What is a GMO?

A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is a plant or animal that has been genetically altered by scientists to improve its ability to grow in non-native environments, resist pests, tolerate extreme weather conditions, produce more food (like milk in cows), or show other desired traits. Not to be confused with traditional breeding techniques like open pollination or hybridization (which occur through natural reproduction), GMOs are created in a laboratory by scientists who are inserting genes into or deleting genes out of plant or animal DNA

Scientists have used GE technology to create plants, animals, and bacteria with biological characteristics that would never occur in the natural world—such as a tomato with an anti-freeze fish gene designed to resist cold temperatures, or corn plants with a bacterial gene that tolerates increased herbicide use.

Genetic engineering differs from what’s known as traditional breeding, which includes techniques such as hybridization and selective breeding. One hybrid plant is the boysenberry, a cross between a raspberry, blackberry, and sometimes loganberry. Examples of selective breeding include mating only the healthiest beef cattle or saving the seeds of only the tastiest, most pest-resistant carrots for next year’s crop. These traditional breeding techniques have been a central part of agriculture for 10,000 years and have been used to domesticate and increase yields of virtually every plant and animal used in agriculture today.

Why Should I Care?

Many consumers are wary of eating genetically engineered products and are concerned that genetically engineered foods are a step in the wrong direction. Basic laws of nature prevent plants from breeding with fish or bacteria, so we have little experience or history with these kinds of combinations. The process of creating GMOs is highly unpredictable and untested; it’s assumed that if the original food was safe, the genetically modified version will be too. As a result, new allergens may be introduced into common foods, and long-term effects of eating GMOs remain unclear.

And it’s not just direct consumption of GMO food that causes concern. The most common use of GE technology in agriculture creates herbicide-resistant plants that allow farmers to use more chemicals without killing the crop. The result has been a substantial increase in the use of herbicides and the rise of approximately 15 herbicide-resistant weeds in the United States. Different or more chemicals are then needed to combat these weeds, leading to what’s called an “herbicide treadmill.“ When one chemical stops working, another is used until it stops working, and then another. For many, this is a major environmental concern.

The threat of GMO contamination of crops is equally unsettling to organic farmers. In nature, plants naturally distribute their pollen near and far, which spreads their genes from one plant to another. In this way, GMO plant pollen can contaminate organic plants. As a result, many organic farmers fear for their livelihood and their ability to fill consumers’ desire for organic products.

4 Easy Tips for Avoiding GMOS

We believe everyone deserves access to information so they can make informed decisions for themselves about whether to choose or avoid GMO food. If you want to pass on GMOs, here’s what you can do:

1. Avoid At-Risk Ingredients.

Certain foods are more likely to contain GMOs than others. Think processed foods—anything that contains corn, soy or canola ingredients probably contains GMOs. A few likely culprits include canola oil, corn syrup and soy protein. And, here’s a little known fact: most of our sugar actually comes from sugar beets (not sugar cane) and most of those sugar beets are genetically modified. So, if you’re in the mood for something sweet, look for desserts with evaporated cane juice listed in the ingredients or another alternative sweetener.

When you’re cooking at home using fresh, unprocessed ingredients, it’s pretty easy to avoid GMOs. With the exception of zucchini, summer squash, sweet corn and papaya, you’re not likely to find GMO produce. Just remember to reach for non-GMO oils, like coconut, safflower or olive oil for your next salad or sauté.

If you’re really passionate about avoiding GMOs, be aware that conventional farm animals eat GMO corn, soy and alfalfa. You may also wish to seek out organic cotton, since most conventional cotton is GMO these days. The good news is that by federal law, certified organic products cannot contain GMOs, so choosing organic is an excellent way to avoid GMOs (see Tip #2).

Note: For a fun and useful tool, our friends at the Center for Food Safety have created a handy non-GMO shoppers guide app for mobile devices.

2. Learn Your Labels.

The federal government will only certify foods as organic if they are grown or produced without GMOs—so choosing the USDA organic seal is always an easy choice. You can also look for the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal which means the product was independently tested and found not to contain GMOs. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean the product offers all the other benefits of organic, just that ingredients weren’t genetically modified.

We applaud manufacturers who go the extra mile to ensure their products don’t contain GMOs and label them as such. But as more GMO products become available (GMO apples and salmon are in the works), wouldn’t it be much simpler if the companies who choose to grow or sell GMOs labeled their products?

Co+op, stronger together food co-ops support Just Label It because we believe that consumers have the right to information about their food—such as whether a food contains GMOs—which can help inform decisions on what they want to buy and eat.

3. Look for Locally Grown Products.

There are lots of great reasons to choose locally grown products, and one of them is the availability of information. It’s much easier to know what ingredients are going into the food you’re buying and how it’s produced when it’s grown close to home. Co-ops have strong relationships with their local growers and producers in order to provide the freshest, highest quality products to shoppers—this includes products that are organic or do not contain GMO ingredients. This makes co-ops a great place for food without GMOs.

4. Support The Cause.

Feeling passionate about GMOs? Make your voice heard! It’s easy to send a message to your elected representatives on GMOs through Just Label It’s Take Action page. In addition to the “Just Label It” movement, check out the Non-GMO Project or Center for Food Safety for other ideas, inspiration, and resources. If you feel so inclined, donate to advocacy organizations to help them continue their work calling for mandatory labeling of GMO foods.

– See more at: http://strongertogether.coop