Our project to move the Co-op towards a GMO-free status continues to gather momentum. We have unearthed more information about product additives and are noting some interesting trends. Here’s a spotlight summary.
- We now have an extensive list of food ingredients and additives that could potentially be genetically modified. We will be posting this list in the store for those who would like to do their own label reading.
- It’s a fairly universal trend that, as companies get bigger, they start including certain additives in their products – such as citric acid and xanthan gum. It’s so universal, in fact, that one can guess the scale of a manufacturer with remarkable accuracy just by checking the label for certain additives. Citric acid is used as a flavoring, as a pH adjuster, and to help preserve food texture, color and flavor. It’s extracted from citrus fruits but is produced commercially from the fermentation of sugars – typically sugars from corn, which may be genetically engineered. Xanthan gum, also derived from the fermentation of corn sugar, is used as a thickener, emulsifier and stabilizer in water-based foods such as salad dressings and dairy products, as well as being a “pseudoplasticizer” that helps products such as salad dressing to “pour well.” These additives, astonishingly prevalent in commercial prepared foods, are not typically used in the products of small, local grassroots companies (when was the last time you put xanthan gum in your homemade salad dressing?), but as companies grow and increase their manufacturing scale, they start appearing on the labels. One conclusion here might be that the need for using these additives at all is being driven by a large-scale, long-distance food system that requires products to be able to sit on the shelf for a long, long time before being consumed. Hey, what do you know – one more reason for eating locally: it makes it that much easier to avoid genetically modified ingredients!
- In our store survey we are not including products from animals that eat GM food, but most GM grains are grown as animal feed. We also do not include honey, but honey and bee pollen may contain GMOs if the beehives are near GM crops. Supposedly ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), although usually derived from corn, is probably not GM because it is not made in North America.
- Most of the products on the Co-op shelves are, relatively speaking, remarkably clean of GM ingredients – a testimony to our dedication to natural foods and to the buyersâ€™ intensive scrutiny of new products. However, there are some ingredients that are just impossible to avoid entirely. We feel we can say “impossible” because here at the Upper valley Food Co-op we like to live by this quote from Google co-founder Larry Page: “Have a healthy disregard for the impossible.” We aren’t letting it deter us from this mission!