a guide to avoiding genetically modified (GM) foods
Hardly any research into the safety of GM foods has been published in the normal peer reviewed scientific literature in the last 15 years and these foods have had NO long term safety testing.
GM foods contain randomly inserted genes from foreign organisms. These often include genetic elements of viruses and bacteria.
In some cases an antibiotic resistant gene is also included. In the case of the biggest GM food crop, Monsanto's GM soya there are genes from a virus, a soil bacterium and a petunia, none of which have been in human food before.
These foods may have unpredictable side efffects including allergenic or toxic properties.
According to geneticist Dr Mae-Wan Ho, “The soil bacterium [in GM soya], Agrobacterium sp. (CP4EPSPS) is unlike any other protein that humans have eaten. And there is no reliable method for predicting its allergenic potential. Allergic reactions typically occur only some time after the subject is sensitized by initial exposure to the allergen."
Some of the implications for health may be long term and so we will only come to discover their full impact on human health over time, and even that will be difficult to track in the absence of clear compulsory labelling.
For more information on the safety concerns about GM foods see the statements on food safety made by scientists.
Some people also choose to boycott GM foods, irrespective of concerns about their safety, because of the environmental impact of growing GM crops and/or concern about the global impact on food security.
Boycotting GM foods sends a very direct message to food producers. As the Chief Executive of the American Corn Growers Association has put it: "We're sure as hell not going to grow a product the customer doesn't want!"
Make sure they get the message: "We don't want genetically contaminated food."
*** WARNING: MOST OF THE INFORMATION BELOW IS SPECIFIC TO UK CONSUMERS ***
US consumers can get advice on avoiding GM foods from the Greenpeace True Food Guide
Not a lot, because 95% of foods with GM ingredients are unlabelled as such even under current EU rules. This is because these regulations only require products containing GM protein, and not the widely used oils and derivatives (such as lecithin) from GM crops, to be labelled.
The regulations also allow a threshold of tolerance of 1%, ie an ingredient may be up to 1% contaminated without being labelled as GM. In addition, all 'additives' are currently excluded from the labelling laws.
The Eurpean Commission are curently considering extending labelling so that derivatives such as oils and starches are labelled for the consumer but this is being vigorously opposed by the US together with Tony Blair and the UK's Food Standards Agency under its pro-GM head, Sir John Krebs - for more on Krebs and the FSA.
Ingredients that must be declared above 1% if GM include:
• soyabeans/soya pieces/soya flour/tofu/soya protein/soya concentrate/textured vegetable protein
• hydrolysed vegetable protein
• maize/maize flour /cornflour
GM ingredients that don't have to be declared:
All 'additives' are excluded from the labelling laws. 'Additives' is used to cover a wide range of ingredients that may be added to foods including:
• soya lecithin/E322, an emulsifier added to a wide range of foods, including chocolate, margarine, breakfast cereals, bread, cakes and biscuits.
Other GM soya or maize ingredients are excluded (eg soya oil, or mofdified starch from GM maize) because the processing supposedly removes the GM protein.
However, concerned scientists warn that protein does not have to be present in GM foods for problems to arise. For example, the genetically engineered food supplement, L-tryptophan, which killed and injured a large number of people in the US contained absolutely no GM protein.
The regulations also allow a threshold of tolerance for GM protein - see What can you tell from the labels? above.
The Vegetarian Society have banned the use of their approval symbol on products containing GMOs except GM vegetarian cheeses.
Restaurants only have to tell you about foods that would otherwise require GM labels which is only a fraction of those derived from GM crops - see What can you tell from the labels? above. Restaurants also do not have to include any specific information on the menu. A general notice that you should ask staff is sufficient. As staff are unlikely to have received any training, they may well be as mystified as everyone else!
The main things, as you may have gathered above, are:
Soya: the main GM crop that is coming into our food supply. It’s included in around 60% of processed foods - everything from bread (though Hovis, for example, say they are GM free) to baby milk.
Other contaminated foods are maize, which is also present in a lot of processed foods, and some vegetarian cheeses (not always labelled as GM so watch out!). There are also a lot of GM enzymes used in food processing (eg in bread making) but these are difficult to track down at the moment.
If you can, cut down on processed foods because they are much more likely to contain GM ingredients.
Go organic - organic foods should not contain any GM ingredients. Those bearing the Soil Association symbol are certified not to do so. Supermarkets are improving their range all the time in response to growing consumer demand, much of it in response to GM food. For information on sourcing locally grown organic food in Norfolk, including vegetable box deliveries, contact norfolk organic gardeners
Avoid soya and soya-based ingredients such as soya flour, soya oil, ‘vegetable oil’, lecithin and hydrolysed vegetable protein, unless you know they are GM free, and try and avoid maize-based ingredients such as modified starch, cornflour, corn starch, corn oil and polenta.
Other tips: Avoid margarine unless it clearly states it is GM free, and avoid oils which state "vegetable oil" or "cooking oil" on the label. Where you can, avoid "low budget" products as these are more likely to contain GM ingredients.
Wholefoods: most of the Wholefood trade has gone GM free but ask and shop with care unless the shop stocks only entirely GM-free produce(eg Holland and Barrett doesn't). Statement updates on wholefood companies are available from Jenny Priestley at Goodness Foods - 01372 706611.
Norfolk: Rainbow Wholefoods (Dove Street, Norwich ) and Green City Central (Bethel Street - 01603 631007) only deal in foods guaranteed GMO free. GMO free cafes in Norwich include the Treehouse (01603 763258) and Take 5 (01603 763099) at Cinema City. Any other Norfolk shops or eating places that are guaranteed GMO free, please let us know so we can tell the world!
Any meat and dairy products that are not not certified organic may well be from animals that have been fed GM material including material from trial sites. Animal feed is a big worry. It's how GM crops are quietly coming into the human food chain through the back door.
Over half of all genetically modified crops grown in the world are fed to animals.
A quarter of the entire US soya crop is imported by the European Union
Two million tonnes of soya is imported into the UK each year for use in animal feeds and of the 99 US soya crop, 55% was genetically modified!
Get the picture? Meat and dairy products are the very lifeline of the biotechnology industry.
dangers of GM animal feed
Gerald B. Guest, FDA official in charge of the Center for Veterinary Medicine, 1992:
"Animal feed derived from genetically modified plants presents unique animal and food safety concerns. These concerns arise partly because one crop - field corn - supplies 50 to 75% of the diet of most domestic animals, so small changes in nutrient levels from genetic engineering can have large effects on animal health. The antibiotic resistance marker genes contained in most crops would likely make animals resistant to some antibiotics, especially neomycin, which is used in animal feed.Furthermore, toxicant residues from transgenic crops could end up in meat and milk products and may pose human food safety problems".
Until autumn 2000 Government Ministers and industry bodies reassured consumers that a heating process used in feed manufacture killed any DNA in animal fodder but an independent study by the Advisory Committee on Animal Feeding Stuffs revealed in October 2000 that GM genes are surviving the manufacturing process which turns GM crops into animal food, making it entirely possible that large fragments of genetically modified DNA could be entering the human food chain, according to the committee. This means that products such as chicken, turkey, beef and pork may be contaminated with modified genes if the animals they are from have been fed on GM feed.
Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the effects of GM animal feed. Purchasers have a right to know whether animal feed contains material from GM crops. Tesco's says its working on excluding GM animal feed, such as unprocessed GM maize, as does Marks & Spencers but not all supermarkets are moving so decisively in this direction.
Cow & Gate, Farley and Sainsbury's have banned GM-soya from their baby milk formula.
Iceland were the first big store to completely ban GM ingredients from all their own brand products. (NB other goods on sale in Iceland, as in other supermarket chains, are not guaranteed.) Tel: 0990 133373
Marks & Sparks: a remarkable turn around at Marks & Spencer has created entire stores free of GM-soya and maize and their derivatives. This is a huge step forward for what has been a very pro-GM company. See re: animal feed above. If they get rid of GM enzymes and GM cotton in clothing, theirs will be a remarkable achievement. Encourage them to take those final steps: M&S: Tel: 0171 921 6000
Sainsbury's say their own brand foods were entirely free of all GM soya protein as of end of summer 99 and that it is working on the elimiination of GM maize and all GM soya and maize derivatives. GM tomato puree has also been taken off the shelves but they have been amongst the slowest on GM animal feed. Contact Sainsburys: Tel: 0800 632262
ASDA has banned all GM ingredients from any new "own brand" products. It is also asking its suppliers to find alternatives to soya and maize for its existing foods and it says it will eventually be GM-free but it seems a slow process and thye have also been amongst the slowest on GM animal feed. Let them know what you think: Asda: email - Tel: 0113 243 5435
Waitrose: Their policy is not to have GM soya and maize in their own-label products as of 1 April 1999. They say they contnue to work on the issues of oils, additives and other derivatives, and wherever possible their intention is to remove them as well. Contact Waitrose: firstname.lastname@example.orgTel: 01344 424680
Safeway: Safeway has consistently been pro-GM and unsympathetic to consumer concerns. They seem, however, to have finally committed themselves to comprehensive labelling and removing GM soya and maize: 'We will label all ingredients from a GM source; this includes derivatives,' they say. When will it be achieved? Safeway: email@example.com Tel: 0181 848 8744
Tesco’s committed themselves to trying to go GM free, including animal feed. They do say they will label any products believed to contain any GM ingredients and not just GM protein but it has been a slow process. Let them know what you think: Tesco: email - firstname.lastname@example.orgTel: 01992 632222
Somerfield: The company says it has asked the suppliers of its own-brand foods to source soya that is GM-free but where this is not possible they say they intend to label, including additives, 'as soon as possible.' They have not made the same kind of absolute commitment to going GM-free that Sainsbury's and M&S have. Tel: 0117 935 6441
Morrisons/Kwiksave/Gateway have not committed themselves to going entirely GM free but are not pro-GM in their attitudes.
Co-op. We are unsure of the Co-op's current position. Please ask them to clarify: email@example.com
Unilever (UK), Nestlé (UK) and Cadbury-Schweppes finally announced in late April 1999, after massive consumer pressure, that they were going to start phasing out GM ingredients in their foods as far as possible. Trading under the names Birdseye-Walls and Van den Bergh, Unilever are responsible for a wide range of products including Flora, Stork, Birds-Eye, Walls, Vesta, Colman's, Oxo, and Batchelors Beanfeast (which was Unilever's first product to be labelled as containing GM soya). They are very pro-GM in attitude. Tel: 01293 648000 (Van den Bergh Foods)
talking, or better still writing, to the places where you normally buy
your food - ask lots of specific questions and don't be fobbed off with
a standard reply!
For relevant company policies and comprehensive contact details for supermarkets and food companies , see the site GM Food News
The following books also have a lot of useful information:
GM Free: A Shopper's Guide to Genetically Modified Food, Sue Dibb and Tim Lobstein, Virgin Books
How to Avoid GM Food: Hundreds of Brands, Products, and Ingredients to Avoid, Joanna Blythman, Fourth Estate
More information available on websites:
GM FOODS ONLINE
These are guides to avoiding GM foods. This is a fast moving area so at times items of information on these sites may be out of date. For research on GM foods see Scientific Research on the ngin links page.
Genetically Modified food
Don't forget cosmetics and cotton clothing may also be contaminated!
"If you put a label
on genetically engineered food, you might as well put a skull and crossbones
That’s why you may need a magnifying glass to spot the unwanted ingredients!
Don’t be part of the genetic
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