Genetically Modified Fresh Produce
A question I was frequently asked last week at the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore was, “Are there any fresh produce items that are genetically modified, and if so, which ones?”
GMOs are present in 60 to 70 percent of foods on US supermarket shelves, as the vast majority of processed foods contain GMOs. One major exception, however, is fresh fruits and vegetables. The only GM produce you're likely to find is the Hawaiian papaya, a small amount of zucchini and squash, and some sweet corn - all grown using conventional farming methods. Remember, USDA organic standards prohibit any genetically modified ingredients. Organic fresh produce CANNOT by law be raised using genetic engineering! No meat, fish, or poultry products approved for direct human consumption are bioengineered at this point, though most of the feed for livestock and fish is derived from GM corn, alfalfa, and other biotech grains. Only organic varieties of these animal products are guaranteed GMO-free feed.
Here is a rundown on which fresh produce items (conventionally grown) are genetically modified, as well as a couple that have been believed to be modified, but actually are not:
Generically modified fresh fruit and vegetables:
- Papayas: In the 1990s, Hawaiian papaya trees were hit hard by a virus that destroyed nearly half the crop. In 1998, scientists developed a transgenic fruit called Rainbow papaya, which is resistant to the virus. Now 77 percent of the crop grown in Hawaii is genetically engineered (GE).
- Corn: While 90 percent of corn grown in the United States is genetically modified, most of that crop is used for animal feed or ethanol and much of the rest ends up in processed foods. Sweet corn that we typically eat on the cob—was GMO-free until 2012 when Monsanto rolled out its first GE harvest of sweet corn.
- Squash and Zucchini: While the majority of squashes on the market are not GE, approximately 25,000 acres of crookneck, straight-neck, and zucchinis have been bioengineered to be virus resistant.
Fruits and vegetables believed to be genetically modified—but actually aren't:
- Potatoes: In 1995, Monsanto introduced genetically modified potatoes for human consumption, but after pressure from consumers, McDonald's and several other major fast food chains told their French fry suppliers to stop growing GE potatoes. The crop has since been removed from the market.
- Seedless Watermelon: The seedless watermelon is actually a hybrid of two separate breeds. It has been nicknamed the "mule of the watermelon world." It has not been bioengineered.