Genetically Modified Foods – A Must Read For Chefs.

January 25, 2011

I wanted to share the below article that I read in the Environmental Nutrition Newsletter. Genetically modified foods are a very relevant topic and issue that chefs will need to address.

Genetically Modified Foods: The Uninvited Guests At Your Dinner Table

A recent documentary entitled The Future of Food was shown in theaters around the country. It detailed how genetically modified (GM) foods are creeping into the food supply with the help of giant corporations like Monsanto and DuPont. Should you be alarmed? Is it true that the growing presence of GM foods affects your health and ultimately the environment, as the movie suggests? Here’s what you need to know.

Tampering With Mother Nature
Whether called genetically modified, genetically engineered, bioengineered or biotech, the process involves taking a gen from one plant, animal or microorganism and inserting it into the DNA of another. The goal is to improve a certain characteristic of a food, for instance, to make it grow faster, resist disease, be more nutritious, repel insects or be more able to withstand harsh growing conditions.

The debate over whether any of this is necessary, helpful or even safe was raged for over a decade now. In Europe, it’s a volatile issue; labeling is mandatory in the European Union, while several countries have banned GM crops.

In The Mainstream
Americans have not been as outspoken. Is it because GM foods are less prevalent here? Think again. Experts estimate that 70 percent of food products in the supermarket contain at least one GM ingredient, most commonly from corn, soy, cottonseed, or canola. No one knows for sure, because foods sold in the U.S. don’t have to reveal whether ingredients are GM. Does it matter? It does if you believe in knowing what you put in your mouth.

One of the health concerns surrounding GM foods are worries about allergic reactions to new proteins created as part of the GM process. Most experts say there’s no evidence that eating GM foods poses a health risk. But many experts are concerned about the long-term effects of altering the genetic make-up of plants and animals – both on us and on the environment.

The chief concern is that genes from bioengineered plants or animals might inadvertently mix with natural genes, forever altering the planet’s ecosystem in ways that are impossible to predict.

What To Do
First and foremost, don’t panic. Genetically modified ingredients have been our foods for almost a decade with no obvious untoward effects. Still, if you want to opt out of GM foods – whether out of personal health concerns or concern for the environment – here is EN’s advice:

Go Organic – As part of USDA organic regulations, certified organic foods may contain GM ingredients.

Scan labels for common GM ingredients like corn oil, corn syrup, cornstarch, soy protein, soy, oil, soy sauce, lecithin, cottonseed oil and canola oil.

Shop at supermarkets with a storewide policy against GM ingredients, such as Whole Foods, Wild Oats and Trader Joe’s.

Check Out “The True Food Shopping List” from Greenpeace, a non-profit environmental advocacy group at It’s an extensive list of foods with and without GM ingredients. Among those with a green light: Health Valley Granola Bars, Nature’s Path Honey’d Raisin Bran, Hain Wheatettes crackers and Garden Vegan Gardenburger.