The good news is most of the GMO crops are not for human consumption, according to the Center for Food Safety, a non-profit devoted to organic, sustainable farming. The bad news is “60-70 percent of processed foods have ingredients derived from GMOs,” according to CFS Policy Analyst Bill Freese.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines GMOs as "organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally."
The USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) insist that GMOs are safe. So does WHO, which states "GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved."
However, according to the Jakarta Globe, companies such as Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical are "deeply involved in certifying their safety". For example, the FDA's approval process depends on voluntary pre-marketing plans.
Many European countries are skeptical of GMOs, either requiring labeling or outright banning them.
"The public concerns about GM food and GMOs in general have had a significant impact on the marketing of GM products in the European Union (EU)," WHO reports. "In fact, they have resulted in the so-called moratorium on approval of GM products to be placed on the market. ... Between 1991 and 1998, the marketing of 18 GMOs was authorized in the EU by a Commission decision.
As of October 1998, no further authorizations have been granted and there are currently 12 applications pending. Some Member States have invoked a safeguard clause to temporarily ban the placing on the market in their country of GM maize and oilseed rape products. There are currently nine ongoing cases. Eight of these have been examined by the Scientific Committee on Plants, which in all cases deemed that the information submitted by Member States did not justify their bans."
GMOs are also controversial in Africa, according to WHO.
"The humanitarian crisis in southern Africa has drawn attention to the use of GM food as food aid in emergency situations," WHO reports. "A number of governments in the region raised concerns relating to environmental and food safety fears. Although workable solutions have been found for distribution of milled grain in some countries, others have restricted the use of GM food aid and obtained commodities which do not contain GMOs."
In the U.S., Chipotle Mexican Grill became the first restaurant to acknowledge the presence of GMOs in its food, according to HuffingtonPost.com.
"Our goal is to eliminate GMOs from Chipotle's ingredients, and we're working hard to meet this challenge," reads the company's web page. "For example, we recently switched our fryers from soybean oil to sunflower oil. Soybean oil is almost always made from genetically modified soybeans, while there is no commercially available GMO sunflower oil. Where are food currently contains unavoidable GM ingredients, it is only in the form of corn or soy."
In other words, all tortillas, all rice and all meats but the pork carnitas.
Whole Foods Market's web site also acknowledges that some products contain GMOs.
"It’s impossible for us to include GMOs as a catch-all standard at this time due to the lack of regulation or requirement to disclose their presence in foods," the web site reads. "[Some products at Whole Foods contain GMOs], as do the products at nearly all grocers. GMOs are pervasive."
Whole Foods recommends that consumers know which foods are at high risk of containing GMOs (such as corn, soy, papaya, sugar beets, zucchini, yellow summer squash and canola oil), buy organic products or buy products with the Non-GMO Project Verified seal.
Even then there's no guarantee the product is GMO-free.
"Unfortunately, 'GMO free' and similar claims are not legally or scientifically defensible due to limitations of testing methodology," reports the Non-GMO Project, the nation's only third-party verifier of non-GMO food. "In addition, the risk of contamination to seeds, crops, ingredients and products is too high to reliably claim that a product is 'GMO free.'"
The Whole Foods web site agrees.
"Due to cross-contamination and pollen drift, very few products in the U.S. are 100% free of GMOs," the site reads. "The Non-GMO Project standard is a process-based standard that avoids the intentional use of GMO ingredients by providing suppliers with procedures and best practices for minimizing the presence of GMO ingredients."
Image Source; USDA