Food Labeling for GMOs

About 90 percent of corn and soybeans produced in the U.S. is now genetically modified, and the controversy is growing over whether food should be labeled if it contains genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs.

Vermont recently passed legislation requiring GMO labeling. Dozens of other states are considering similar actions. And labeling requirements are on the ballot in Oregon and Colorado this fall.

Consumer Reports tested a variety of foods to see just how widespread GMOs are and whether you can trust food labels.

Because labeling is not required, you can’t tell by looking at the package, although some may say, “No GMO,” “Non GMO,” or “Non-GMO Project Verified.”

Consumer Reports tested more than 80 processed foods containing soy or corn for GMOs. The food was bought in and around New York City and Seattle between April and July of 2014. The testing was done on at least two samples of each product, each from different lots.

Unless they were labeled organic, the vast majority of products without a specific claim regarding GMOs contained a substantial amount. Those included cereals, corn chips, snack bars, and soy-based infant formulas.

What about foods labeled “natural”? That claim doesn’t have a legal definition, and a recent Consumer Reports survey of 1,000 people found that more than 60 percent believe “natural” means “no GMOs.”

That’s not what the tests found. Virtually all of the samples Consumer Reports tested that said “natural” but didn’t make claims about being organic or non-GMO in fact contained a high percentage of GMOs.

Then there are unverified claims – such as “Non GMO” and “no GMO.” Though not independently certified, they mostly proved accurate in Consumer Reports’ tests.

The one exception: Xochitl Totopos de Maiz original corn chips. They’re labeled “no GMO” but contained a high proportion of GMO corn in all six samples tested.

A spokesperson for Xochitl chips told Consumer Reports that the company and its supplier “are both baffled” by Consumer Reports’ test results. Xochitl’s “Organic” white corn chips did meet Consumer Reports’ standards for non-GMO.

Consumer Reports’ findings confirmed that the most reliable labels for avoiding GMOs are “Non-GMO Project Verified,” or organic, both of which are independently certified.

You can find more information on GMOs in food at ConsumerReports.org.

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