To GMO or not to GMO? That Is The Question.

By: Julia Hoy | Culinary Center Assistant
On: September 29, 2014

I recently gave a presentation about locally grown foods and was surprised that the majority of the follow-up questions concerned GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). As a mother and a food scientist, I can empathize with the concerns behind the questions but also understand the science side of the debate. The mom side of me worries about the food choices I make for my family; Are they safe? Healthy? etc. The scientist in me understands the need to develop improved agricultural methods, to increase yield, nutrition, and reduce pesticide/herbicide use. So what to do?

GMOs or GE are “Genetically Modified Organisms” or “Genetically Engineered” products. Scientists use biotechnology to insert a specific genetic code into a plant in order to produce a desired result, such as corn that is disease or pest resistant. Unlike traditional crossbreeding, which can take years to produce results (and can only be used between very closely related plant species), GE technology allows plant breeders to incorporate very specific genes from a wide variety of living sources, producing results in a much shorter amount of time. Admittedly, it does sound a bit ominous but as a concerned consumer, you have the opportunity to do additional research and make an informed choice. And as far as I know, no one has modified corn with shark genes - yet.

So are GE products safe? Yes, according to U.S. regulatory agencies such as the FDA, EPA, and USDA. Food and food ingredients derived from GE plants must adhere to the same safety requirements under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act as food and food ingredients derived from traditionally bred plants. Currently, the U.S. government does not require labeling of GE foods or ingredients.

The good news for concerned consumers is that GE food is not often found in the fresh produce section. (Note: the majority of corn sold as sweet corn in produce sections is not GE corn; rather, field corn grown for animal feed, ethanol, corn syrup, corn starch, etc. is almost exclusively GE corn.) Consumers are more likely to find GE ingredients in processed foods containing soy, corn, sugar (unless labeled pure cane sugar), and vegetable oils (soy, corn, canola, cottonseed, grapeseed). If you are concerned about limiting your exposure to GE foods:

Choose organic products. The national and state organic certification rules do not allow GE foods to be labeled organic.

Buy processed foods with a “Non-GMO Project Verified” label. This non-profit organization operates a detailed, voluntary certification process so that food producers can test and verify that, to the best of their knowledge, they have avoided using GE ingredients in their products. Dorothy Lane Market is a member of the “Non-GMO Project”.

Avoid the four most common GE foods and ingredients: field corn-derived products and ingredients; soybean-derived products and ingredients; sugar derived products and ingredients (unless labeled “pure cane sugar”); and vegetable oils (vegetable oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, and corn oil).