If you are trying to avoid bioengineered (BE) foods, also known as genetically modified organisms or GMOs, you can take comfort in the fact that not everything in the food supply is automatically bioengineered. There is an established regulatory process for approving new BE foods for commercial production.
The BE List
BE foods approved for commercial production at the time of this writing include:
- Squash (summer).
- Sugar beet.
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has recently proposed adding sugarcane to the list.
However, it is not necessary to assume that all foods on the BE list are by definition BE, either. In many cases, only certain varieties are being genetically modified (the only BE pineapple in existence is a pink-fleshed type grown in Costa Rica, for example).
Also, not all BE crops are grown or allowed in the United States—BE eggplant is grown commercially only in Bangladesh, but eggplant in general is not approved for import into the U.S. from Bangaldesh. Likewise, while a facility in Indiana has approval to produce BE salmon, so far the salmon is not on the market in the United States because the company does not have approval to import the necessary salmon eggs.
These are the bioengineered foods actually on the market:
- Apple (Fuji, Golden Delicious, and Granny Smith only).
- Potatoes (Atlantic, Ranger Russet, and Russet Burbank only).
- Squash (summer).
- Sugar beet.
As you can see, there is actually very little BE food in the produce department of the grocery store. Most of the BEs used directly in human foods are found in processed products.
Indirect BE Consumption
If you are also concerned about indirectly consuming bioengineered foods, things start to get trickier. Many food additives are manufactured through the use of genetically engineered bacteria. This includes aspartame and some vitamins.
Another major source of indirect BE consumption is drinking milk from rBGH- and rBST-treated cows.
There is also the possibility of indirectly consuming BE animal feed via meat. In fact, a considerable portion of the bioengineered crops raised in the United States are not directly consumed at all. BE corn and soy, for instance, goes primarily into ethanol and animal feed. Likewise, BE alfalfa is fed to dairy cattle. Scientists frequently object that this should make no difference, as clearly the grain or hay is broken down by the animal’s digestive tract. However, DNA from such feeds has been detected in the milk and meat from the animals consuming the feed.
Finally, honey can contain BE pollen if the bees had access to BE crops.
Tips for Avoiding BE Foods
- Avoid foods that carry the USDA Bioengineered label or another BE or GMO disclosure.
- Avoid products with five-digit PLU codes beginning in 8 (these products are bioengineered; however, this coding system is optional, so you won’t catch everything this way).
- Buy foods that are verified non-GMO or are certified organic (bioengineered foods are not allowed to carry the USDA Organic seal).
- Shop for whole foods not on the BE list, such as most fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, flours, and the like.
- For produce on the BE list, buy organic only, grow your own, or buy local, as many small farmers use non-GMO seeds.
- Buy grassfed meat and dairy products, raise your own, or look for a non-GMO verification label.
- Buy milk from cows that have not been treated with r-BST.
- Buy or raise eggs from chickens fed organic or non-GMO feed.
- Purchase only wild-caught fish.
- Cut processed foods out of your diet as much as possible.
- Avoid foods containing corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.
- Eat foods that use only molasses, agave, turbinado sugar, or cane sugar (for the time being) as a sweetener.
- Avoid eating out as much as possible; there are restaurants that source non-GMO foods, but you will need to do your research to find them.
List of Bioengineered Foods
Check this list for updates on which BE foods are approved.
Search the official list of Non-GMO Project Verified products.