GMO Foods: How to Tell the Difference?

When shopping at the grocery store, you can often tell what’s organic and conventionally grown, but how can you make sure it’s not genetically modified, too? Here’s a super simple guide to identifying GMO foods from conventional and organic produce.

How do you know if a food is GM or not?

I personally choose avoid GMO produce due to the lack of research and knowledge on long-term effects of consuming these foods. Changing the genetic structure of foods seems a little risky, and as it’s still so early, we haven’t been able to really distinguish what the long term consequences are.

So, with this is mind, I looked at ways to identify what’s GMO and what’s not.

Identifying GMOs

Here’s a super simple trick to identifying GMO foods.

Produce Sticker Numbers

Those little stickers that you have to pull off your fruit before eating aren’t just there for decoration. They’re actually a great tool to understand how your produce was grown. Each fruit has a 4 or 5 digit Price Look-Up (or PLU) code – given based on how it was grown. Produce that’s conventionally grown will have a 4-digit PLU code, which generally begins with a 3 or 4. Organically grown produce will have a 5-digit code which begins with a 9. Genetically modified produce has a 5-digit code also, but the first number is an 8.

For example, for conventionally grown it would be 4015; for organic it would be 94015; while genetically modified would be 84015.

My fresh food grocery haul; all organic, meaning non-GMO!

Buy “100% Organic” labelled foods

By law, genetically modified food or ingredients in products labelled 100% organic is prohibited. However, if processed or packaged food is just labelled “organic,” then it may contain GM food (up to 30%). “Organic” labelled food is fine for items such as produce. Eating locally grown also helps to minimise potential contact with GM foods, as most genetically modified food comes from large industrial farms. You’re more likely to find non-GMO food grown by small local farms, and you can even contact your local farmers and ask them directly how the food is grown.

Look for “Non-GMO Project Verified” labels

Up until recently, selecting foods labelled “organic” was the only way you could avoid GMO foods. However, organic certification only covers how a food is grown, not what’s in the food itself. Food production has become more and more compromised over time, from factors such as cross-pollination and cross-contamination during processing and handling. This means that even organic certified products cannot guarantee that a product is completely GMO-free.

According to Down to Earth;

The Non-GMO Project provides manufacturers with a “Non-GMO Project Verified” logo backed by independent testing. The “Non-GMO Project Verified” logo means that GMO contamination has been avoided throughout the growth and harvesting of crops, their processing, storage and packaging. Over 1,000 products have been verified to date, with thousands more in the process.

Existing GM Crops

According to the Department of Health, the only genetically modified fresh produce grown in Australia are cotton, canola, and safflower, with some current experimental field plantings of GM banana, barley, ryegrass, mustard, sugarcane and wheat. In the past, trials have been conducted on plants such as rice, clover, maize, poppy, papaya, pineapple and grapevines.

Sources of GM Food & Ingredients

In Australia, GM whole foods such as soy, sugar beet, or maize may be used as ingredients in food, but none of these foods are actually grown here. However, some products sold in Australia may contain imported GM ingredients, which is something to be wary of.

The main sources of GM foods here in Australia include:

  • GM soy that’s been imported: Used as an ingredient in a wide range of foods such as chocolate, potato chips, margarine, mayonnaise, biscuits and bread.
  • GM corn that’s been imported: An ingredient in imported foods like breakfast cereals, bread, corn chips, gravy mixes, corn oil, corn flour and corn syrup.
  • GM sugar beet that’s been imported: May be used to produce sugar.
  • Cottonseed oil made from GM cotton: Used in mayonnaise, salad dressings, and for frying.

Currently, there are no approved imports of fresh GM fruit or vegetables in Australia.

According to Down to Earth, some foods and their derivatives that are most likely genetically engineered in America include;

Soybeans and soy products such as soy lecithin, soy protein, isolated soy, soy flour, etc. Soy is the most heavily modified food and is also commonly used as an additive. So in the U.S., if your label says it contains soy, then it contains GMO. If you consume soy products such as tofu or soy milk, make sure the labelling states that the tofu or soy beans are organic.

Corn and corn-based products. Corn is also a heavily modified food (with the exception of popcorn). Best to look for products that say “100% organic.” Corn derivatives include corn starch, high-fructose corn syrup, modified food/corn starch, corn oil, etc.

Canola oil. Virtually all canola oil (or rapeseed oil) grown in the world (except in the EU) is from genetically engineered crops.

Dairy products. Many dairy farms give cows the genetically modified growth hormone rBGH or rBST to increase milk production. Look for dairy products labelled as r-BGH/rBST-free. Better yet, buy organic milk and dairy products to also avoid GMOs and pesticides.

Sugar beets. Product labels containing “sugar” can be from either cane sugar or sugar beets. So to avoid beet sugar, look for products with ingredients that say evaporated cane sugar, organic sugar or cane sugar.

Aspartame. Aside from being an unnatural, unhealthy artificial sweetener, it is made from GMOs. Aspartame is found in products such as “Equal”, “NutraSweet,” sugar-free gum, and diet sodas and beverages.

As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. It’s important to check with a doctor before taking this or any new product, especially if taking any other medicine or supplement or if pregnant or nursing. Be sure to check ingredients to make sure there is no risk of an allergic reaction.

Have you ever read the stickers on your fruit or veg? Do you have any other tips on verifying whether produce is organic or GMO? Share in the comments below.

Lots of love,

🖤 Vanessa

Sources:

Wells, Katie. (January 8, 2019). DIY Fruit and Vegetable Wash (& Preserver). Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/28/fruit-vegetable-wash/

How Food Stickers Can Determine the Type of Produce You’re Holding. (March 2, 2018). Wide Open Eats. Retrieved from https://www.wideopeneats.com/tell-produce-genetically-modified/

Food – genetically modified (GM). (February 2014). Better Health Channel. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/food-genetically-modified-gm

Genetically modified (GM) food labelling. (Updated: May 20, 2020). Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. Retrieved from https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/gmfood/labelling/Pages/default.aspx

Bishop, Tandis. (Updated: May 18, 2019). Ways to Avoid Genetically Modified Food. Down to Earth. Retrieved from https://www.downtoearth.org/environment/genetic-engineering/ways-to-avoid-genetically-modified-food