Shopping Guide: How to Avoid GMO Produce

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One surefire way to ensure that the fresh produce you buy is not genetically engineered is to only purchase Certified Organic.

But why spend the extra bucks on organic, if most produce currently available on the shelves of your supermarket is not GMO anyways?

Before we continue, I should point out that aside from being non-GMO, organic produce has other advantages over conventional produce. But let’s be honest, not everyone has the ability to buy everything organic, and some stores (like the one near me) don’t even carry any!

Related: Why I Try Not to Buy Conventional Produce

So yes, organic is always better, but that doesn’t mean all conventional produce is bad. This post will address only the GMO issue. So if your main goal is to avoid GMOs, simply follow this shopping guide!

Luckily, at this time, most conventional produce is not genetically-engineered, so you can buy it freely.

The only GMO produce on the market is: corn, Hawaiian papaya, edamame, zucchini and yellow squash. My advice would be to buy these things from a local farmer or the organic shelf.

GMO Corn

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Genetically modified corn is one of America’s largest agricultural industries (40% of world’s production), and is used not only for food, but also for the production of ethanol, high fructose corn syrup, and animal feed.

Most of it is engineered to be glyphosate-resistant, meaning farmers can douse it with the carcinogenic herbicide RoundUp without killing it.

Another subset of America’s GMO corn is engineered to produce it’s own Bt Toxin (a pesticide) which kills insects, but is supposedly safe for humans.

Is all corn genetically modified? About 88% of all corn you see on the supermarket shelves is GMO. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to tell it from the regular corn, so the best way to avoid it is to always buy Certified Organic corn. Better yet, go paleo and eliminate corn from your diet all-together!

GMO Hawaiian Papayas

Photo by Janine, CC BY 2.0

Genetically engineered papayas were first developed in Hawaii, however today they can come from several different parts of the world.

GMO papayas are engineered to resist the ringspot virus (PRSV), which often leads to lower yields. Certain viral gene encoding capsid proteins were spliced into the papaya’s genetic code, creating sort of an “immune” response that protects the fruit from the disease.

Are all papayas genetically modified? About 75% of all papayas are genetically modified, however you can avoid them by knowing what types of papayas are safe to buy. The following varieties of papayas are non-GMO:

  • Kapoho
  • The Mexican Red
  • Caribbean Red
  • Maradol
  • Royal Star
  • Singapore Pink
  • Higgins

GMO Edamame (Soy)

Photo by Cyclonebill, CC BY 2.0

Soy is the most common crop to be produced using GMO technology. It is used as fresh edamame, and also has many other uses in processed food production: hydrogenated oil, soy lecithin, emulsifiers, tocopherol, soy proteins, etc.

GMO Soy is engineered to be pesticide-resistant, meaning farmers can douse it with the carcinogenic herbicide RoundUp without killing it.

Is all soy genetically modified? Pretty much. About 90% of edamame and soy products in the US are genetically modified. The only sure way to avoid it is to buy organic, or go paleo and don’t eat any soy at all!

GMO Zucchini & Yellow Squash

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This one is especially upsetting to me, because I love zucchini and squashes and cook them very often in my paleo recipes. Genetically modified zucchinis and yellow squashes are only sold in USA and Canada.

These GMO squashes were developed to be resistant to 3 common viruses: cucumber mosaic virus (CMV), zucchini yellow mosaic virus (ZYMV) and watermelon mosaic virus (WMV).

Are all zucchinis and squashes genetically modified? No. The numbers of genetically modified zucchinis and yellow squashes is actually fairly small. Only the following varieties can be GMO:

  • Yellow Straightneck
  • Yellow Crookneck
  • Green Zucchini

Unfortunately, these 3 varieties are the most commonly available squash types at the store, and there is no easy way to tell them apart from non-GM varieties. The best approach would be to always get them Organic Certified. Better safe than sorry!

As you can see, avoiding GMOs in the produce aisle is actually fairly easy as long as you stay away from the products listed above, and opt to buy them organic.

While GMOs haven’t been studied long enough to tell if they are safe, it’s important to remember that there are different type of GMOs designed for different reasons. Some are certainly more harmful than others, for example, the GMOs that are designed to be glyphosate-resistant are obviously more hazardous because they are grown with more carcinogenic pesticides.

Which brings me to my next point: even some non-GMO crops are grown with dangerous pesticides. Unfortunately, avoiding GMOs is only the first step to ensuring you are eating the safest foods. I recommend you also familiarize yourself with a list of non-GMO produce that is the most “high risk” in terms of toxic pesticide use.

Happy shopping!

Non-GMO shopping guide

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