Genetically engineered corn. (photo: unknown)
5 Foods You May Not Know Are Genetically Modified
y now, you've likely heard about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the controversy over whether they're the answer to world hunger or the devil incarnate. But for right now, let's leave aside that debate and turn to a more basic question: When you go to the supermarket, do you
- Papayas: In the 1990s, Hawaiian papaya trees were plagued by the ringspot virus which decimated nearly half the crop in the state. In 1998, scientists developed a transgenic fruit called Rainbow papaya, which is resistant to the virus. Now 77 percent of the crop grown in Hawaii is genetically engineered (GE).
- Milk: RGBH, or recombinant bovine growth hormone, is a GE variation on a naturally occurring hormone injected into dairy cows to increase milk production. It is banned for milk destined for human consumption in the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Many milk brands that are rGBH-free label their milk as such, but as much as 40 percent of our dairy products, including ice cream and cheese, contains the hormone.
- Corn on the cob: While 90 percent of corn grown in the United States is genetically modified, most of that crop is used for animal feed or ethanol and much of the rest ends up in processed foods. Sweet corn - the stuff that you steam or grill on the barbecue and eat on the cob - was GMO-free until last year when Monsanto rolled out its first GE harvest of sweet corn. While consumers successfully petitioned Whole Foods and Trader Joe's to not carry the variety, Walmart has begun stocking the shelves with it without any label.
- Squash and zucchini: While the majority of squashes on the market are not GE, approximately 25,000 acres of crookneck, straightneck, and zucchinis have been bioengineered to be virus resistant.
- "All natural" foods: Be wary of this label if you're trying to avoid GE foods. Right now there is no strict definition of what constitutes a natural food. This could be changing soon as federal court judges recently requested the Food and Drug Administration to determine whether the term can be used to describe foods containing GMOs to help resolve pending class action suits against General Mills, Campbell Soup Co., and the tortilla manufacturer Gruma Corp.
- 1. Potatoes: In 1995, Monsanto introduced genetically modified potatoes for human consumption, but after pressure from consumers, McDonald's and several other major fast food chains told their French fry suppliers to stop growing GE potatoes. The crop has since been removed from the market.
- Seedless watermelon: While it would seem plausible that a fruit that produces no seeds has been bioengineered, the seedless watermelon is a hybrid of two separate breeds. It has been nicknamed the "mule of the watermelon world."
- Salmon: Currently no meat, fish, or egg products are genetically engineered, though a company called Aqua Bounty has an application in with the FDA to approve its GE salmon.
- Soy milk: While 93 percent of soy grown in the United States is genetically engineered, most major brands of soy milk are GMO-free. Silk, the best-selling soy milk brand in the country, joined the Non-GMO Project in 2010. Many popular tofu brands in the United States also sell GMO-free tofu products.
- Rice: A staple food for nearly half the world's population, there are currently no varieties of GM rice approved for human consumption. However, that could soon change. A genetically modified variety called golden rice being developed in the Philippines has been altered to include beta-carotene, a source of vitamin A. Backers are lauding it as a way to alleviate nutrient deficiency for the populations in developing countries.