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Tests Show Widespread Presence of GMOs in So-Called "Natural" Foods

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For more information about the study mentioned in this article, please contact the Park Slope Food Co-op.

With a lack of mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods in the United States, some natural food cooperatives are taking matters into their own hands by removing GM foods from their stores or labeling them. The Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn, New York, recently conducted an exhaustive three year study of the 8,000 food products in its stores aiming to identify and label products containing GM ingredients.

Surveyed 8,000 products for GM ingredients

Ten years ago, Park Slope Co-op members, who number 15,000, had voted unanimously to remove GM foods from its shelves. Greg Todd, chair of the coop's Safe Food Labeling Committee, explains the co-op's decision, saying, "Food is supposed to be nourishing, not illness producing, but until we could determine whether there were GMOs in our food or not, we couldn't make healthy choices."

An initial attempt to identify GM ingredients in food products fell short, so the co-op's Safe Food Labeling Committee launched a more comprehensive study. Gregg Bromberg, co-op member and lab administrator at Virginia Dare, an ingredient supplier, helped to identify 12 ingredients derived from corn, soy, and dairy that were high-risk for GMOs. The Safe Food Labeling Committee created a form with the 12 ingredients and recruited co-op members to survey every one of the coop's 8,000 food products for the GMO-risk ingredients.

After excluding certified organic products, which cannot include GMOs, and those produced in the European Union, which require labeling of GMOs, the study identified 555 products with ingredients from the GMO risk categories. A series of three letters were mailed to the producers requesting verification of whether GM source material was, was not, or possibly was, part of their products.

Of these, 93 products were attested to as being free of GMOs. Producers of 9 products admitted the presence of GMOs among the ingredients, while producers of 64 products identified them as "possibly" containing GMOs because they could not state with certainty that their products did not contain GM source material. The remaining 393 products were included in the "possibly containing GMOs" category by default, because their producers declined to respond to the mailing.

"State of denial" about presence of GMOs

Bromberg says the production of GMO-contaminated foods was not confined to large conventional food corporations. "It was evident among some of the 'health conscious' producers as well. It's indicative of how pervasive these dangerous substances are becoming."

A surprising result of the study was that "apparently a state of denial characterizes the majority of producers' approach to GMOs," according to Safe Food Labeling Committee members. Todd says some companies, including high-profile organic companies, were indifferent or "cavalier" about the presence of GMOs in their products. "Some didn't know if they had GM ingredients and some didn't want to know."

According to many estimates, GM ingredients appear in more than 70% of processed foods sold in the US.

Need for mandatory GM food labeling

Safe Food Labeling Committee member and Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Nancy Siesel says the need for the study arose from the absence of mandatory GM food labeling in the United States. "What this situation desperately calls for is a Federal law requiring producers to disclose the genetic status of their product ingredients."

That way, everyone can make informed food decisions right at the point of purchase, says Park Slope Food Co-op general manager, Joe Holtz. He urged the continued scrutiny of labels "because, at present, manufacturers can change ingredients faster than we can discover that they did so."

Park Slope Food Co-op is one of several North American natural food co-ops that have launched non-GMO initiatives. Others include the Brattleboro Food Co-op in Vermont, North Coast Co-op in Arcata, California, and the Big Carrot in Toronto, Canada. These co-ops have either labeled products non-GMO or removed GM products from their shelves.