The GMO Basics Panel: Why It’s Important and How to Avoid


Photo Credit: Nineten

I have been wanting to do more research about genetically modified foods- what they are, how they are bad for us, and where they are hidden in our food-but life has found me very busy lately (my cooking classes are starting this Friday!).

So I asked a few other knowledgeable bloggers to share their knowledge with me and you about GMO’s. All three of the panelists shared very important information with us, including great advice on how to avoid GMO’s in our everyday lives. Please read this important information, and also feel free to share your knowledge too!

This post is part of Real Food Media’s No GMO Challenge. Check it out for even more information about this topic and consider joining in on the challenge!

Why should we care about GMOs?

“GMOs are the #1 biggest threat to our environment. GMOs are also a huge threat to our health. The The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) just called for a a moratorium on genetically manipulated (GMO) foods. “Ann Marie, AKA Cheeseslave

“There are many reasons we should care. Here’s just a few: GMO’s are not adequately tested and where they have been tested (in Europe) they have been shown to cause problems like organ damage and increased allergies. They’ve worked their way into most of our processed food with NO labeling & they are everywhere! In everything from soda to meat. In Europe, if they are allowed at all, they have to be labeled. That’s the minimum we should accept here. Oh and maybe the biggest reason, the GMO crops can and do contaminate all the other crops, including organic ones. ” Sheri, Moms for Safe Food

“Quite simply: GMOS threaten our environment, our health and continued success of small farmers. GMOs have not been conclusively studied and, in effect, are a huge science experiment conducted on a non-consenting, unaware population. Despite what GMO proponents say, they are not “substantially” similar to their non-modified counterparts; indeed, the very genetic structure of the plant in question will have been disrupted. Bacteria and viruses are often included in the genetic structure as well as genes from other plants and, sometimes, animals as well. Furthermore, it is the nature of plants to expand – to grow beyond their boundaries. With GMO crops, there’s simply no effective way to avoid or eliminate the risk of cross-pollination which brings us to the very real threat that much of our food will become contaminated without our consent or knowledge.

GMO crops also encourage the heavy use of pesticides as in the case of Roundup-ready Canola and other crops engineered to withstand pesticide use; this practice enables farmers to drench their fields in pesticides since the GMO crop will survive and any weeds will be killed. In this way, GMO promotes monocropping which robs the soil of its nutrients, limits the food consumers can eat and presents a very real threat in the event that an external threat wipes out that particular crop. Interestingly, recent studies indicate that some GMO crops actually yield less per acre than their unmodified counterparts. “Jennifer, Nourished Kitchen

What are the biggest GMO culprits?

“Soy, Canola, Cotton and Corn are the biggest culprits and these are in practically every processed or refined food. In essence, if you eat refined food you’re eating GMO. In the United States, there is no law mandating the labeling of GMO ingredients on food packages despite the fact that the vast majority of consumers want such a law enacted. Without the obligation of appropriate labeling, most of the food industry’s giants have made no effort to rid their products of GMO ingredients. Many of these foods seem benign: fruit punches with high fructose corn syrup, kid’s cheese crackers with GMO soy lecithin and GMO cottonseed oil – you get the idea.”Jennifer, Nourished Kitchen

“Corn, canola, soy, and cotton. You need to read labels — most processed/packaged foods contain these foods (soybean oil, soy lethicin, high fructose corn syrup, etc.).“Ann Marie, Cheeseslave

“Corn, because it gets fed to farm animals and also gets made into High Fructose Corn Syrup that’s in so many processed foods“-Sheri, Moms For Safe Food

What about the not so obvious GMO culprits?

“Most everyone knows about soy, canola, cotton and corn but few know about the little guys: papayas, sugar beets, potatoes, flax, tomatoes, radicchio and even yellow summer squash. Moreover, many products that you might consider “natural” might also harbor GMO ingredients unless otherwise listed. This is why, in purchasing Organic foods, you must read the ingredient list thoroughly – looking for 100% organic ingredients or purchasing only from companies who have made a commitment not to purchase GMO ingredients. “Jennifer, Nourished Kitchen

“Soy Lecithin. I’ve seen organic products (especially chocolate) that have non-organic soy lecithin as an ingredient. If soy lecithin is not organic, it’s most likely genetically modified. You really need to read labels!”Sheri, Moms for Safe Food

“All the corn and soy fed to cattle and pigs. And all the soybean and corn oil we use to cook with. Most restaurants use vegetable (corn/soy) to cook with.”Ann Marie, Cheeseslave

Any ending advice in how to make our homes GMO free?

“Buy grass fed meat and organic veggies, fruits, milk & cheese. Eat real food and cook it yourself as much as possible. Use real butter. Canola and corn oils that are not organic are GMO.

Take it one step at a time. If we all start to eat less GMO products as well as let our legislators know that we want labeling and testing, we can be part of the end of GMO’s!“Sheri, Moms for Safe Food

“First, cook your foods from scratch and don’t purchase processed foods. This doesn’t just help to eliminate your family’s risk of consuming GMO foods; rather, it’ll help your family’s health overall. If cooking your food from scratch isn’t possible, then make the choice to purchase organic foods – keeping a watchful eye on the package for the big GMO crops. Also, take a look at the PLU code located on the fruits and vegetables you purchase. While most GM crops don’t actually make it to your produce section, it’s wise to keep an eye out for them. PLU codes identify fruits and vegetables and are based on a 4- or 5-number sequence. If the PLU code is 4 numbers long, the fruit or vegetable in question is conventionally grown. If the PLU code is 5 numbers long and begins with a 9, the fruit or vegetable is organically grown. If the PLU code is a 5 digit number preceded by the number 8, the fruit or vegetable is genetically modified.

For example:

A Conventional Russet Potato would read PLU #4072

An Organic Russet Potato would read PLU #94072

A GM Russet Potato would read PLU #84072″

Jennifer, Nourished Kitchen

“Reducing/eliminating processed foods and avoiding the 4 crops (corn, canola, soy, cotton) unless organic will get you most of the way there. You also need to be careful eating out because most restaurants cook food in soybean or corn oil. If you really want to avoid GMOs, avoid eating meat and dairy from animals that have been fed GMO crops.-“Ann Marie, Cheeseslave
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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. Uncle B says

    How terribly sad, Americans afraid of their own food supplies, afraid that the unregulated vulture capitalist corporations they work for and support with pension investments, would turn, through soulless numbered companies, collected into huge “Monsanto’s” and for a percentage point bottom-line profit, kill them at their own supper tables! We are one fission-folly away from Armageddon, and hold the gun of investments gone wrong to our own foreheads! GM, Chrysler, and who knows who next, die in front of our eyes, Wall Street is raped, the banks fail, and now, we fear food contamination from our own kind! FDA? Bought out, and feeding us poisonous sweeteners as we speak, so no help from that corner, and no confidence either, as many of us watched their incompetence as friends and neighbors died last year, from Tomatoes? Onions? or Peppers? from Mexico? maybe, but it stopped anyway, and the FDA got off the hook by default. Obama promises Change – He has no idea how much ‘Change” we need or want! G d bless his soul, he is trying, albeit against almost impossible odds, to better our lives, our country, our laws, and our relationship with our neighbors!

    • ambytbfl says

      I’m not sure what you think the president has done or wants to do to end cronyism in the FDA or USDA where policy-making power is available to the highest bidder. He seems too occupied with getting involved in new wars (libya) and keeping guantanamo open, and raising taxes on job creators and working people, and trying to force us into conventional medicine by way of national health care. (Why would we want to be obligated to buy insurance when conventional medicine is so backwards?)
      What has President Obama done to end gmo corn subsidies? Nothing that I know of. He’s not fixing food policy, but he’s dragging down our only chance to avoid these products: buying more expensive organic alternatives. He’s continuing the trend of wrecking the economy which makes these things less affordable to working people.
      I don’t buy it when people tell me how hard he is trying. Trying doesn’t count. Doing is what counts.

  2. says

    Hi Kimi, great compilation of information! Aren’t seedless fruits genetically modified as well?

    I can’t let a GMO discussion go on without mentioning the ruthless company behind much of it … Monsanto. I think people need to be just as aware of them and their political pull as they need to be of GMO in general. Millions Against Monsanto is a good place to learn about them.

  3. says

    I second Vin’s recommendation of Millions Against Monsanto – it was a VERY informative read, even though I’ve followed much of Monsanto’s damage wake.

  4. julie says

    Great topic to discuss! Have you seen World According to Monsanto? Very scary it was eye opening. May I ask how Jennifer obtained the information about the GMO coding? I have never heard of that, but am going to keep my eye out. My husband is so skeptical of things!

  5. Leesie says

    Great information shared by all in the blog post and in the comments section. Thank you! Uncle B right on!

    The first time I learned of GMO was in a segment shown on 60 Minutes a couple of years ago. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing about what Monsanto is doing to the small farmer’s in India – selling GMO seeds at an exorbitant price only to see the crops die and the farmer’s lose everything! Check the suicide rates among farmers ( and the monarchs that are being killed off by GMO crops,

    The seed of change has begun, check out:

    Thanks Kimi, and I am so delighted to hear that you are off to a great start with your cooking classes! Good luck and best wishes in your endeavor.

  6. says

    Fantastic summary – thanks to you and all three of the contributors. The best film I have seen to date on GMO’s is “The Future of Food.” From netflix: “Before compiling your next grocery list, you might want to watch this eye-opening documentary, which sheds light on a shadowy relationship between agriculture, big business and government. By examining the effects of biotechnology on the nation’s smallest farmers, director Deborah Koons Garcia reveals the unappetizing truth about genetically modified foods: You could unknowingly be serving them for dinner.”

  7. says

    If any of you shop at Whole Foods rest assured that their house line of “365” products are all GMO free, organic or not. Not sure about other natural food products on their shelf. Best bet is to shop organic and look for “non-gmo” on the label. However, I am sure that most major natural food manufacturers probably are following Whole Foods lead.

  8. says

    Wow, thanks so much for sharing this post, Kimi, and thanks to all who submitted inputs! Michael Pollan’s writing first educated me to some degree about GMOs, but I have a lot more to learn. This post and the comments definitely help a lot. I’ll be sharing this info with my gluten-free support group, most of whom are very knowledgeable about and concerned for our food supply.


  9. Leesie says

    I noticed that my posts are awaiting moderation and others are not. If there is a problem with me posting to your blog, please let me know. I apologize if I’ve ever said or done something wrong.

    Leesie a/k/a
    Elise Bruzzo Dohrmann
    Warwick, New York

  10. says

    Great post! I never really understood what GMOS were. The produce thing is way cool! I always wondered why my health teacher was so against soy lecithin and as it appears un-organic in a lot of organic products.

  11. CariM says

    I too would recommend watching “The Future of Food” It is available to watch on

    My husband and I have really been trying not to buy anything GMO. We have always bought Organic at our natural food store but now we have one more reason to read the labels.

  12. says

    Vin of wonders if seedless fruits have been genetically modified. Yes, of course they have been genetically modified. They’ve been created that way by breeders. Any sort of traditional breeding is by definition genetic modification. Breeders like one trait and not another, so they perform lots of crosses to get the traits they want. Presto, you have a genetically modified organism.

    It would be helpful to have links to the research studies showing the harmful effects of transgenic foods and not just say that “they have been shown to cause problems.”

    • KimiHarris says

      Hey Everyone!

      Just walked in from a day and a half at the beach! Thanks for the great comments on this post, will try to reply more in depth soon.


      Sorry your comments got “caught” in my mail box. I didn’t have access to the internet so couldn’t approve the comments while I was gone. (I am not sure why your comment needed approval. Usually, a person’s first comment and any containing links will need to be approved by me). Your comments are always welcome! Thank you for them and please keep commenting!!! You always have great things to share. 🙂

  13. says

    GMOs are different from hybrids. Hybrids occur by selective breeding. GMOs are created by inserting genetic material from completely unrelated organisms, like fish or soybeans into tomatoes.

  14. says

    Lots of great information! Thanks so much for compiling this. I’m new to all of this. I’ve been trying to get my family on whole, natural foods and just learned of GMO’s about a year ago. I’ve been reading a little about them–but this article has helped a lot!

    Also, I had a question. When I planted my garden this year we purposely avoided hybrids and planted all heirlooms so that I could save the seeds. Are hybrids GMO’s as well since they have been messed with–or just some? Or are hybrids just a cross between 2 plants?

  15. Leesie says

    Thanks for clarifying Kimi ;o)

    I thought I’d share a site I just came across this evening.

    “An effort to fight global poverty and hunger may become a Trojan horse to force genetically engineered crops on countries and farmers that do not want them. In the Senate, Senators Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) introduced the Global Food Security Act, which increases funding for agricultural research in the developing world, and a companion bill in the House of Representatives is expected to be introduced soon. While the bill recognizes the desperate need to increase funding for agricultural development and food security, it also requires that foreign agricultural development aid include investment in genetically engineered (GE) crops.” (to continue reading, click on the link below):

    You can take action by writing your Senators and your congressperson. I shared this on my Facebook page but have no other place to post it, so if it is good with you to leave the information here for everyone to join in, here goes.

    The direct link to take urgent action:

  16. D says

    Sorry to change gears: I have a pie crust recipe that calls for 8 ounces of cold butter. Do you think that I can substitute 8 ounces of cold coconut oil for the buter with great results?

  17. says

    To clarify my comments and to answer Phoebe @ Cents to Debt Free, who said,

    Are hybrids GMO’s as well since they have been messed with–or just some? Or are hybrids just a cross between 2 plants?

    As Rebecca points out, hybrids aren’t GMOs, in that they don’t have genes from other organisms inserted into them. I was calling anything created by selective breeding genetically modified (note the letter casing) because that’s what they are. You start with one plant, you cross it with another plant, and the genetics of the offspring are different from the parents, hence genetically modified. If used properly, transgenes can be used to save time and effort needed for traditional breeding methods to create the same product (such as introducing disease resistance from wild plant species into cultivated plant species (within the same plant type, i.e., potato, tomato, wheat, barley, etc.)).

  18. says

    Great post, I am also on the NO GMO bandwagon. I have also found that not many people even know what a GMO is. Sad.
    I will be sending people to your site!

  19. says

    I just noticed that you listed a PLU #
    It is my understanding that if the number starts with;
    #9=organic–usually 5 digit #
    #8=GMO–usually 5 digit #
    #3=traditionally grown with fertilizers–usually 3 or 4 digit #
    #4=traditionally grown with fertilizers–usually 3 or4 digit #

    Hope this helps!

  20. Dana says

    People, please stop saying that breeding plants and genetically modifying them are the same thing. That is a tactic right out of the Monsanto playbook and no self-respecting biologist would say such a thing, so don’t you either. Genetic modification is another term for gene-splicing. You do not gene-splice when you cross-breed plants or animals. There’s no way people were gene-splicing, for that matter, when our first agricultural crops were developed and yet people will say, with a straight face, that agriculturists have always done GMO. It’s a lie, lie, lie… learn the difference.

    Genes are nothing to play around with. This is not a lets-pretend attitude-adjustment mental game where if you just feel happy enough about something, it will never, ever hurt you. DNA is it, baby. You don’t argue with DNA, DNA argues with you. And wins. Mess with that and let the genie out of the bottle and you don’t know what will happen, but once it happens and it’s bad, you won’t be able to stop it, either. Think about the birds of Hawai’i, or about the dodo, or about rabbits in Australia and consider that those were biological incidents/accidents (in terms of unintended consequences) having nothing to do with gene-splicing. Now consider what happens to human beings when one little thing goes wrong with their genes or chromosomes during intrauterine development (pregnancy/gestation). Now get scared, because if Nature knows what it’s doing and still makes mistakes, and here we are with zero understanding of the new toys we play with…

    The tragic part is there’s no reason to do it. If we lived more in harmony with the apparent laws of nature (again, we do not have sufficient understanding and can only go on evidence which is at times ambiguous), there are a lot of problems for which GMO is touted as a cure which we just… wouldn’t have, or wouldn’t have enough of to be turning to mad scientists to “cure.”

    I despise Monsanto, and have ever since I visited their website back in the late nineties and found vitriolic rants against people who are against GMO, casting slurs against their spirituality and that kind of thing. I was shocked that a corporation posturing itself as the Great Savior and Feeder of Humanity would stoop to such levels. They had particular vitriol reserved for “new age” types, as I recall. Anyway, they’re still trying to cover their butts. Check this out.

  21. Sio says

    Here, here, Dana!

    If “taking DNA from one and mixing it with another” was “GMO”, then your own children would be gmo-kids. That’s precisely what you do when you have kids — you find someone with traits you like and mix your DNA with theirs, making a child that is a combination of the two sets of DNA. Are your kids “genetically modified” because you had sex? Of course not! Neither are the plants because THEY had sex! That’s all cross-breeding of plants is, introducing them to mates you think will produce children with good traits, and putting on some Barry White.

    Monsanto wants people to think that cross-breeding is the same as GMO because it supports their legal stance that if the wind blows pollen from their *actual* GMO plants onto a field of NON-GMO plants and fertilizes it, that they now own the seed produced by the new field because it contains their GMO DNA, and the farmer either has to pay them for it or destroy it. He can’t save that seed and plant it the next year without infringing on their patent. This is total horse-hockey. GMO is only GMO if the genes are isolated, vectored, and inserted via some form of transductive mechanism. Natural breeding processes are just that — whether you select for traits or not.

  22. Michelle says

    False! Did you realize that absolutely everything you eat is a GMO in one form or another. when two plants cross pollinate they change the DNA in the resulting plant, thus modifying it genetically. All scientists are doing by controlling the GMO, is speeding up the process by ten to hundreds of years. Just food for thought for you.
    GMO’s are not dangerous, sure Monsanto has got a bad rap for a few of their past projects, but they are required to go through a testing stage, and everything else. GMO’s are not what is harming American’s today, that would be the way we eat, the unhealthy pure sugar products that pass our lips.

    • KimiHarris says

      Michelle, cross pollinating plants is in a whole different world than implanting pesticides into the DNA of plants.

  23. says

    I knew about the 9 rule of produce numbers… but NOT: If the PLU code is a 5 digit number preceded by the number 8, the fruit or vegetable is genetically modified.

    I AM DEFINITELY going to look for this now! THANK you for sharing.


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