How to Limit GMOs and Other No Nos!

Tips to Limit GMOs and Other NO NOs!

If you wish to limit your intake of GMOs, or other compounds in food such as pesticides, these tips can help!

Note: The general concept of a "genetically modified organism (GMO)" is referred to as "Bioengineered " by the FDA and USDA. The term bioengineered is used to distinguish organisms that were genetically modified specifically through the process of  transferring or combing genes to make new genes that are not naturally present. I use the word GMO interchangeably with bioengineered food to represent foods created by this process.

Make sure you read "GMO No" to familiarize your self with the potential risks of GMO intake.

How to Spot Bioengineered Foods and Non-Organic Foods:

Not every fruit or vegetable that you find in the store will be bioengineered or come from bioengineered food.

Luckily, the USDA noted that they will require labeling of bioengineered food by 2022. Food will not be able to claim “non-GMO or non-bioengineered status” unless it follows USDA certification guidelines. Organic foods which have been regulated for years now, are already not allowed to contain bioengineered ingredients .

Let’s take a look at some labels or "seals" to look out for. 

Bioengineered Seal (1st and 2nd Image): Bioengineered foods are defined by the FDA as “ [food] that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques; and (B) for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.” 

Foods that meet this definition must carry the “Bioengineered seal”. 

An exception to this rule according to, are that "restaurants and similar retail food establishments, and very small food manufacturers (<$2,500,000 annual receipts)" do not have to show this claim.

USDA Organic Seal (3rd Image): Organic foods per the USDA can not be made with bioengineered technology (GMOs), antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. Foods that are “100% organic” or “Made with Organic” may carry this USDA seal. However, the USDA defines what these phrases mean:

The phrase“100% Organic” means that 100% of the ingredients in a food are organic. 

The phrase “Organic” means that 95% or more of the ingredients in the food are organic.

“Made with Organic” means that at least 70% of the ingredients in a food or food product are organic. 

Note: Farmers, and food operators that net less than $5,000 a year do not have to apply for organic certification.

Non GMO Project Verified Seal (4th Image): 

This seal is not government regulated. It is a third party verification process. However, this process is very expensive, and the seal is often found on foods that would not have even been considered genetically modified in the first place. Therefore there are plenty of non GMO foods on the market that don't carry this seal. So you can not use this seal as a determining factor. Their testing process is also not very transparent. It is best to go based off the organic seal or phrases, and familiarize yourself with the GMO foods available on the market. 


Five Tips for Avoiding GMO Foods, Pesticides and Herbicides:

1.Check the round sticker on your produce:

        A 4-digit number= Non organic (Ex. 4011)

        A 5-digital number starting with 9=Organic (94011)

        A 5-digit number starting with 8= Bioengineered food (84011)

        Click here for a government  handout summarizing these points.

2.Grow Your Own Food:

Obviously, growing your own food would be the best! You can buy several heirloom, GMO free, and hormone free seeds, and grow them in a pesticide and herbicide free environment.

3.Shop Smart:

Familiarize yourself with what foods are available that have been genetically altered or "bioengineered", and buy these foods as organic when possible.

 Bioengineered foods available in the U.S:

  • Papaya (Ringspot Resistant Variety)
  • Corn and High fructose Corn Syrup
  • Soy
  • Alfalfa (Used as animal feed) 
  • Potatoes
  • Apples (Arctic Varieties)
  • Sugar Beets
  • Summer squash
  • Zucchini
  • Cotton
  • Canola
  • Egg Plant (“Bt Begun” variety)
  • Pink Fleshed Pineapples
  • Cattle injected with Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST, a bioengineered growth hormone approved for use in cattle in U.S)
  • AquaAdvantage "GMO" Salmon (Salmon modified to produce more growth hormone was approved as safe for consumption by FDA in 2018)

Make sure you distinguish GMO varieties of produce from non-GMO varieties by looking for a sticker that does not have a 5 digit code that starts with the number "8" (see image above).

You can see by the foods on this list that GMO foods are everywhere. Sugar refined from sugar beets are in thousands of processed foods. Corn, alfalfa, and soy are in hundreds of animal feed brands. Soy, soy byproducts, canola, and corn are in thousands of processed foods for human consumption  world-wide . Milk made from artificially injected rBST cows are available in our grocery stores in cheese, milk, and yogurt.

Note that fruits such as seedless grapes, bananas, watermelon, and cutie tangerines did not make this list because as stated in my post  “ GMO NO”  they are not considered to be “directly” bioengineered since they are not considered transgenic foods.

Read more from the USDA here:

Know which prepackaged foods are more than likely to come from GMOs and try to buy these foods organic when able:

Prepackaged Food with high risk of containing "GMOs"

  • Taco shells
  • Tortillas
  • Corn based cereal (ex. corn flakes)
  • Edamame
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Some frozen meals (read label for soy ingredients)
  • Many microwavable foods (read label for soy ingredients)
  • Soda or juice with high fructose corn syrup
  • Snacks (look for high fructose corn syrup, sugar not from organic cane sugar)

Familiarize your self with foods likely to have higher herbicide and  pesticide content. Produce with thin skin or "fuzzy skin" are known to carry higher amounts of pesticides. Same with several lettuce varieties that are prone to certain threats such as aphids (type of insect), and weeds. Try to get these foods organic and wash them as thoroughly as possible.

   High Pesticide/Herbicide Crops:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Collards
  • Mustard Greens
  • Fuzzy fruits (peaches, strawberries, nectarines, raspberries)
  • Grapes
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Celery
  • Cherries

Typically, thick skinned fruits, and pungent smelling vegetables (onion,  garlic, broccoli) require less pesticide use.  However, According to, an independent resource for the herbicide and pesticide content of various produce, some citrus fruits may have high fungicide content.

 Low Pesticide/Herbicide Crops:

  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Pineapple
  • Mango

The key is not to avoid certain fruits and vegetables, but aim to buy produce with a high probability of having chemicals, as organic when able.

High Pesticide/Herbicide Grains That  Are Best to Buy Organic:

  1. Oats
  2. Wheat
  3. Rice
  4. Beans

Much of this information is brought to you by, a company that independently test several samples of fruit and vegetables, and compiles a list of which ones have a higher or lower pesticide/herbicide content. Get your shopping list of the highest and lowest pesticide/herbicide rich foods in 2021 here .

Meat and Dairy: Opting for organic milk and meat derived from grass-fed animals, can reduce exposure from unwanted compounds like antibiotics and hormones. You can also try using plant-based milks such as almond milk or oat milk (preferably organic) as dairy alternatives. Limiting meat intake, can also be a good affordable strategy. Try starting with “meatless Mondays and see how you like it!

If you do buy things like cheese, and do not see an organic variety, at least try to opt for a brand that uses cows not treated with rBST (as discussed earlier in the post). Look for the phrase "Milk from cows not treated with rBST" (see image of "Brie" above, for example".

4. Limit Fast Food :

Restaurants do not have to disclose where their ingredients come from and  affordable, large fast food chains are more likely to use products of the GMO industry. 

Beef, chicken, dairy and other meat products, especially  from fast food restaurants are usually not organic. Meaning they may contain antibiotics, hormones such as RBST, soy protein ( cheaper meat alternative/additive), and their meat may have come from cows fed  genetically modified alfalfa, corn, and soy.

5. Eat Local:

A lot of local organic farms, especially those not near large industrial farms, are less likely to invest in expensive GMO crops, and may have a lower risk of cross pollination from GMO crops. However, eating local is not guaranteed to be organic or GMO free, and some small businesses are exempt from certain labeling regulations. It is best to always ask your local farmer and get to know them in the process. 

Written by
Ciara Dove-Reid, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

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