Can You Live a GMO-Free Life?
It’s almost impossible to live a GMO-free life. Being completely GMO-free means more than purchasing non-GMO labeled products. It also means giving up many foods and products that make our lives easier.
How Hard Is It to Completely Avoid GMOs?
It's harder to completely avoid GMOs than you might think. Only using non-GMO products or eating non-GMO foods involves avoiding a lot of products developed to benefit consumers and the environment.
GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are crops produced using a precise method of plant breeding to achieve desirable traits. Desirable traits include resistance to pests or non-browning fruits and vegetables that reduce food waste. This plant breeding method allows farmers to grow more crops with fewer resources.
If you’d still like to avoid the benefits that GMOs provide, look for products that have a non-GMO or USDA Certified Organic label. If you want to learn more about non-GMO products, many websites have a non-GMO product list. The USDA’s organic certification process does not allow farmers to use GMO seeds. But pay close attention. There are four different labels.
- 100% Certified Organic: All the ingredients must be 100% organic and GMO-free.
- Organic: 90% of the ingredients must be organic and GMO-free.
- Made with Organic Ingredients: 70% of the ingredients must be organic and GMO-free.
- Includes Organic Ingredients: At least one ingredient must be organic but is not always GMO-free.
Click here to learn the difference between non-GMO vs organic.
GMOs in Our Foods
As of 2019, there are 10 GMO crops available in the United States. These crops include corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, squash, potatoes, and apples. However, avoiding these foods won’t guarantee a GMO-free diet. Corn, soybeans, and sugar beets are prevalent ingredients in lots of popular foods and other unlikely ingredients are genetically modified for our benefit.
The United States is the world’s largest producer of corn, growing more than one-third of the world’s corn crop. In the United States, more than 90 percent of corn is genetically engineered.
There are more than 4,200 uses of corn. Uses of corn range from ingredients in foods like peanut butter and yeast to industrial uses, like biodegradable paper cups and plates. It’s even an ingredient in many products found around the house, like lotions, bedding, and curtains. A recent study demonstrated that GMO corn can be safer compared to GMO-free corn.
There are also GMOs you might not want to avoid. Soybeans developed with genetic engineering are used to make a healthier oil. Much like olive oil, this soybean oil lasts longer and is trans-fat free. And because it’s a GMO, farmers use fewer resources to produce it. Soon, more foods will use this environmentally friendly and healthier soybean oil.
Biotechnologists also use genetic engineering to enhance other products. For example, genetic engineering expanded the shelf life of bread, reducing food waste. Manufacturers use an engineered enzyme in bread to create a longer-lasting freshness. An enzyme is a naturally occurring substance that helps create or prevent chemical reactions.
An estimated 80-90% of cheese is genetically modified. Because of a GMO-derived enzyme, cheese production is more efficient, friendlier for the environment, and less dependent on animals. In the past, producers harvested an enzyme from baby calves. Producers no longer rely on that veal-derived enzyme and can produce more consistent cheese with less waste using a GMO.
GMOs in Products
Biotechnology is used in so many areas of our daily lives – not just in the food we eat.
You can find GMO free products at the store by looking for the Non-GMO Project Verified logo and other non-GMO labels. However, think twice before you pay the premium. GMOs provide many benefits for humans and the environment.
- In the laundry room, genetic engineering boosts our detergent. Enzymes enhanced through genetic engineering help remove protein stains, grease, and starches.
- If you’re a parent, you might use biodegradable diapers. Scientists created this innovation with genetic engineering. A genetically engineered microbe breaks down the materials in the diaper after use, making it biodegradable.
- Genetically modified soy-based materials are a popular alternative to paper and plastic products. For example, soy-based straws are biodegradable. Genetically modified soybeans also conserve water and use fewer insecticides.
- Corn and soybeans are used to make biofuels. Biofuels are less expensive fuels for cars and machinery that are better for the environment. They burn cleaner and use fewer resources. Consider ethanol, a fuel derived from corn, as a cheaper alternative at the pump.
- GMOs are also common in medicine. Scientists used genetic modification to improve insulin, saving lives. In the past, scientists used pancreas glands from more than 23,000 pigs to make one pound of insulin. Today, genetic engineering has improved animal welfare, making insulin in a lab without pigs. Being GMO-free means avoiding many of the modern treatments that benefit humans, animals, and the world.
GMOs are prevalent in many everyday consumer products, but that doesn’t mean they’re dangerous. GMOs are helping us live greener lives. More than 20 years of research prove that GMOs are safe for humans and the environment. This technology is integral to feeding a growing population in a changing world.
In addition to the foods and products mentioned above, did you know these common household items were made with some genetic engineering?
- Cheese – An enzyme needed to make a type of cheese called chymosin is genetically engineered and 90% of cheese produced uses it
- Stone-washed jeans – Biotech enzyme fades and softens jeans
- Vitamins B12 & B2 - GE microbe development for fermentation
- Wine – GE yeast for fermentation
What are the Benefits of Using GMOs for Consumer Products?
There are many benefits to using GMOs for consumer products like the ones mentioned above, including:
- Reduced CO2 emissions
- Reduction of non-renewable energy
- Reduction of greenhouse gases
- Reduced use of petroleum
- Lower costs, price stability
- Biodegradable products
- Reduces hazardous waste
- Elimination of suspected carcinogens
Learn more here:
- Biotechnology Industry Organization
- Biotech Solutions for Renewable Specialty Chemicals & Food Ingredients
- Commercial products & Biotechnology
What is the Future of GMOs?
The future of genetically engineered crops and products seems endless! Just take a look at a few of the possibilities:
- Allergy-free peanuts
- Save the Florida oranges from citrus-greening disease
- Golden Rice – vitamin A biofortified rice to combat blindness and death in developing countries (500 000 go blind every year, 50% of them die)
- Virus-resistant cassava – a staple crop in Africa
- DHA omega-3 canola oil – a sustainable way to get your omega-3’s vs. from wild fish
- Malaria vaccine
- Innate™ potatoes – reduce black spots from bruising, non-browning, reduced sugars, decreased potential formation of acrylamide
- Arctic Apples – non-browning apple, reduces food waste, encourages more apple consumption