How you can protect your family
At first glance, the solution seems simple: Avoid foods containing genetically modified organisms. But unfortunately, the ever-expanding reach of genetically engineered foods means it’s becoming more and more difficult to avoid them completely: GMOs show up in the vast majority of packaged foods, and new GMO crops are continuing to be deregulated by the government, further contaminating the food system. If you buy natural and organic foods much of the time, you may be ahead of the game—but not necessarily so. Here, ways you can significantly reduce your family’s exposure:
Step one: Know the big GE foods
First, the good news: Currently, there are only nine GE crops in the U.S. food system: The majority of soybeans, canola seeds, corn, and cotton (which can be used to make cottonseed oil) are genetically engineered; small amounts of zucchini, squash, and Hawaiian papaya are also genetically engineered. This past January, the USDA approved genetically modified alfalfa, a purple flowering plant that people don’t usually eat, but is often fed to livestock. And, beginning in May, farmers will again be allowed to plant GE sugar beets (planting was approved by the USDA in 2005, but courts ruled against it in 2010).
The bad news? These crops tend to end up in just about everything. Processed versions of soy, canola, and corn (like soy lecithin, canola oil, and high fructose corn syrup) find their way into about 80 percent of packaged food items like cereal, salad dressing, canned soup, soy-based meat alternatives, and infant formula. Soy and corn, too, along with alfalfa, are fed to the cows, pigs, and chickens that produce meat, milk, and eggs. (Conventional dairy cows are also given the genetically engineered hormone rBGH to boost milk production.) Many more foods also contain cottonseed or canola oil, plus sugar from sugar beets.