Knowing What is GMO by the Ingredient Label

Voters in the state of Colorado are voting on a ballot initiative this November.  Called Proposition 105, the proposed measure will require GMOs and GMO containing products sold in the state of Colorado to be more or less labeled.

I have been thinking much about Proposition 105 lately.  I’m thinking out loud, here with you dear blog readers.  I decided I’m going to organize my own thoughts and share them with you.

Called “Right to Know- GMO”, I feel this initiative is a bit of a misnomer.  The proponents of Proposition 105 claim that it is the public’s right to know what is in their food.

In this blogpost, I am arguing that the public already does have the right to know what’s in their food, Proposition 105 or not.

Let’s first review what GMOs are.  GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism.  That means that scientists have removed the genetic code of one organism and inserted it into the genetic code of a totally different organism.  The resulting organism has a new genetic code that is man-made.  That code would never exist in nature.  The resulting organism, that GMO, now has a trait that is more desirable by many.  For example, Bt Corn is corn that has a bacteria genetic code inserted in it.  The corn borer, a caterpillar larvae that used to kill thousands of acres of corn, will eat the Bt GMO corn and its stomach will explode.

I also wanted to clarify the difference between hybrids and GMOs.  I have come across many many people who are unclear on this distinction.  A hybrid is a cross-breed.  Mankind has been hybridizing crops for millennia.  They cross certain varieties of crops together and the resulting offspring has the good traits of both sides.  Man might help this along by sprinkling pollen or something, however, he is hybridizing through natural means.  If you planted varietyx of a crop next to varietyz they’d probably cross breed anyway.  GMOs have their actual genetic code changed by scientists.  Hybrids and GMOs are whole different ballgames.

There are a lot of differing opinions about GMOs.  Proponents of GMOs say GMOs are super-safe, as safe as hybrids, and better for the environment.  Anti-GMO folks say GMOs are the reason for all the epidemic chronic diseases (like cancer and autism) in the world. Anti-GMO folks also say that letting these, um, unnatural genetic codes loose into the environment will wreak havoc.  Look at one study and it says one thing. Look at another study and it says something else.  I follow GMO news very closely and I haven’t seen a 100% convincing  argument either way.

Personally, I am opposed to GMOs.  GMOs seem like franken-science. “They” say GMOs are safe, however, GMOs have only been in production for about twenty years.  20 years is hardly enough time to study long term health or environmental effects.  GMOs, at the very least, are unproven for human and animal health and the environment.  I am a mother of five children.  It is my job to feed my children good wholesome food and to keep them healthy.  I am not going to take a risk on my family with GMOs.  Non-GMOs are proven.  GMOs aren’t. I am also a farmer.  It is my job to grow food for others and to be a good steward of the land that these crops are grown on.  I will not grow a GMO since I will not grow something I wouldn’t eat.  I will not grow a GMO since I hope that my children will farm the same land that their great-great grandparents farmed and I am unsure that GMOs are safe for future generations of the environment.

I take my job as a mother very seriously.  As I said above, I am responsible for the health of my children and I truly believe that there are health connections to diet.  I feed my children the best that our budget and time allows.  I avoid GMOs.

Getting back to Proposition 105, many have argued that if passed, we will now have a “right to know” what is in our food.  I will spend the rest of this blogpost telling you that we already have the right to know what’s in our food and I will review how to tell if GMOs are in your food by truly reading the ingredient label.

The background of this little meme above is actually a Round-Up Ready GMO corn field here in Eastern Colorado.  The Round-Up killed everything but the GMO Round-Up Ready volunteer corn.

The background of this little meme above is actually a Round-Up Ready GMO corn field here in Eastern Colorado. The Round-Up killed everything but the GMO Round-Up Ready volunteer corn.

The first principle to remember is that there are only a few GMO crops currently in commercial production.  These crops are corn, soy, cotton, sugar beets, canola, alfalfa, papaya, summer squash and zucchini. This is as of October 2014, as I write this blogpost.  There are experiments all over the place for various additional GMO crops and various additional kinds of GMO of the already GMO crops. But right now, we only have GMO corn, soy, cotton, sugar beets, canola, alfalfa, papaya, summer squash and zucchini.

Secondly, we must remember that the word “organic” is a copyrighted word.  If a food item does not comply with the 2002 Organic Standards Act, it is illegal to be called “organic”. (Although I would venture to say that there are some loopholes where some foreign grown crops are allowed to be called organic where they may or may not be following the same standards as us.)  Organic standards exclude GMOs.  If a product says it’s “organic”, than it cannot be both GMO and legally organic, too.  It’s a pretty safe bet that organics are not GMO.  I should caution you, however, not to fall for the “made with” trick.  If you bought, for example, spaghetti sauce, that said “made with organic tomatoes” on the label, than that only means the tomatoes are organic.   That does not mean that the other components of the sauce are organic.  We should assume they’re not organic and they might even be GMO.

Moreover, we must also assume that any crop which has GMO production and is not sold as organic or specifically non-GMO is in fact GMO.  For example, 94% of the soy grown in the USA in 2011 was GMO (source).  We can assume any soy that’s not organic and not labeled non-GMO is in fact GMO.  94% is a whole lot.

Our fourth principle to remember is that certain crops are sold as crops and certain ones are made into everything.  Summer squash, zucchini and papaya are pretty much just sold as “themselves”.  One can just avoid commercially produced non-organic summer squash, zucchini and papaya and thus avoid these GMOs, easy peasy, done.  Cotton of course is used to make fabric.  We don’t eat fabric, but we may eat cottonseed oil.  Avoid cottonseed oil, food products made with cottonseed oil and eating t-shirts and you will avoid eating GMO cotton. Canola, or rapeseed, is a “new” oil, once touted as the healthy choice, primarily in the 1980’s. If you avoid canola oil and food products made with canola oil, you will avoid GMO canola.

We must also remember to assume that unless meat, eggs and dairy are specifically marketed as “organic”, “non-GMO” or “grass-fed”, we must assume that the animals have eaten GMOs.  GMO corn and GMO soy are the heart of most every animal food, from chicken, pig and cow feedlots to even fish food.  Additionally, some may give animals alfalfa, which is now GMO, too.  Also, there is a lot of “byproduct” fed to commercial animals.  These byproducts are assumed to be from GMOs.  It’s a safe assumption that commercially marketed meats, eggs and dairy have come from animals who ate GMOs unless specified. If you’re the-farmers-market-type who purchases things directly from the farmer, ask him. Chickens may free range and have access to pasture, but they may also be given a GMO-laden feed as a supplement. Ask.

Remember, also, that “sugar” as an ingredient or product probably comes from sugar beets, which are GMO.  Cane sugar is not GMO (yet).

Our sixth and final principle to remember is that about everything comes from corn and soy.  Vinegar, vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, corn meal (and therefore corn chips and tortillas), cosmetics, cellulose, and I-don’t-even-know funky foods are all from corn.  There are way more qualified people who can tell you all the ‘stuff’ they make from corn and soy.  Look it up. Find out what these products are.  Avoid them to avoid GMOs.

We should also remember that everything changes so rapidly.  They are experimenting all over the place and it seems more GMOs are approved every year.  What I write is current as I write it, but give it a few months and it won’t be. Also remember that you should really do your own research on all of this and not just go by what some blogger said.

For example, I occasionally buy Boulder Canyon Olive Oil Potato Chips at Sam’s Club. They contain just three ingredients- potatoes, olive oil and salt.  Since I know that potatoes, olive oil and salt are not currently GMO, I know that Boulder Canyon Olive Oil Potato Chips are not GMO.  I do not need the proposed labeling from Proposition 105 to tell me that.  I can also look at the label and see that these chips are Non-GMO Project Verified. The good people over at the Non-GMO Project certify certain foods as non-GMO.  The food manufacturers choose to have their products verified.  The Non-GMO Project will allow the food manufacturer to put their label on the product if the product complies with the Non-GMO Project’s standards.  This is a choice that Boulder Canyon made, to have their potato chips verified and to put this label on.  Honestly, since I’m such an ingredient label reader, I already knew that Boulder Canyon Olive Oil Potato Chips are non-GMO.  If a hypothetical shopper was in the chip aisle, he or she can read the labels, just as I do and see that PotatoChipBrandX contains “soy oil” as an ingredient.  The shopper will know that since 94% of the soy grown in America is GMO and the label does not say “organic soy” or “non-GMO soy” it is safe to assume that PotatoChipBrandX contains GMO.

My husband Kevin made this point to me.  “Most people don’t care about GMOs. The people who do care, people like you, already know how to tell what is GMO by looking at the ingredients, just like you do. Proposition 105 isn’t going to do anything for them.”

Kevin is right.

You already have the right to know what’s in your food.  It’s called the ingredient label.  You should learn what those ingredients really mean, whether Proposition 105 passes or not. Use my GMO principle ingredient guide as a basis, but also do your own research. You don’t really need Proposition 105.
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