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How To Avoid Genetically Engineered Food

Oct – Dec 1999

What to Eat, How to Shop

If you really want to avoid the influence of genetic engineering, buy fresh organic produce. If you want to buy processed foods and avoid genetically engineered ingredients, you will have to read products labels. If the label mentions any of the ingredients listed below without explicitly qualifying it as organic, then the product probably contains genetically engineered ingredients.

Primary Suspects: Ingredients and Products to Check

  • Soybeans: Soy flour, soy oil, lecithin, soy protein isolates and concentrates. Products that may contain genetically engineered soy derivatives: vitamin E, tofu dogs, cereals, veggie burgers and sausages, tamari, soy sauce, chips, ice cream, frozen yogurt, infant formula, sauces, protein powder, margarine, soy cheeses, crackers, breads, cookies, chocolates, candies, fried foods, shampoo, bubble bath, cosmetics, enriched flours and pastas.
  • Corns: Corn flour, corn starch, corn oil, corn sweeteners, syrups. Products that may contain genetically engineered corn derivatives: vitamin C, tofu dogs, chips, candies, ice cream, infant formula, salad dressings, tomato sauces, breads, cookies, cereals, baking powder, alcohol, vanilla, margarine, soy sauce, tamari, soda, fried foods, powdered sugar, enriched flours and pastas.
  • Canola: Oil. Products that may contain genetically engineered canola derivatives, chips, salad dressings, cookies, margarine, soaps, detergents, soy cheeses, fried foods.
  • Cotton: Oil, fabric. Products that may contain genetically engineered cotton or its derivatives: clothes, linens, chips, peanut butter, crackers, cookies.
  • Potatoes: Right now, the only potato that has been genetically engineered is the Burbank Russet, but you still have to look out for potato starch and flour. Products that may contain genetically engineered potatoes or derivatives; unspecified processed or restaurant potato products (fries, mashed, baked, mixes, etc.), chips, Passover products, vegetable pies, soups.
  • Tomatoes: No plum or Roma tomatoes have been genetically engineered. But one cherry tomato has, as have regular tomatoes. Products that may contain genetically engineered tomatoes or derivatives: sauces, purees, pizza, lasagne, and all of those wonderful Italian and Mexican foods.
  • Dairy Products: Milk, cheese, butter, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, whey. You have to ask several questions when you are looking at dairy products. Have the cows been treated with BGH? What kind of feed have they been given? If they are not being fed organic grains, chances are quite likely that they will be eating genetically engineered animal feed. What does this do to their milk products? No one knows.
  • Animal Products: Because animal feed often contains genetically engineered organisms, all animal products, or by-products may be affected.

Please note that a food may contain some of these items and yet be free from genetically engineered organisms, but we have no way of knowing without tracking down every brand, every product and every ingredient. Even reading labels is no guarantee that you will be able to avoid genetically engineered ingredients, because manufacturers are not required to list every little ingredient, enzyme or organism used in the manufacturing process. The following products may also be genetically altered, contain or originate from genetically engineered organisms: candies, cookies, breads, cereals, corn syrups, oils, juices, detergents, dough conditioners, yeast, sugar, animal feed, vitamins and enzymes used in the processing of cheese.

Genetically Engineered Enzymes

Enzymes are naturally occurring proteins that speed up biochemical processes. They’re used to produce everything from wine and cheese to corn syrup and baked goods. Enzymes allow the manufacturer to produce more of a particular product in a shorter amount of time, thus increasing profit.

Generally, the use of enzymes is beneficial. In some cases, they can replace harmful chemicals and reduce water and energy consumption in food production. However, enzymes produced by genetically engineered organisms are cause for concern. Not enough is known about the long-term effects of these enzymes on humans and the ecosystem for them to be used across the board.

FDA regulations on enzyme use is a grey area. Enzymes used in the processing of foods do not have to be listed on product labels because they are not considered foods. Also, when enzymes are genetically engineered, the manufacturer is not required to notify the FDA that the enzymes have been modified. The lists of GE enzymes known by the FDA is, by their own admission, “probably incomplete.”

Worldwide, the enzyme market is a $1.3 billion industry. One of the largest enzyme manufacturers are Novo Nordisk, which manufactures GE and non-GE enzymes. You can contact Novo Nordisk (U.S.) at [email protected] and let them know your views on genetic engineering.

The FDA provided us with this partial list of genetically engineered enzymes:

  • Chymosin – used in the production of cheese
  • Novamyl (TM) – used in baked goods to help preserve freshness
  • Alpha amylase – used in the production of white sugar, maltodextrins and nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners (corn syrup)
  • Aspartic (proteinase enzyme from R. miehei) – used in the production of cheese
  • Pullulanase – used in the production of high fructose corn syrup

If you want to absolutely avoid genetically engineered enzymes you will have two choices: avoid foods in the following categories or call the food manufacturers directly and ask them if their enzymes are genetically engineered. They will probably have no idea. Ask them to check and call them back again. Let us know if you get written confirmation.

  • Beers, wines and fruit juices – (Enzymes used: Cereflo, Ceremix, Neutrase, Ultraflo, Termamyl, Fungamyl, AMG, Promozyme, Viscozyme, Finizym, Maturex, Pectinex, Pectinex Ultra SP-L, Pectinex BE-3L, Pectinex AR, Ultrazym, Vinozym, CItrozym, Novoclairzym, Movoferm 12, Glucanex, Bio-Cip Membrane, Peelzym, Olivex/Zietex)
  • Sugar – Enzymes used: Termamyl, Detranase, Invertase, Alpha Amylase
  • Oils – Enzymes used: Lipozyme IM, Novozym 435, Lecitase, Lipozyme, Novozym 398, Olivex, Zietes
  • Dairy products – Enzymes used: Lactozym, Palatase, Alcalase, Pancreatic Trypsin Novo (PTN), Flavourzyme, Catazyme, Chymosin
  • Baked Goods – Enzymes used: Fungamyl, AMG, Pentopan, Novomyl, Glutenase, Gluzyme

In many cases the enzymes named above are brand names. They may appear under other names as well. Enzymes are usually found in minuscule quantities in the final food product. The toxin found in genetically engineered tryptophan was less than 0.1 percent of the total weight of the product, yet it was enough to kill people. The use of enzymes is pervasive in the food industry. Nothing is known about the long-term effects of genetically engineered enzymes. We include this information so you can make an informed choice about whether you want to eat them or not.