The easiest way to have a healthy diet is to avoid processed food and eat organic. This is not always possible or practical. We have created this guide to help you decide what to buy. It can only be a starting point and we would welcome your feedback.
GM crops are: Canola, corn, cotton, soy and since 2008, sugarbeet. Only GM cotton and canola are grown in Australia.
The easiest way to lessen your exposure to GM, additives and pesticides is to:
- Avoid processed food
- Eat food that contains ingredients that your grandmother would have used in her kitchen
- Learn to cook
- Buy foods from GM free companies – see True Food Guide
- GM free alcohol is now included in the guide
- Buy Organic
- Animal feed is often GM. This will affect the meat, milk, eggs, fish and honey of these animals. Ask for fully grass fed meat, buy organic, ask for companies to not supply products from GM fed animals
- Grow your own food, join a Community Supported Agriculture scheme, get your kids school to start a kitchen garden, swap fruit and veggies with neighbours – see the Cool Food section for more enticing ideas and links
Supermarkets, True Food and other shopping guides
Coles and Woolworths sell 75% of all groceries sold in Australia. These companies, along with IGA, Aldi and others have the power to respond quickly and effectively to what customers want.
Some supermarkets already have GM free homebrands, they are listed in the True Food Guide as:
- Aldi homebrand – they have also introduced a voluntary ban on 6 food colourings that affect children’s behaviour.
- Coles smart buy
- Coles finest
- Foodland – IGA homebrand
- IGA Metcash homebrand
- Maxi foods
- Leo’s fine food and wines
- Simplot homebrand
- You’ll love Coles (YLC)
- You’ll love Coles Organic (YLC)
Franklins, Safeway and Woolworths may use GM in their homebrands.
Canola in Australia
GM canola was grown in Australia for the first time in 2008. GM and non-GM canola were separated in 2009 but this adds extra costs and difficulties for farmers and suppliers. GM and non-GM canola were mixed after harvest in November 2009. Ring supermarkets and food companies to ask that they only use non-GM canola in their homebrands and in the products they stock.
- Safeway/Woolworths. Phone 1300 767969 Website, Contact form.
- Foodland in SA recently rejected the use of GM in its products Phone : +61 8 8351 9233 Fax : +61 8 8351 9235 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- IGA Phone 1300 135690 Website, Contact form.
- Coles Phone 1800 061 562 Website, Contact form.
- Aldi Customer Enquiry numbers : Victoria : 03-83693000 NSW : 02-9675 9000
Get food manufacturers to keep canola GM free
Goodman Fielder and Unilever are two of Australia's biggest food companies and buy much of the canola grown in Australia. Please ask them to use only GM free canola.
- Goodman Fielder Website Contact Page, Phone 1800 638 112
- Unilever Website showing food brands, Contact page.
Most GM food in Australia escapes labelling:
GM oils, sugars and starches
Highly refined food such as oils, sugars and starches derived from GM crops ie canola oil or corn syrup do not need labelling.
This is because it is assumed that GM DNA and proteins are not present in the food. DNA and proteins are what can cause food allergies.
However DNA and protein are present in oils and our food regulator (FSANZ) knows this. In the Final Risk Assessment of GM Canola (GT73) total protein found in the refined oil was 0.29 parts per million. http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/_srcfiles/A363%20draft%20IR.pdf (p25). This figure is typical of the level of protein in refined oils. This explains why people allergic to peanuts are often allergic to peanut oil as well.
GM food additives or processing aids
These also do not need to be labelled unless GM DNA or protein is present.
Do not need to be labelled unless they are more than 0.1% of the food
Food contaminated by a GM ingredient or processing aid does not need to be labelled if the contamination is less than 1% of the food.
Food from restaurants etc
Food to be eaten immediately - i.e. sold from restaurants, takeaway outlets, caterers or self-catering institutions does not need to be labelled.
Since most ingredients are considered to be highly refined they escape labelling. Additives and processing aids that contain GM as detailed in the list provided also escape labelling as in general they are present in small amounts.
The exceptions are if for example you buy a packet of soy lecithin, if it is GM it must be labelled. However the same ingredient when in a chocolate bar will not need labelling if it is less than 1% of the ingredients.
Food from animals fed GM feed
< strong>Milk, meat, eggs, fish and honey from animals fed GM feed does not have to be labelled. Buying organic or grass fed animals is the only way to guarantee non-GM feed.
GM labelling in Europe and the US
Since April 2004 the European Union has required mandatory food labelling where GM has been present anywhere in the production process. It requires labelling irrespective of whether GM material is present in the final food.
The EU regulation on labelling is: Regulation (EC) No. 1830/2003. It provides a framework for the traceability and labelling of products containing, consisting of, or produced from GMOs.
There is no requirement for any GM food to be labelled in the USA.
First the good news...
Fruit and Vegies are GM free.
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 – see below (link to supermarkets can stop GM) Some supermarkets already avoid the use of GM in their home brand lines. (link)
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:
- Sugar – for the first time in 2008 GM sugar beet was grown in the US
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.
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, sunflower, flaxseed, peanut, sesame, macadamia, avocado, hempseed or rice bran oil are not GM and can be used instead.
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 – the True Food Guide has a detailed list of them
- 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.
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”
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.
Greenpeace GM free guide now includes a GM free alcohol section
Some of the GM free brands are:
Beer brands: Toohey’s, Hahn, Heineken, and James Squire
Wines: De Bortoli, Tyrrell’s and Yellowtail
Ones who may be using GM include: Absolut, Cascade, Cooper’s, Crown, Foster’s, VB and Strongbow.
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.
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.
Additives have always been used in food. Traditional ones are salt, sugar, spice, vinegar, smoke etc. Of the 300 additives used in Australia most are considered safe however there are at least 60 additives are either of questionable safety or known to be harmful. The use of additives has increased rapidly over the past 50 years.
Chemical maze indicates which additives may be produced by GM.
Additive Alert had compiled a list of additives and known adverse effects. They are also campaigning to have 6 food colouring additives banned. These additives 102,104,110,122,124 and 129 will be phased out in the UK by the end of 2009 due to their effects on children.
Aldi supermarkets have voluntarily banned these additives from their shops.
For full details of how to avoid additives visit:
Organic food can only contain a limited amount of additives. These 40 allowable additives must be proven to be vitally necessary and not to compromise the product in any way. Organic processed foods can only contain known and trusted additives that have been proven safe. (Ethical Eating by Angela Crocombe p177).
Australia allows the use of pesticides banned in other countries:
Endosulfan is a pesticide that has been banned in 62 countries. “The chemical has been linked to reproductive and developmental damage in animals and humans, and residues have been detected in breast milk and placentas.” There is suspicion that the use of endosulfan on a nut plantation in Noosa may be linked to an outbreak of two headed bass larvae at a neighbouring fish hatchery.
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants will decide whether to trigger a gradual ban on its use in October this year. Its maker, Bayer Crop Science, is expected to phase out sales in countries where it is still allowed in 2010. Meanwhile the regulator Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority says there are no human health issues associated with using Endosulfan.
Organic agriculture works within natural systems and avoids the use of pesticides.
Many farmers may grow organically or nearly organically but have not applied for certification. You would need to ask them about their farming practices to decide whether to buy their products or not.
There are several organic certifiers in Australia:
There are also foreign certifiers:
Download the Greenpeace True Food Guide
Ask shops, supermarkets, food producers to only use GM free products. See supermarket phone numbers above MADGE is developing a card to give to your food suppliers explaining why people prefer GM free food.
Processed foods often have hidden GM sources (unless they are organic or declared non-GMO). The following are ingredients that may be made from GMOs:
- baking powder
- caramel color
- citric acid
- cobalamin (Vitamin B12)
- corn gluten
- corn masa
- corn oil
- corn syrup
- fructose (crystalline)
- glutamic acid
- glycerol monooleate
- high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- hydrogenated starch
- hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- invert sugar (colorose or inversol)
- inverse syrup
- lactic acid
- milo starch
- modified starch
- monosodium glutamate MSG
- oleic acid
- phytic acid
- soy flour
- soy isolates
- soy lecithin
- soy protein
- stearic acid
- tocopherols (Vitamin E)
- vegetable fat
- vegetable oil
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin E
- xanthan gum
Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) although usually derived from corn, is probably not GM because it is not likely made in North America.