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The majority of processed foods contain GMOs: what you need to know.

Genetically modified foods are sold on supermarket shelves and fed to farm animals largely without restrictions in the U.S., but questions remain about this relatively new technology. The term "genetically modified organisms" (GMOs) is used to describe any living thing, such as an animal, plant, or bacterium, that has had its genetic material (DNA) "altered in a way that does not occur naturally," according to the World Health Organization.

"While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows many types of GMOs to be used in farming and sold to consumers, you may be better off seeking out non-GMO foods until more is known about the effects of these products," says Georgia Giannopoulos, RD, CDN, CNSC, senior dietitian with NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell.

Giannopoulos estimates that about 60 to 70 percent of processed foods contain at least one GMO. "The most common sources are the 3 C's--corn, canola, and cotton--plus soybeans and ingredients derived from these crops," she says.

GMO concerns. The creation of a GMO involves the mutation, insertion, or deletion of genes. When a gene is inserted, it usually comes from another species. Researchers claim that this approach may produce crops that can grow in suboptimal environments, or that yield more bountiful harvests. One of the primary purposes of using GMOs in food production is the creation of plants that are resistant to herbicides. But it also has raised questions about the safety of such foods.

Two issues of interest to consumers are the possibility of allergic reactions and horizontal gene transfer, Giannopoulos says. If a food is manipulated with a gene from another food to which a person is allergic, it could cause an allergic reaction. For example, if you have a peanut allergy, you're probably allergic to a specific protein in peanuts. If that same protein is used in the modification of another plant, you may face the same risk as if you had eaten a peanut.

Horizontal gene transfer is the movement of genetic material from one plant to another. While this may lead to heartier plants, it also may involve the transfer of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Avoiding GMOs. Buying organic foods is your best approach to fill your diet with foods grown without laboratory or chemical manipulation, says Giannopoulos. A five-digit Price-Look Up (PLU) code beginning with a 9 indicates the food is organic. By law, foods cannot be sold as organic if they are GMOs.

Also, look for non-GMO labels, which are appearing on more products.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently approved a food label that verifies the absence of GMOs in meat and liquid egg products. The seal is from the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization, and identifies foods produced from animals that were not fed GMO ingredients. For more information on non-GMO foods, go to


To help reduce your intake of GMOs:

* Buyorganic produce, dairy, grains, and meat whenever possible.

* Choose whole foods over processed foods.

* Use olive oil instead of canola oil.

* Shop at a farmer's market that offers locally grown food so you can ask the growers whether they use GMOs.

To find GMO-free foods, look for this food label, which has been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Title Annotation:FOOD SAFETY
Publication:Women's Nutrition Connection
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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