Posted on June 6, 2011 - by

Want to Steer Clear of GMOs? Here’s How.


Are you eating genetically modified (GM) foods? Chances are, the answer is yes. Even if you shop mostly on the perimeter of the grocery store, most likely your cooking oil has GM corn or canola in it and your sugar came from GM beets. In fact, GM ingredients show up in 75% of processed foods in US groceries, but they’re not labeled, so consumers cannot discern GM products from natural ones.

FRESH is asking the FDA to mandate GM labeling now, but until they do, here’s how you can avoid GM foods in your diet:

1. Choose organic!

To earn the “certified organic” label, a product cannot contain any GM ingredients, so buying organic foods is the easiest way to ensure your food is GMO-free. This applies even to products labeled “made with organic ingredients,” which must be 100% GMO-free, even if not all their ingredients meet other organic standards.

2. Look for “non-GMO” labels

Though you’re unlikely to see a product labeled as containing GM ingredients (at least in the US), many companies want consumers to know that a product is GMO-free. Some limit their claim to only high-risk ingredients, like corn, soy and the others listed below.

3. Check the PLU code on produce

In many groceries, fruits and vegetables are marked with a produce look-up (PLU) code. You can identify different types of produce with the following rules:

-Conventional: Standard four digit PLU numbers (XXXX)
-Genetically Modified: four digit PLUs prefixed with an 8 (8XXXX)
-Organic: four digit PLUs prefixed with a 9 (9XXXX)

Correction: A commentator has informed us that the PLU codes can not be used to determine whether produce is genetically modified.

4. Steer clear of products containing high-risk ingredients

If you can’t find an organic or clearly labeled non-GMO alternative, you can protect yourself by simply not buying products that contain ingredients most likely to be genetically modified. These include:

Corn: corn flour, corn meal, corn starch, corn oil, corn gluten, and corn syrup; sweeteners like fructose, dextrose, and sucrose

Soy: soy lecithin, soy protein, soy flour, isoflavone; vegetable oil and vegetable protein; tofu, tamari, tempeh, and some alternative meat and dairy products not specifically labeled as free of GM-soy

Canola: canola oil (also known as rapeseed oil)

Cotton: cottonseed oil

Margarine: almost always contains GM oil (either soy, corn, cottonseed, or canola)

Sugar: GM sugar beets were recently approved for planting. To avoid GM sugar, purchase organic bulk sugar and products sweetened with 100% cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, agave, or organic/non-GMO sugar.

Artificial Sweeteners: aspartame (NutraSweetTM and EqualTM)

Meat, eggs, and dairy products: Avoid products from animals who have eaten GM-feed and dairy products containing the GM hormone rBGH/rBST

Papayas: About half of the Hawaiian papaya crop is now GM.

Vegetables: A small number of zucchini, sweet corn, and yellow crookneck squash are GM.

5. Carry a non-GMO shopping guide

Several handy tools and tip sheets are available to help you make informed choices at the grocery store. Here are a few to choose from:

  • True Food Shoppers’ Guide from the Center for Food Safety, available in print and as a free mobile app for iPhone and Android
  • The Non-GMO Project Online Product Directory, also available as a free app for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
  • The Non-GMO Shopping Guide from the Institute for Responsible Technology and the Non-GMO Project, available online, as a PDF download, or in a handy pocket version.
  • We recently learned that the GMO Truth Alliance has compiled links to several guides and apps on their Facebook page. Thanks for alerting us to it in the comments!

For more information on the dangers posed by GMOs and why we can’t continue to ignore these risks, see our blog post What You Don’t Know About GMOs CAN Hurt You. To join us in our fight to get mandatory GMO labeling, sign our petition to the FDA now!

Have other suggestions for how to avoid GMOs? Leave them in the comments below!

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We'd love to hear yours!

  1. Ben Minot said:

    What is the FDA’s problem? US History: In the 50″s Doctors recommended Camel cigarettes in adverts. Now we label packs with Smoking Kills.The Studies are in. Let’s learn from the past. Jump straight to warning labels. GMO = HEALTH RISK!

  2. Jessica said:

    I totally agree that we need products to label whether or not they contain GMO’s. We have a right to know! I make every effort to eat GMO-free. I have even switched my salt and pepper to Himalayan pink salt and organic peppercorns that I get from Sustainable Sourcing

  3. Anonymous said:

    D_mn! I was wondering why I couldn’t tolerate corn products. Corn is supposedly a gluten-free grain, and I am gluten-intolerant. So I couldn’t understand why I got pain and bloating when I ate corn products. So it’s the GMOs, huh? Can’t even eat meat that’s corn-fed!

    D_mn! D_mn! D_mn!

  4. joseph lawson said:

    Food is and always should be freedom of choice as to what foods we put in our bodies. If we do not know what is in our foods especially if they are not grown in a natural way then we should have the right to know this. That is the bottom line.
    There shouldn’t even be a discussion about this. Since currently this is a topic it obviously proves beyond doubt that the FDA does not want the public to know. From the very beginning of all this talk of truth in labeling is when the FDA should have stepped up and made the RIGHT CHOICE. The FDA is corrupt and the best thing you can do now is side with the people on labeling or be prepared to lose all trust with the people of this country.

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    June 10, 2011


    Terry said:

    Can we trust the USDA organic label anymore? I thought I’d read something recently that some food processors are putting GMO-containing ingredients in some of their products.

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    June 10, 2011


    GMO Truth Alliance said:

    Your # 3 is incorrect. Please edit to correct so as not to mislead people.

    The absence of an 8 prefix on the PLU code does not mean that that item has not been genetically modified. The 8 is virtually never used!

    “PLU Codes Do Not Indicate Genetically Modified Produce”

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    June 10, 2011


    Crystal Cun said:

    Thank you for the correction, we were forwarded that information in a newsletter and I didn’t think to check the veracity of it.

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    June 10, 2011


    Jill Brubaker said:

    I may be missing this, but your website
    gives opportunities to share your articles
    on twitter and facebook, but I can’t find a way to email the articles. Please respond.

  9. Visit My Website

    June 10, 2011


    Crystal Cun said:

    Hi Jill, you can email articles by hovering over “share/save,” then clicking the 2nd tab at the top labeled “email.” Apologies if that was difficult to find, we’ll think about ways to make it more obvious.

  10. Visit My Website

    June 10, 2011


    Linn Madsen said:

    This year we began to grow vegetables. Learn to eat what is in season and find your local farmer to buy from. Eat fresh!

    Grow a garden and learn to can/preserve your crop.

    Will Monsanto fall? I’m not going to wait to find out, we’re learning to grow our own food.

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    June 10, 2011


    Barbara Talbert said:

    I can tell when I eat a GMO food as I get itchy. I have to avoid it like the plague. Can no longer buy boxed cake mixes or anything prepared. Also have to be careful of the flour I buy to make bread as I can tell very soon if the wheat is GMO or if there are some GMO fillers in it. Corn is a no-no and HFCS is a big offender. Bought a prepared whole chicken at one store and it was fine but the ones from the other store must have had hormones or be fed on GMO’s as I could not eat it without feeling bad and itchy. What the FDA is allowing to be done to people is a travesty. This is a food nightmare.

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    June 10, 2011


    Barbara Talbert said:

    See previous comment.

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    June 10, 2011


    Julieanne said:

    Thanks for the great info. We have a right to know what’s in our food! Even more reasons to support local farmers and to grow your own food.

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    June 10, 2011


    kyle said:

    Just wanted to add that #3 in the PLU code is for irradiated produce,especially oranges which were 80% of what my superstore was pushing this spring…I’ve never seen an 8 in the PLU….

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    June 10, 2011


    GMO Truth Alliance said:


    Never heard of a PLU code to mark irradiated produce. There is supposed to be a symbol on the box for irradiated produce. Sadly it is an innocuous looking flower in a circle. I’ve never seen a 5 digit PLU starting with a 3. You might want to double check that…could be another myth circulating.If it’s not, we’d love to see a source.

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    June 10, 2011


    GMO Truth Alliance said:

    This is a great note!! Thank you for compiling it. We added it to our facebook discussion of “Ways to Avoid GMOs.” For a more complete list of non-GMO shopping guides(including apps)see our Facebook photo album of GMO-free guides at Click on the respective image to get info for that particular guide.

  17. Visit My Website

    June 30, 2011


    Chris said:

    The sad reality is that these biotech companies actively want the complete transgenic contamination of the globe; their agenda, despite all the spin, is not about benevolently feeding an overpopulated world but maximising profits. They ignore the results of their own research findings – their failed products. They are plunderers and future eaters and must be stopped. Talk to your friends and acquaintances at every opportunity and join local activist groups in your area – form one yourself if there’s nothing close by start one!

    Get a copy of Jeff Smith’s “Seeds of Deception” and further educate yourselves around the issues.

    Finally, If you haven’t supported the organic sector hitherto now is your time to start – we can make a huge difference with our food choices.

  18. Jennifer said:

    I just wanted to say that I have seen plenty of PLU codes starting with a “3” (mostly on apples and oranges) and to my knowledge, it does mean that the food has been exposed to radiation (irradiated).