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10 Simple Strategies to Avoid “GMO Foods” May 8, 2013

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau

While I’m completely at peace with “GMO foods” (genetically modified organisms), you may not be. So, I’m going to give you 10 simple strategies for avoiding GMO foods, what I prefer to call biotech foods.


Actually, it’s easier than you might think. In fact, if you can’t remember my 10 strategies, just remember to stick with your basics including fruits and vegetables and you’ll dramatically reduce said exposure.


  1. Buy “USDA Certified Organic,” not just “Organic: The United States and Canada do not allow manufacturers to label something 100% organic if that food has been genetically modified or been fed genetically modified feed. You may find that organic food is more expensive and different in appearance from conventional but especially if it’s “USDA Certified Organic” you’ll avoid biotech crops. Plus, there’s your non-GMO label!!
  2. Learn the modified crops: Canola,  Corn, Cotton (Full disclosure: Our family grew modified cotton), Papayas, Soybeans,  Sugar beets, and squash. You can check out a database to keep up on biotech crops at the International Service for the Acquisition of Biotech Applications. And don’t stress if you buy edamame (which is Soybean) since there are a lot of certified organic soybean products on the market. Remember point 1, if it’s certified organic it can’t be biotech. In essence, know what you are buying by reading the nutrition label to see what’s been added.
  3. Eliminate or reduce your sugar intake. We should eat less sugar anyway but about 55% of our sugar is coming from sugar beets, so any processed foods with sugar will most likely be from a biotech crop.
  4. Purchase beef and other herbivore animals that feed only on grass, 100% grass-fed. Nearly all beef cattle in the United States spend the majority of their life first feeding on grass with the last four to six months of their lives in specialized feedlots, where livestock nutritionists  prescribe special “finishing” diets that include corn. Cattle fully finished on grass are considered grass-fed or pasture-fed (personally, I like the corn finishing for the tenderness and flavor it adds to the meat with one favorite exception: Arizona Legacy Beef, a Criollo breed originally from Spain).
  5. Find specifically labeled “non-GM” or “GMO-free” products. More and more products are coming out with their own labeling. Arizona Farm Bureau policy on “GMO labeling” only suggest it not be mandatory. But on this point and back to my edamame story, I started purchasing “shelled edamame” since I like to boil it, chill it, add spinach and mint leaves for a salad. I noticed the label said “non-GMO.” The product was from China! I began comparing the China-sourced soybean to some other brands here in the U.S., the China soybeans were smaller, had less taste and some looked dark and just not as appealing. I will no longer buy the China-based product especially as I keep hearing scary stories about some of China’s farming practices. Give me U.S.-based, biotech soybeans any day, or our organic varieties!

    Labeling for products that meet the USDA-NOP s...

    Labeling for products that meet the USDA-NOP standards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  6. Shop at farmers’ markets and/or ask your grocer which products are non-GMO. But this has its short-comings and is a lot of work. Unless you know the farmer and all his growing practices don’t assume that just because it’s not a biotech/GMO crop that it’s so much better for you. On the other end of the spectrum, you have some organic farmers that are not really adhering to all required organic practices (hopefully this is not common). Get to know your farmer; know your food. Shopping locally simply means you have the opportunity to speak to the farmer and find out how he or she farms and whether or not they use biotech crops in their operation.
  7. Buy whole foods; the basics. As I stated earlier, if you start to favor basic foods that you can cook and prepare yourself, rather than foods that are processed or prepared, you’ll eliminate nearly all GMO-derived foods from your diet. If a product has corn starch or corn syrup or sugar (unless it’s certified organic), you’ll most likely be getting biotech derived ingredients.
  8. Grow your own food. You’ll know exactly what you’re growing all the way down to the seed you purchase, just like the farmer. And by the way, biotech seed costs more to develop so seed is marked as being biotech at the point of sale (a company can invest $80 to $200 million and take 12 to 15 years to get biotech seed to market partly because of the regulatory requirements). Gardening is not only rewarding but it provides a lot of perspective, certainly you’ll learn so much about the pressure of controlling pests. It’s not easy in a single raised bed and it sure isn’t easy across acres and acres of land whether you use organic, biotech or any other farming method.
  9. Check those Cereal labels. You’ll most likely be eating biotech corn if you purchase a box of corn flakes, but I love a bowl of crunchy corn flakes once in a while. I mainly eat eggs for breakfast. And, yes, the hens were probably fed biotech corn (but personally, I’m lovin’ the eggs daily and that great American feed corn is giving them the best flavor). By the way, not much corn is actually in a box of corn flakes. According to GourmetSpot and the National Corn Growers Association, “About 8 percent of the weight in a box of corn flakes is corn. Less than 5 percent of the purchase price reflects the corn price. The remainder of the cost is in packaging and advertising.”
  10. Plan your snacks & meals; Avoid too many processed treats. Without a plan, we tend to grab something on the go and that “grab” means we’ll trend toward the more processed snacks and meals that contain the soy and corn ingredients and those items higher in sugar. Generally, pasta, rice and beans are not genetically modified but packaged dishes could have GM ingredients. When eating fast food, you’re paying for convenience, not organic. Of special note, there is no biotech wheat on the market.


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that 73% of America’s corn crop is biotech, as are 75% of our canola crop, 87% of cotton and 91% of our soybean crops. I still say you have your eyes focused on the wrong ball; instead you simply need to eat healthier by reducing your sugar and fat intake, adding more fruits and vegetables to your plates and eating lean meats. Don’t forget the dairy and the eggs; without them your balanced meals will be seriously lacking.

A balanced meal will go a much longer way to ensuring your health and long life than having a fear of biotech crops.

Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing discussion about biotech crops and biotech foods. My first installment was “Into the Belly of the Beast: My Visit to Monsanto.” I eat organic and biotech foods. I get my food from small, medium and large agriculture operations. I love it all!


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1. Tammy - May 8, 2013

Great post Julie. May I repost this on my blog in the future?

2. freshair - May 8, 2013

Absolutely!!! Thanks.

3. Julie Murphree - May 8, 2013

The following comment comes from Daniel A. Goldstein, M.D., Medical Toxicologist and Director of Medical Sciences and Outreach for Monsanto.

I have no issue with the “if you want to avoid this, do that” advice… one can discuss whether it is worth avoiding (as you do) but for those who do choose to avoid GMO’s it is fair to discuss how to do so.

My concern lies at a level deeper. Your advice implies that beet sugar from GM sugarbeet or canola oil from GM canola is in some way different than conventional. I believe that GM crops are as safe as their conventional congeners- but logic dictates that if there is some hypothetical effect, it would have to result from components that have been changed- not components that have stayed the same. No DNA or protein is to be found in either the sugar or in oil and no discernable difference exists in the finished product- so I would argue that canola oil and beet sugar already “avoid” GMO- at least from the standpoint of toxicologic potential.

I concede that some people may have other personal reasons for avoiding GMO, so some may still choose to avoid canola and sugarbeet- but they may wish to know the facts when making this decision.

4. Kellie - May 13, 2013

Thank you Julie!

5. Susan - May 30, 2013

Of special interest to me is the claim that there is no biotech wheat on the market. Really? So many people claim that Celiac disease is caused from GMO wheat. But you’re saying there is no GMO wheat on the market? If wheat hasn’t been genetically modified, why not? Why would corn and sugar beets be genetically modified but not a staple like wheat? I’m not questioning your article, I was just surprised by that. Where could I find out more information on it?

6. Doug - May 31, 2013

A certified organic farmer is inspected at least once a year … in addition, samples can and are taken of crops that farmer is growing, sent to lab, and tested for 200 different pesticides . So, please don’t include “at the other end of the spectrum” ( item 6 ) and paint all of us with such a broad brush. It’s a disservice to us and to the customer. Certified Organic farmers are NOT allowed to use GMO seeds or plants.

7. Tino - June 6, 2013

@Susan, there is in fact GMO wheat on the market. I’m not exactly sure which ones aren’t GMO and which ones are. I assume most wheat is GMO. But I feel safe with and know for sure that “Ezekiel” bread isn’t GMO. It’s organic.. and it’s way better than the other brands that offer wheat breads. I’m currently eating one by “Food for Life” which is also the same.

8. ana - June 9, 2013

We need more testing on the direct effect of humans eating Biotech Foods. Only one study has been published so far and it found unexpected effects on the gut bacteria, and it was never followed up. Consequences are unpredictable at this point. Genes exist in interactive networks which have a logic of their own; they do not exist in isolation. Most neuroscientists agree that growing drugs in crops is a bad idea.