You are here

How to shop GM free

First the good news...

Fruit and Vegies grown in Australia are GM free. (see more in the Now the Bad News section below).

Most cereal crops grown in Australia are GM free.

We have wonderful delicious locally produced food and it’s worth celebrating. The only Australian crops to be wary of are GM cotton and GM canola.

  • If you buy food labelled “Product of Australia” the “significant ingredients” will be sourced from Australia and (except for cotton and canola) should be GM-free.
  • GM cotton is eaten as: cottonseed oil and cotton linters (may be in bulking agent 460), although the left over pesticide producing cotton trash has been fed to animals.
  • Find out what your chips are cooked in. “Formula 40” is GM cottonseed oil – most other brands will be GM as well.
  • GM canola oil is used in many processed food products including bread, dips, margarine, chips and bakery products like cakes and muffins.

However customer pressure can stop the use of GM canola and other ingredients. It happened in Europe and it will happen here.  Some supermarkets already avoid the use of GM in their home brand lines.

Now, the bad news...

There is a lot of imported GM food coming into our country, mostly from the Americas. It is in Australian made and imported products on our supermarket shelves, and unfortunately is being fed to our animals from time to time.

The main international GM crops are:

  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Canola
  • Cotton
  • Sugar – for the first time in 2008 GM sugar beet was grown in the US
  • Alfalfa in the US. This is a livestock feed and its approval has been fought in court.

If you avoid ingredients from these crops, and products from animals fed on these crops, you and your family can avoid GM food, with a few small exceptions. However there are many ways that GM ingredients can creep into our food. See the full list below.

Oils

Be careful of the oils you use. Vegetable oil can contain cottonseed oil (GM). Soy, corn and canola may be derived from GM crops and will not need to be labelled as GM.

Oils such as olive, coconut, sunflower, flaxseed, peanut, sesame, macadamia, avocado, hempseed or rice bran oil are not GM and can be used instead.

Processed food

GM ingredients are estimated to be in 70% of processed items on the shelves. This is where knowing and trusting who makes your food is important. It can also be good to brush up on your cooking skills:

  • A handful of soy flour or soy lecithin is thrown into almost every processed item on the supermarket shelves, so this cuts out a lot of your consumer choice.
  • GM corn can be in your food under many names – maize starch/syrup, corn starch/syrup, glucose syrup (corn) – think laterally. Also look at the list of hidden GM foods
  • Many producers have declared themselves GM-free. A list of some of them has been released in October 2015. The True Food Guide is a similar list but has not been recently updated.
  • Ring the information numbers on food packaging. You have to ask the question “Were any of the ingredients derived from a genetically modified crop?” and persist until you get a direct answer.

Milk, meat, eggs, fish and honey

The four main GM crops are also used as animal feed. There is no way to recognise animal products fed on GM – milk, meat, eggs, fish, honey - labelling at all ends is grossly inadequate - ask your butcher or local producer. Until things improve, buying grass-fed meat and organic dairy and poultry is the only way to be sure.

More farmers are showing that they know the customer cares about how animals are raised:

Environmeat "Beef that won't cost the earth"

Large Black Pigs A traditional heritage breed, delicious and sunburn resistant so they can graze outside in the hot Australian sun

Lyndale Park "Producing nutrient dense, flavoursome lean lamb for you to enjoy”

Savannah Farm "Savannah Lamb is naturally grown and raised in free range expansive paddocks using stress free stock management principles and humane and ethical animal philosophies. The lambs run in a natural environment, free of preservatives, growth hormones or chemicals."

Taranaki Farm "Beyond Organic Grass Fed and Pasture Raised"

Jonai Farms "Uncommonly delicious ethical pork and beef"

Fruit and vegetables

USA

"Very few fresh fruits and vegetables for sale in the US are GM... Small ammounts of zucchini, yellow crookneck squash and sweet corn may be GM. The only commercialised GM fruit is papaya from Hawaii."

GM pineapple has been approved by the USDA. It is apparently not yet in commercial distribution but is still in a "testing phase."

 
These were created by using RNAi to silence genes. Understanding of how RNA works is limited and there is concern that it is inadequate to assess the safety of these foods.  
 
As yet GM Arctic apples and GM Innate potatoes have not been approved by FSANZ but in the absence of testing and monitoring it is possible they could be imported, perhaps in the form of processed food. 

China

China has commercialised GM tomato, papaya, capsicum and GM seed garlic is reported to be on-sale. These have not yet been approved by FSANZ and so should not be on sale in Australia. However in the absence of GM testing, monitoring and certifying of imported produce Australian consumers cannot be certain that these products are not being imported in some form. Fruit and vegetables that could potentially be GM from the USA and Thailand should be treated with the same caution.

Thailand

GM papaya appears to be growing illegally in Thailand. 

Alcohol - there used to be a True Food Alcohol Guide. 

It is no longer on the net but it contained the following information. MADGE has no idea whether this information is still correct. We are leaving it here as an indication of the questions that could be useful to ask companies about their ingredients.

Beer – may contain maize/corn products that could be GM

Wine – processing aids may have come from GM

Sprits, liqueurs and pre-mixed drinks – may have a base of GM maize/corn or soy may be the base used for distilling.

Some of the GM free brands are:

Beer brands: Toohey’s, Hahn, Heineken, and James Squire

Wines: De Bortoli, Tyrrell’s and Yellowtail

Spirits: Bacardi

Ones who may be using GM include: Absolut, Cascade, Cooper’s, Crown, Foster’s, VB and Strongbow.

Note the mention above that this information came from a guide no longer available and so may not be correct.

Contamination

GM research and field trials have created contamination of ordinary crops even though the GM crop has never been commercially released.

There is a GM Contamination Register showing recorded incidents.

Europe has a Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed. It has a searchable database known as the RASFF Portal. You need to enter a date "Notified between" "and". Then under "Hazard" select "GMO/novel food" and then "Get Results". It will show you what unauthorised GM food, feed and novel foods have been detected. Where they came from and what country they were found in. Australia has no comprable system of detection.

Crops which been contaminated include:

Corn

Bt 10 corn – Syngenta, a GM seed and chemical company, supplied Bt10 GM corn seed to US farmers for four years. This GM seed had not been approved. Syngenta said they thought they were supplying the approved Bt11 variety.

The EU and Japan ruled that US corn feed imports must be tested and certified free of Bt10. FSANZ instead approved the variety.

Flax

GM flax "Triffid" was developed and approved but never commercially grown in Canada. It was made illegal to sell in 2001. In 2009 it was found to have contaminated exports to Europe. This resulted in lost markets in Europe and famer losses.

Rice

Bt 63 rice – Chinese exports were contaminated by Bt63 GM rice. There are concerns that this rice may be allergenic.

The EU and New Zealand instigated strict testing to ensure this rice was not imported. The Australian regulator (FSANZ) has taken no action to avoid the import of this unapproved rice. The EU is toughening checks on rice from China due to repeated GM contamination. 

Searches of the RASFF Portal shows that rice and rice products from countries such as India, Pakistan and Hong Kong have been detected as containing GM contamination. This highlights the need for Australia to instigate testing. 

Wheat

GM contamination of wheat has been found in Oregon. This led to the cancellation of wheat imports by Japan.

 

Continual updates

We have tried to provide the best information possible but applications and approvals are continually occuring. In Australia Food Standards Australia New Zealand is responsible for recommending the approval of GM foods. You can check the current GM applications and approvals here. The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator approves the testing, growing, transport and import of GM crops. Details on GM crop trials are here.

You can sign up to receive updates on these sites.