-GMO Project label has been appearing on many products on the market in the last few years. Sometimes this label is really not necessary since foods such as avocados, tomatoes, olive oil, parsley, basil, millet, barley, coconut milk, shiitake mushrooms, sunflower seeds, arugula, quinoa, Himalayan pink salt , chia seeds, goji berries, cacao, incan berries, acai, and a ton of other products including superfoods are already non-GMO. Where this label is important is when consumers are not buying organic foods and want to know if the product is non-GMO. For example, if you are looking to purchase cereals made from corn or buying dried fruit that has canola oil on it to preserve it, or if consumers are looking for tempeh, tofu or soy milk.
The non-GMO symbol is great for consumers that are purchasing products from high risk crops like the ones mentioned above. Some low risk non-organic products may have a small amount of GMO ingredients in them as preservatives or flow agents when manufacturing the product so the non-GMO label is important for this reason too.
In conclusion, buying organic is the best way to protect yourself from GMO’s. If you buy conventional, make sure the product is labelled non-GMO to keep yourself and your family from consuming GMO’s. Ultimately it is up to you, the consumer, to make an informed choice of what you are putting into your body. For us it’s always 100% organic and GMO free.