Reading Food Labels: How to Avoid GMO Corn



In the first post in this series, I shared with you how to avoid GMO sugar beets – today I’m going to talk about avoiding GMO corn. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to avoid GMO corn as it is to avoid GMO sugar.

The State of GMO Corn

Genetically engineered corn was first approved for use in commercial agriculture in 1996. Today, there are 16 different GMO corn varieties approved for food and animal feed in the US. According to the USDA, 88% of the 2011 US corn crop was genetically modified.

One type of GMO corn produced by Monsanto, Bt corn, now accounts for 65% of the corn grown in the US. Bt corn is genetically modified with a bacterial gene so that it will secrete a poison to kills pests. However, there is evidence that Western corn rootworms are becoming resistant to the toxin excreted by Bt corn and creating a new generation of “super worms.”

Is GM Corn Safe?

While there haven’t been many conclusive studies, one two-year study was published in September 2012 in Food and Chemical Toxicology. This study concluded that mice who ate Monsanto’s GM corn sprayed with Roundup or drank water with levels of Roundup comparable to what’s found in U.S. tap water were much more likely to die and at an earlier age. They were also more likely to develop other health problems.

In another study, doctors at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec, Canada found Bt-toxin in the blood of 93% of pregnant women, 80% of umbilical blood in their babies and 67% of non-pregnant women tested.

While many scientists say this isn’t enough data to draw a conclusion about the safety of GM crops, it’s enough for me to steer my family clear of them. I have learned to do that by educating myself about ingredients that are commonly derived from corn.

Reading-Food-Labels-SeriesTips for Reading the Label

Since corn is one of the top crops grown in the US, it’s in nearly everything. It is used to derive a crazy number of ingredients used in processed foods, and it’s also one of the most common feed products for livestock.

This is a list of ingredients that may be derived from corn. Not all instances of all of these ingredients will be corn-derived, so this is where it’s important to understand where brands you purchase are sourcing their ingredients.

  • Acetic acid
  • Alcohol
  • Aspartame
  • Astaxanthin
  • Baking Powder
  • Bleached flour
  • Brown Sugar
  • Calcium Citrate, Calcium fumarate, Calcium gluconate, Calcium lactate, Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), Calcium stearate and Calcium stearoyl lactylate
  • Caramel
  • Cellulose
  • Citric Acid
  • Corn
  • Corn Meal
  • Corn Starch
  • Corn Syrup
  • Decyl Glucoside and Decyl polyglucose
  • Dextrin, Maltodextrin
  • Dextrose (glucose)
  • Erythorbic acid
  • Erythritol
  • Ethanol
  • Ferrous Gluconate
  • Flavoring – Artificial or “Natural Flavors
  • Golden Syrup
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Honey
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
  • Iodized Salt
  • Lauryl Glucoside
  • Lunch Meats
  • Magnesium Citrate and Stearate
  • Malic Acid
  • Malt, Malt Syrup, Malt Extract and Malt Flavoring
  • Maltitol
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Mannitol
  • Methyl Gluceth
  • Modified Food Starch
  • Mono- and Di-glycerides
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
  • Olestra/Olean
  • Polenta
  • Polydextrose
  • Polylactic Acid (PLA)
  • Polysorbates
  • Potassium Citrate, Potassium fumarate and Potassium gluconate
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Propylene glycol
  • Saccharin
  • Sodium Carboxymethylcellulose, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Fumarate, Sodium Lactate, Sodium Starch Glycolate and Sodium Stearoyl Fumarate
  • Sorbitan and Sorbitan Monostearate
  • Sorbitol
  • Starch
  • Sucralose
  • Sweet’N Low
  • Tocopherol (Vitamin E)
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Vegetable Protein and Textured Vegetable Protein
  • Vinegar, Distilled White
  • Vitamins C (Ascorbic Acid) and E (Tocopherols)
  • Xanthan Gum
  • Xylitol
  • Yeast
  • Zein

Unfortunately, this is not a complete list, but it gives you a good idea of how many food ingredients are derived from corn! This post has some great explanations about some of these ingredients that I won’t duplicate.

Even scarier, I discovered on Corn Freedom that most fruits and vegetables sold in grocery stores are waxed with corn wax and frozen vegetables and fruits can have corn starch added to them without the need for labeling! Yikes.

In addition to these ingredients being added into nearly all processed foods, GM corn is a staple of animal feed. So if you’re buying non-organic meat that wasn’t pastured, you’re likely eating an animal that was fed on a GMO diet. So you need to be aware of that if you’re trying to avoid GMO corn.

Is Organic Corn GMO Free?

In theory, yes, it should be. However, studies have shown that even organic corn fields can be cross-pollinated by neighboring GMO corn fields. In fact, virtually all heritage varieties of corn in Mexico (where corn originated) have been found to have some contamination.

This article states that with only a 15 mph wind, pollen can travel up to ½ mile in just a few minutes (pollen is only considered viable for a short time). So unless the farm you’re purchasing your organic corn from is well distanced from any GM corn fields, there is a high probability that some cross-contamination is happening.

Are There Any Safe Corn Varieties?

There are two varieties of corn that are still considered safe: Blue Corn and Popcorn. Neither of these varieties of corn currently have GM seeds available, so there’s no risk of cross-contamination. Read this article on Mommypotamus for more details. I’ll be buying blue corn tortilla chips from now on!

Check Your Cabinets

Now that you know more of the ingredients that may be derived from corn, I challenge you to go look in your pantry and inspect the foods you have on hand. How many of them likely contain GMO corn? Will you read labels more carefully next time you shop?

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  1. Jennifer Holovack says

    Thanks for this one too! I read the sugar beets post as well. I have been searching everywhere for a list of “safer” food alternatives…for example, if you’re going to buy breakfast cereal, which brands are the best to choose from…There are some things I just cant seem to avoid buying like bread (although i am working on making my own). So when I do buy these types of things, i want it to be the healthiest and safest choice for my family. Do you know where i can get info on this?

  2. says

    Thanks for these post, I am trying to let others be aware of these products as well. Some are not listening but it is good for them to be aware of what is eaten. I am trying to be on the alert with the food. it is terrifying it is a pest , it is in everything you eat.

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