Right now, all over the world, GMO food labeling is getting a lot of heat. Consumers want to know what’s actually in the food they’re eating, and lots of manufacturers have a vested interested in keeping those details a secret.
While the battle rages on in and out of court over things like GMO labeling on food, there are still a few ways we can better ensure the food we’re eating is what we think it is and nothing more.
First, however, we need to clarify some of the product labeling terminology.
Buy Organic—Great Advice—But What Does It Mean?
Food producers aren’t stupid. They know we want natural, healthy products. And because of that, there’s a slew of labeling that is often times confusing (take egg carton labeling for a great example of misrepresented truth).
Since we can’t always trust what we see, or even know what it means, it gets a little muddled as we search for healthy solutions for our lives. There are many ways to interpret many words that seem good (take NATURAL for example—what does that mean? And who is regulating it?)
One good thing is that in the organic arena, there at least some helpful guidelines:
If a food is labeled 100% organic, it needs to be completely free of any sort of synthetic, chemical, pesticide, dye or fertilizer. Seems pretty straight forth, right?
However, if a food has a USDA Organic or Certified Organic label, only 95% of the contents must be synthetic, dye, pesticide, fertilizer, etc. free. The other (up to) 5% can be processed with additives, but only additives that have been placed on a list approved by the USDA as safe (yes, I know, this seems questionable…).
If a label says “made with organic”, the organic ingredients have to be at least 70% of the total, with 30% of the food processed with items on ‘the list’.
So, just in the food items labeled with some kind of ORGANIC seal or label, the chemical additives can range anywhere from 0-30%. And this is one of the only regulated terms.
(If you’d like to do more research about the labels you personally buy, check out the Greener Choices website where you can search for specific labels and get help unraveling what those ingredients listed actually mean)
What About Veggies?
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, with no ingredient list, it might seem a bit trickier. But actually, it’s easier…in a way. Fruits and vegetables have a sticker on them with the USP code so the grocer can scan them for the price. Lots of people probably ignore that sticker, but it can tell you a few things.
First, it will tell you what country it came from. And second, it will contain a 4-5 digit number that will tell you whether it was conventionally grown, organically grown, or genetically modified.
How? Well, if it’s 4 digits, it was grown conventionally (with chemicals and regular farm practices) If the number is 5 digits and starts with an 8, it’s a GMO, if it starts with a 9, it’s organic.
Here’s a way I help myself remember it: 9 is divine but kick 8 off your plate (and 4 is beFOUR we knew better).
The Environmental Working Group publishes an annual list of the ‘cleanest’ and most ‘dirty’ vegetables on the market (You might have heard of the Dirty Dozen, the list is a popular link that circulates on social media sites). This list is helpful for people wanting to avoid the worst ‘offenders’ in the unhealthy-for-you fruits and vegetables category. It also lists the cleanest fruits and vegetables you can get (which means they’re potentially safer to buy as non-organic, if you’re on a tight budget).
The EWG also gives interesting insight into our food system. For example, GMO corn rarely makes it to the produce section of the grocery store. Instead, it’s used in corn products that sit on the packaged food shelves (such as corn tortillas, chips and products with high fructose corn syrup in them).
As a matter of fact, if you’re concerned about the GM corn or soy in products you consume (one or the other or both are in most packaged foods sold in the USA), its pretty much a given that you should buy organic. Non-organic corn and/or soy containing foods are about 99% (or more) guaranteed to contain GMO foods.
A really great way to eat clean food is to buy local from a trusted source. This was made hugely clear (AGAIN) by the big honey fraud uncovered earlier this year with China sending it’s contaminated honey to other countries to re-label and import to the USA. You can read about it here.
As consumers get to know their local farmers, and farmers hear what their customers want and need, a mutual system works itself out. Farmers grow more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff. CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs also help forge a connection and bond between farmer, farm and people who need to eat. Farmers search for creative ways to stay in business and consumers search for healthy, local alternatives for their diet. It’s a win/win. (And creates a smaller carbon footprint, which is an awesome fringe benefit.)
Grow Your Own
As people fight for good food choices for themselves and their families, the humble home garden is getting a huge surge in popularity. Grow your own. But be careful when buying your seeds. GM seeds aren’t labeled as such. A big clue, though, as to whether or not your seeds are GM is if the tiny print, somewhere on the package, says you cannot SAVE the seeds from the crop you planted to re-plant next year (because companies like Monsanto, who produces GM seeds, also patent them, making it ‘stealing’ to save seeds grown in plants that were grown by seeds produced by them.)
(Yes, I want to say a whole lot more about that subject. But, it’s a post or two or four all on its own.)
Make Your Own
Cooking food from scratch with organic ingredients not only tastes better, but helps ensure you’re getting real food into your system. I often hear the ‘no time’ and ‘costs too much money’ complaints when I mention this route, but there are ways to do this efficiently without it breaking the bank (for instance, buy your organic fruits in bulk and frozen when they are out of season, or eat seasonally, etc.).
What You Do Matters, Whether You Think So Or Not
While it’s not easy navigating through the murky waters of food labeling, with a bit of effort and research, we can all become more informed. (There are places like the EWG and others who are concerned about the health and welfare of our world, who are working hard to bring clarity.) The more often we make healthy purchases, we’re not only voting for our own health, but also the health of the world. If companies producing chemical ridden foods are not making a profit, they will stop producing those foods. Our money, our choices, and our education can help turn the tide. One ‘clean’ vegetable at a time.