GMO foods, and How to Avoid Them



By Cat, Nov 2007; updated and re-published in May, 2018 (Image, right, from the Organic Consumers Assoc or OCA, used with permission)

GMO means Genetically Modified Organism, and has become the most commonly-used term for Genetically Engineered (GE) foods. Another term proposed by the USDA for a new labeling law (2018) to replace GMO or GE, is Bio-Engineered (BE). But this change is designed by big Ag to hide the fact their product contains GMO ingredients. If you avoid GMOs, please help educate your friends that BE means the same as GMO or GE.

The method used to produce these GMOs/BEs is not the same as hybridizing by breeding within the species or family, but rather produces non-natural plants and animals.

The most common GMO foods are “Roundup-Resistant” which means they are sprayed with Roundup to kill the weeds, without killing the GMO crop. Unfortunately, the GMO crop does take-up the Roundup, which is then spread throughout the plant, including its roots, so that when you consume the crop, you consume Roundup.

Side Note: Some non-GMO grains, such as wheat and oat may be sprayed with Roundup as a “desiccant” just before harvest to kill the crop so that it will dry faster for easier harvest. Buyer beware! See Natural News Article: “Quaker Oats sued over glyphosate found in its ‘all natural’ oats” (8).

  • See also (other sites): 1. The EssentiaList articles about GMOs:
  • Includes: 1. What is GMO/BE, includes 1a. GMO vs Hybridization; 1b. Roundup Ready Crops; 1c. GMO Animals; 1d. GMO Drugs; 1e. GMO Seeds; 2. “The Future of Food” (documentary film); 3. How to Spot GMO Foods at the Store; 4. How to Avoid GMO Foods

What is GMO? BE?

GMO means Genetically Modified Organism; another name is GE for Genetically Engineered. But the USDA has proposed a new, unfamiliar name as part of the new mandated 2018 labeling law is BE, for Bio-Engineered.

GMO/BE vs Hybridization

  • Hybridization is a natural process when the male and female with different characteristics breed to produce offspring that have a specific mixture of characteristics from each parent; while this does happen on its own in nature (apples are a perfect example of this), it can also be done in a controlled laboratory in the hope of coming up with the perfect mix of characteristics.
  • Genetic or bio-engineering (creation of a GMO) would not happen on its own in nature, but rather must be done in a controlled laboratory by forcing genetic crosses between species that could not breed in nature.
    • An early method involves micro-surgery at the cellular level, removing part of the native genetic material from a chromosome, and replacing it with genetic material from another individual or even another species!  For example, genes from a fish inserted into the genes of a banana, as comically illustrated in the Frankenfood image, above.
    • Another method, even more scary, involves digitally changing the coding of the DNA.

A prime example of genetic engineering is Roundup-Ready seeds.  These GMO crops are engineered to survive spraying by Roundup, whose main ingredient, glyphosate, kills weeds and other species growing in the sprayed area. These GMOs were created when a weed was discovered to be resistant to Roundup. Scientists determine which part of the weed’s genes were responsible for this resistance, then inserted that specific DNA into the DNA of the desired crop, for example, corn. And voila! the crop became resistant to the killing effects of Roundup, while weeds that crop up in the cornfield become sick and die.

But this doesn’t mean the corn wears a raincoat that keeps it from absorbing the poisonous Roundup.  No.

It means the corn takes up the Roundup into its system without succumbing directly to the poison.  Then, when you eat the corn (or products like cornmeal and cornstarch made from the corn), you ingest the poison.  And you also ingest the genetic makeup that allowed this resistance.  Who knows what horrors can result from this?

Any creature – including humans – that eats the sprayed crop, or another creature that eats the sprayed crop, will be negatively affected by the glyphosate in Roundup.

To complicate this further, over time, the sprayed crop and future crops grown in the same soil, will be negatively affected by the glyphosate in Roundup because glyphosate is a patented antibiotic. That means that it indiscrimately kills the important soil microbiome that otherwise helps the plant to take up nutrients from the soil, a condition called “root-rot.” See my article on The EssentiaList: “Food Evolution”: New GMO technology even worse than Roundup-resistance for more on this and other, newer issues.

Current Roundup-Ready crops include (2):

NOTE: This list is from 2007; it will become a longer list as more crops are genetically engineered. Plus other, newer GMO crops have been developed to be resistant to other weed killers, or to kill pests.

  • soy (introduced in 1996); by 2005, 87% of US soybean crops were Roundup-Ready (or similar) (2)
  • corn (1998),
  • sorghum,
  • cotton,
  • canola,
  • tobacco, and
  • alfalfa.  (However, in 2007, a federal court decision barred new plantings of Roundup Ready alfalfa and the resale of seeds, because regulators failed to complete a required environmental impact statement.)

GMO Animals

It isn’t just plants that have been subjects of genetic engineering.  Animals such as pigs, but more often fruit flies and mosquitos, have been subjects of GM experimentation, sometimes with disastrous results.

A GMO farmed salmon has been developed by AquaBounty Technologies, but as of 2013, had not yet been approved in the US or Canada. The AquAdvantage salmon was developed by inserting genetic makeup from an eel into the growth hormone-regulating gene of a salmon, enabling the salmon to grow year-round instead of only during spring and summer. In other words, so that it will grow faster than natural salmon.

GMO drugs

An anti-Ebola drug has been developed by ZMapp using a GMO technology called agroinfiltration. Note that this drug is not the only one produced by this method; other examples are drugs/vaccines against West Nile virus, dental cavities, common cold virus, anthrax, MERS, and the flu.  From my article on The EssentiaList: Ebola cure from ZMapp: another type of GMO:

“This is the technique used to produce the antibiotic against Ebola by the drug company ZMapp. While a similar technology can be used to force animals (rats, etc.) to produce the drug, the Ebola drug is produced by a tobacco plant. NOTE: this is not the same variety of tobacco used to make cigarettes, but rather a close cousin. Tobacco plants are especially useful for this type of research and production because they were one of the first crops to be GMO, so a lot is known about them and how they work. Furthermore, tobacco plants are natural chemical factories, producing nicotine which is toxic to tobacco’s pests.”

GMO Seeds

Many brands of garden seeds are potentially GMO. But some companies have signed the Safe (non-GMO) Seeds Pledge; similarly, certified Organic seed companies are also non-GMO. You can find links for these companies on the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) website (5b).

If you keep a garden, I highly recommend buying from those companies that do not sell GMO seeds.

The Future of Food (a Film Video)

Learn about and/or purchase this important 88 minute documentary by Deborah Koons Garcia, on The Future of website (6), and watch a 2-minute trailer of this 2004 film (6).  You can learn more on Mercola’s website (3).

How to Spot GMO Foods at the Store

Until labeling of GMO foods is mandated, there is no way to be certain which foods are GMO or contain GMO ingredients. Plus that new law may not use the terms GMO or GE at all, replacing them with BE (Bio-engineered) because of its unfamiliarity (meaning that people won’t know that it means GMO and will think it is OK to consume).

Until clear GMO labeling is mandatory on foods, learn to read the PLU (Price Look-Up) codes on produce (see below for more). And beware of the following:

  • ALL PROCESSED FOODS (that are not 100% Organic) likely contain GMO ingredients. Some processed foods that say “Organic” on the label may also contain GMO ingredients because “Organic” doesn’t mean it is 100% Organic. Such foods may only be 98% organic; the remaining 2% could be GMO. 2% may not sound like much but it is enough to do harm.
  • MOST COMMERCIALLY RAISED MEATS (BEEF, PORK, CHICKEN) are fed GMO-feed and so contain aspects of the GMO food, including an abundance of herbicide and pesticide POISONS.
  • ANY FOOD LABELED AS “BE” or Bio-Engineered, which essentially means the same as GMO or GE.

As of this writing, GMO foods are hard to spot because they are not required to be labeled as such.  Foods that are definitely not GMO usually state so proudly on the label.  Dr. Mercola writes, “you have a 75% chance of picking a food with genetically modified ingredients when you’re at the supermarket.  This is because at least 7 out of every 10 items are GMO.” (3). Note this was in 2007; the statistic has undoubtedly increased each year since then.

Refer to:

  • The Real Reasons to Avoid GMO Foods (3) and Mercola’s GMO Food Guide (3). Note that the food guide was developed in 2007, so is a bit out of date. See also the NON-GMO Shopping Guide (7), which is kept up to date.
  • The True Food Guide (4), which provides lists of GMO/GE brands and non-GMO brands in many different food categories.
  • The Institute for Responsibility (IRT) website; Jeffrey Smith is the founder

The most common food ingredients, especially in processed foods, that are likely GMO are (3):

  • soy
  • corn
  • cottonseed
  • canola
  • sugar beets (added, 2009); unless the package indicates “cane sugar” it is GMO sugar from sugar beets

The Arctic Apple is a GMO fruit that will not brown when cut up. That may sound harmless, but it works by deactivating an essential enzyme in the apple, and may also affect human enzymes.

The following ingredients are also highly suspect as GMO, because, for the most part, they are made from the foods listed above (per Dr Mercola) (3):

  • Maltodextrin
  • Soy lecithin
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Milk containing rbGH
  • Rennet (used to make hard cheeses) could contain genetically modified enzymes
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet)
  • Non-organic zucchini, crookneck squash, and papayas from Hawaii

Dr Mercola provides some help for spotting GMO foods (3):

  • Avoid all processed foods (most contain corn and/or soy or canola ingredients).
  • Avoid commercial salad dressings and mayonnaise that include soy, corn, cottonseed or canola oil.
  • Buy Certified Organic foods as often as you can (Organic definition excludes GM foods), or better yet, Organically-grown foods from local farmers/gardeners, such as at Farmers Markets.
  • Refer to the GMO Food Guide (4) on Mercola’s website;  or the Non-GMO Shopping Guide (5) on the IRT website
  • See section on PLU (Price look-Up) Codes, below.

How to Avoid GMO Foods

  • Grow your own
  • Shop local, from growers/producers you trust
  • Form food co-ops with other local gardeners, farmers, ranchers and cooks
  • Buy Organic (however, foods labeled “Organic” but grown/raised in other countries, may not be truly Organic nor GMO-free)

See also:

  • Non-GMO Shopping Guide (5a, 7)
  • Avoiding GMO in Restaurants (5c)
  • Non-GMO Seed companies (5b)

PLU (Price Look-Up) Codes

Examine the produce stickers for the PLU code (Price Look-Up code),* to decipher which are Organically gown:

  • conventionally grown produce have a 4-digit PLU code (e.g 4567)
  • organically grown produce has a 5-digit PLU code, with ‘9‘ as the first digit (e.g. 93107)
  • GMO fruit produce has a 5-digit PLU code, with ‘8‘ as the first digit (e.g. 81234); however, this is NOT REQUIRED labeling in the US

‘*A PLU, or Price Look-Up code is a system of numbers that uniquely identify bulk produce sold in grocery stores and supermarkets. They are used at check-out to determine the price of a produce item. If you want to ensure a produce item is not GMO, look for a 5-digit code beginning with ‘9’.


  1. Mother Earth News October/November 2007
  3. Mercola on Why you should avoid GMOS:
  4. Mercola on GMO Food Guide:
  5. Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT):
    1. Non-GMO Shopping Guide;
    2. non-GMO seeds:;
    3. Dine-Out Non-GMO:
  6. Future of
  7. Non-GMO Shopping Guide: and
  8. Roundup as Desiccant:

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