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Learning about GMO foods

Recently, I was talking with some other moms about kids and food when the topic of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) came up. These are foods that have been bio-engineered by taking DNA from one species and adding it to another unrelated species. This experimentation is most often done with the intent to create crops that withstand a specific pesticide, such as Round-up. The majority of U.S. grown corn, soy, cotton, canola and sugar beets have been genetically modified.

Since I have an interest in agriculture and food policy, I asked a friend who has researched this topic to help me better understand GMOs and why she is concerned about them. Shannon is a stay-at-home mom and a former teacher.
Shannon and her son Ronan
1. Why is the topic of GMOs important to you and your family?
Trying to eat mostly organic has been important to me for quite a while. Getting pregnant and having my son reinvigorated my desire to limit  our exposure to toxins, not just in food, but in many other aspects of our lives as well. Honestly, once I started reading a little about GMOs, they scared me. I really just want to keep my family as healthy and safe as possible.

2. What have you learned about GMOs that you think others should know?
They're everywhere! A large majority of foods on the market contain GMOs. These foods contain ingredients that have been altered genetically for a variety of reasons, including being more resistant to insects and pests. These genetic changes are performed to the plant DNA in a lab and this is not a process that occurs naturally. Most of the animal feed produced in the United States are GM grains. Therefore, most conventional meat and dairy products contain GMOs as well. However, organic crops can not be genetically modified.

3. How can we be certain that the foods we purchase are non-GMO?  
The only way I feel confidant is by purchasing organic foods. Even with USDA organic food a small percent of ingredients can be non-organic and, therefore, GMO contaminated. To be really certain you can look for products labeled 100% organic.

4. What are good sources for non-GMO foods?

We do not buy all organic foods, so I make sure the non-organic products we buy are non-GMO. There are some brands that have pledged to be non-GMO. I rely heavily on Trader Joe's brand for the few processed/packaged products we buy, such as crackers, as well as non-organic cheeses. There are a couple shopping guides online that list brands committed to being non-GMO. I find these very helpful.
Center for Food Safety: True Food Shopper's Guide
Institute for Responsible Technology: Non-GMO Shopping Guide
*These guides are also available as mobile apps for your smartphone.
5. What can we do about GMOs?
I sometimes feel pretty helpless especially after California's proposition 37 (mandatory GMO labeling) did not pass. Large corporations pored millions into ensuring it didn't. In Washington, we have I-522 that would require GMO labeling. It will go to the legislature and if it does not pass it will be on the ballot in November 2013. We can volunteer or donate to the campaign. We could also talk to our friends about the issue to ensure people are not getting swayed by misinformation. I also think how we spend our money speaks volumes. Don't buy foods that contain GMOs and encourage your friends to do the same.

Tomorrow, I will feature more information about I-522 and an interview with a local organic farm about GMO crops.

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