Genetically modified foods make up more than 70 percent of processed foods sold in the U.S. Without any labeling regulations in effect (Californians will get to vote on Proposition 37 in November that could require labeling GMOs), consumers have a hard time determining whether or not they're eating genetically modified ingredients. Food allergies have been on the rise over the last several decades mirroring the growth of GMO foods, and a number of other serious health issues have been connected with exposure to GMOs and the companion pesticides including developmental and behavioral issues, organ damage, weight gain, and cancer.
While certified organic foods are by definition GMO-free, they can co-mingle with genetically modified ingredients, as is especially common in highly processed foods. Familiarizing yourself with the most common—and harmful—GMO foods is the first step in making sure you limit your exposure. These five ingredients are a good place to start:
1. Corn: The poster victim for genetic modification, corn is a bumper crop for Monsanto and other biotech companies like Syngenta. Requiring use of toxic pesticides with known health effects, some GMO corn also contains the Bt toxin that technically turns the plant itself into a toxin (the Bt bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis is registered with the EPA as a pesticide and expresses itself through every gene of the plant).
Recently, Wal-Mart announced it would begin selling Monsanto's genetically modified sweet corn on the cob. But where you really need to be on the lookout for corn is in processed foods and conventionally raised animal products including meat, dairy, and eggs. Processed foods can contain genetically modified high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, corn starch, dextrose, fructose, citric acid, lactic acid, and corn oil. Animals not fed an organic or grass diet are typically eating genetically modified grains, including corn, which means the end products—burgers, bacon, eggs, cheese, milk, ice cream, etc—all contain genetically modified ingredients. (Not to mention the rGBH growth hormones that are fed to dairy cows).
And with GMO corn showing resistance to glyphosate, Monsanto's Roundup pesticide, more toxic versions are being submitted for approval, including corn varieties resistant to 2,4-D, the chemical used in Agent Orange.
2. Soy: More than 90 percent of the soybeans grown in the U.S. are now genetically modified, mainly Monsanto varieties. They are heavily treated with Monsanto's glyphosate-based pesticide, Roundup. And aside from tofu and veggie burgers, soy is nearly as prevalent as corn in our diet. Animals eat it in their feed along with GMO corn, and we can find soy in processed foods in a number of incarnations: soy protein, soy flour, soy oil, textured vegetable protein, lecithin, soy sauce, and soy lecithin.
3. Canola: Even non-GMO canola comes to us from an unnatural method. The toxic rapeseed plant was changed through a mutagenic process using radiation so that it is non-toxic for humans (in theory, anyway). The cheaply used oil is found in a number of processed foods and is commonly used as cooking oil at restaurants; sometimes it's even cut with expensive olive oil to reduce the cost. It's now also mostly genetically modified, and heavily sprayed with toxic pesticides.
4. Sugar: After a long back and forth battle with the USDA, Monsanto's GMO sugar beets are now officially approved for propagation on U.S. soil. Funny thing, though, already 95 percent of sugar beets grown in the U.S. are genetically modified. How did that happen? Out of fears that the U.S. was facing a sugar shortage, the USDA approved planting the GMO beets before they were technically even approved for human consumption. But since the USDA has never denied approval of a GMO crop, it was only a matter of time before the approval caught up with the planting. Roundup Ready sugar beets are doused with glyphosate and other pesticides. The known health risks connected with genetically modified high fructose corn syrup has sent many consumers back to sugar, but GMO sugar beets are just another reason to avoid sugar altogether.
5. Aspartame: The artificial sweetener found in the number one selling soft drink in the world (Diet Coke) is a known carcinogen. It poses other health risks too, including tinnitus and neurological disorders—and it might even cause you to gain weight. A diet drink! It's so gnarly that we often forget it is actually made with genetically modified bacteria, increasing the risk of sensitivities and adverse reactions. And keep a look out, because it is in more than 6,000 products including gum, baked goods (particularly dessert mixes), yogurts, and sweeteners, and it's also found in some pharmaceutical drugs and vitamins.
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