How To Avoid GMO Foods For The Everyday Home Cook (2024)

How To Avoid GMO Foods For The Everyday Home Cook (1)
GMO Food Growing In A Field

“You don’t want to buy those strawberries,” says my neighbour with authority. “They’re so perfect they’re GMO strawberries.”

“No they aren’t,” I say politely. “Strawberries are not a GMO food.”

He looks at me with a blank stare, shakes his head as if I’ve just told him that people live on Mars and grow strawberries, and then abruptly changes the subject.

I get it. GMOs are confusing for the everyday home cook and a conversation non-starter. Many food labels proudly claim to be non GMO, which sounds fantastic. But, plenty of everyday home cooks purchase these products without fully understanding what non GMO represents. So to help you make informed decisions at the grocery store here’s a simple explanation about what GMO means and how to avoid them.

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Proudly Claiming To Be non GMO, however, wheat is currently not a GMO product

What exactly does GMO mean?

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. It’s when seeds are altered in a lab for the desired result of a higher crop yield. There are many reasons why GMO seeds were originally produced. These may include: disease and drought resistance, herbicide tolerance or pesticide resistance. The main reason though, is to produce more food and to feed more people.

How are GMO seeds different from normal seeds?

Non GMO seeds evolve naturally. All seeds change over time and new ones are always being developed. Seed producers cross-pollinate different varieties to produce new seeds. For instance, to produce a new carrot seed which is healthier, tastier or perhaps heartier, they’d cross-pollinate different carrot varieties to produce these seeds.

However, developing a GMO seed takes seed production to a new level. The DNA is modified to create totally unique attributes. For instance, the DNA from one species, such as a Basil nut which is resistant to a certain pest, may be injected into a completely different species, such as a soybean. That soybean’s DNA is then modified and it becomes resistant to that specific pest. This results in a new type of soybean, that’s pest resistant and produces a higher yield.

It’s sort of like creating a test tube baby in a lab and changing its DNA using many different donors to get the perfect baby. Only in this case it’s a seed that’s created to grow more food.

How many GMO seeds are there?

Not many. Here is a current list:

Corn (used to make oil, starch, corn syrup, alcohol)
Sweet corn
Soybean (used to make oil, soy flour, soy portions, lecithin)
Cotton (used to make cotton seed oil)
Squash (zucchini and yellow squash)
Sugar beets (used to make sugar)
Arctic apple (to minimize bruising)

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There are not too many GMO foods sold in the grocery store

What GMO products are sold at the grocery store?

In the fresh produce department at a grocery store you could possible buy the following GMO foods: edamame, papayas from Hawaii, summer squash, sweet corn, zucchini and Arctic apples. However you won’t know for sure because they won’t be labelled as GMO foods. Canada and the United States do not require foods produced with GMO seeds to be labelled as such.

However, if you purchase produce from a smaller farm it’s highly unlikely to be a GMO food. Producing food with GMO seeds is an expensive process and one that small farms typically cannot afford.

Animals are fed alfalfa and corn feed which often are grown with GMO seeds. So you may be ingesting GMO products indirectly by eating meat protein (beef, chicken or pork), milk, yogurt, cheese, butter and eggs.

Most of the GMO foods you buy from a grocery store are found in processed foods. In fact, up to 80 per cent of processed foods such as prepared meals, baked goods and desserts in the United States will be made with a GMO product.

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Most GMO foods you buy from a grocery store are found in processed foods.

How will I know which processed foods are prepared with a GMO product?

That’s a tough one because labelling is not required in Canada or in the United States. You have to read the food label. Check to see if any of the above foods mentioned in the GMO list are included, such as cotton seed oil, sugar beets (used as a sweetener), canola oil, or corn syrup (as a sweetener).

Are GMOs bad for me?

It’s controversial. It has not been proven to be harmful to humans or to animals. However, GMO seeds have only been around for about 30 years and the harmful effects of ingesting large quantities of GMO products over a long period of time for both animals and humans has not been largely studied.

But, as I mentioned, processed foods are often made with GMO products. And what is proven is that that eating too much processed foods can lead to health problems. That said, we don’t know if it’s the processed foods that cause the health concerns, the quantity consumed or if the GMO products in the processed foods contribute in some small way. Perhaps it's a little of all.

Why were GMO seeds developed?

They were developed for economical reasons. They produce more crops.

Should GMO foods be labeled?

I think so. Sixty-four countries around the world including Australia, Japan, and EU countries require GMO labeling. Canada and the USA do not. I personally feel it would be nice to know if the food I buy has been produced with a GMO seed.


That's a brief explanation and hopefully after reading this short article you’ll understand better what GMO means and how to avoid purchasing GMO foods at the grocery store. And the next time you see a perfect strawberry in the produce department and someone tells you it must a GMO strawberry you’ll know what to say.

Barb Kemp is a cook educator living in Vancouver, B.C. who has been inspiring home cooks for over 20 years.

How To Avoid GMO Foods For The Everyday Home Cook (2024)
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