11 GM Foods Commonly Found in Grocery Stores

Grocery store display of apples

Fabiola Peñalba / Unsplash

The new labeling law isn’t enough; if you’re looking to avoid GMOs in your diet, start here.

While the new federal labeling standard for foods that have been made with genetically modified organisms – the bill was signed on July 29 by President Obama – sounds like it would be helpful for consumers, it really doesn’t do much good.

Dubbed the DARK act (Deny Americans the Right-to-Know) by critics, the new legislation allows companies to use QR codes or 1-800 numbers as notification – not the most user-friendly way to get information when making decisions in the middle of the cereal aisle. The bill also prevents individual states from having their own labeling laws; for example, the new law overturns the Vermont requirement for on-package labeling declaring “partially produced with genetic engineering.”

Meanwhile, 64 other countries have clear, mandatory, on-package text labeling for GM foods. Whatever you think about GMOs – and believe me, I know this is a controversial topic – the consumer has a right to know what’s in the products they are buying.

There are many people who see no problem with GM foods. Melissa Diane Smith, author of "Going Against GMOs: The Fast-Growing Movement to Avoid Unnatural Genetically Modified “Foods” to Take Back Our Food and Health," as you might guess, isn’t one of them. She writes:

The FDA has not conducted safety studies on GM foods. Instead, it leaves determining their safety up to the companies that make them. Animal research points to the potential for significant health risks from eating GM foods, and there are environmental, farmer’s rights, and food security concerns associated with them as well. More than three dozen countries in the world have banned the cultivation of GM crops.

So if you don’t want to go shopping with your smartphone in hand and play “dialing for answers” when deciding what to put in your cart, there are other ways that GM and non-GM foods can be more easily identified.

Common GM Foods

For starters, Smith lists these 11 primary at-risk GM foods commonly found in grocery stores (note the exceptions in the paragraphs following):

1. Corn: as in corn oil, cornmeal, cornstarch, corn syrup, hominy, polenta, and other corn-based ingredients
2. Canola: as in canola oil
3. Cottonseed: as in cottonseed oil
4. Sugar Beets: as in “sugar” in an ingredient, which is almost certainly a combination of sugar from both sugarcane and GM sugar beets
5. Soybeans: as in soybean oil, soy protein, soy lecithin, soy milk, tofu, and other soy-based ingredients
6. Alfalfa: which is fed to livestock
7. Apples: which will be arriving in some stores this year
8. Papaya: from Hawaii and China
9. Potatoes: which were sold in 10 states last year and will be sold in a larger number this year
10. Yellow Squash
11. Zucchini

Verified Non-GM Foods

In addition, you can purchase foods labeled USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified:

Non-GMO Project Verified label
These products has been independently verified to be in compliance with North America’s only third party standard for GMO avoidance, including testing of at-risk ingredients.

USDA Organic seal
These items cannot contain any GMO ingredients. They also must be produced without irradiation, sewage sludge, antibiotics, growth hormones, and synthetic chemical fertilizers.

However, some GM crops such as corn can spread through wind drift and contaminate organic crops, and organic certification does not require testing for GMOs, Smith says. So, for the most protection against GMOs, choose products with both the Non-GMO Project Verified label and the USDA Organic label – or just avoid foods made with the 11 direct sources of GMOs.

Smith warns that for anyone with strict intentions, there are indirect sources to avoid as well. Conventional meat, eggs, and dairy products are often raised on feed that contains GMOs. The best way to avoid these is to switch to eating organically raised beef and chicken, Smith advises, like wild-caught fish, and organic eggs. Look for meat clearly labeled as organic, and preferably organic and 100% grass-fed. Or look for fish, poultry, eggs, and meat labeled as Non-GMO Project Verified.

“Shopping non-GMO requires some effort and learning,” Smith says. “GMOs are everywhere – people will be surprised and amazed to find out that they are in virtually all stores and all restaurants, and have made it into most of the foods that most of us eat. It does take time to change longstanding habits, but the more we avoid GMOs, the better we get at it, and the more second nature it becomes. If you want to avoid GMOs, don’t hesitate to start somewhere – even if it’s just eating one non-GMO or organic meal a day.”