While most people have heard of genetically modified crops, few likely realize how pervasive these genetically altered foods have become and how much of them they consume on a daily basis. In the United States, food manufacturers and retailers are not required to label GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and government regulation is lax. As a result, we have seen the market for certain crops become dominated by genetically modified organisms. Below is a list of the most common genetically modified crops. When buying these crops or products that contain them, buyer beware!
GMO Alfalfa has only been planted since 2011, but it has quickly taken over the alfalfa market. It has a modified gene that allows it to be resistant to the popular herbicide Roundup. That means farmers are free to douse their fields with Roundup to kill weeds without killing their alfalfa. Most alfalfa is used to feed dairy cows. That means genetically modified materials from GMO alfalfa (and the Roundup it's doused with) may be found in your milk, yogurt and butter.
Canola is widely used for cooking oil and animal feed. Canada is world's leading producer of Canola, and a whopping 97% of their crop is genetically modified! In the US, the figure is a slightly lower 93%.
The US is by far the world's top producer of corn, and 88% of the US corn crop is genetically modified to be more resistant to herbicides. This herbicide resistance allows the crop to be sprayed with large amounts of weed killer without killing the corn. This corn finds its way into animal feed and just about every food product on grocery store shelves by way of corn meal, corn syrup, corn starch, xanthan gum, MSG and dozens of other commonly used corn-derived ingredients.
We might not think of cotton as food, but it is actually used in a lot of animal feed. The US, China and India are the largest producers of cotton and also happen to be the countries where genetically modified cotton enjoy the most market share. In the US, 94% of the cotton market is genetically modified.
The leading producer of Papaya in the US is Hawaii, and nearly all of the Hawaiian papaya crop is made up of GMO papaya. This modified version of the fruit was created to fend off the papaya ringworm virus. GMO papaya is approved for sale in the US, but is banned in the EU.
Soybeans hold the distinction of being the most common genetically modified crop in the world. In the US, 94% of all soy is genetically modified. And since soy is such a common crop, the US's GMO soy makes up nearly 50% of all genetically modified crops in the world. There is some preliminary research indicating that genetically modified soybeans might increase risk of birth defects and infant mortality in lab animals. More testing is needed to know the affects of GMO soybeans on humans.
GMO sugar beets were approved for growing in the US in 2005, but were banned again in 2010. However, the ban was lifted through deregulation in 2012. Today, a full 95% of the sugar beet crop in the US is genetically modified. Those GMO sugar beets represent roughly 50% of the United State's sugar production.
Zucchini and yellow summer squash are fairly low volume crops, but a large percentage of these vegetables produced in the United States have been genetically modified to resist viruses.
With the markets for so many crop being dominated by GMOs, there's only one way to ensure you're eating non-genetically modified foods: Eat foods that have been certified to contain no GMOs. AboutGMO.org has a searchable database of certified non-GMO products to help you find food options that are truly natural.