It probably comes as a huge surprise to many that genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, have been a part of America's diet for over a decade. For a while, GM crops -- which have DNA engineered in a laboratory to improve yield or withstand chemical treatments -- didn't attract much attention. That, however, has changed.
Last year, California had a statewide vote on the mandatory labeling of food products containing GMOs. Proponents of the measure have argued that long-term human health consequences -- as well as environmental degradation -- have yet to be fully explored, and people should have the right to know what is in their food.
That vote, however, ended with the state deciding against mandatory labeling. A similar measure was also narrowly defeated in Washington state in early November. Ads funded in part by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Monsanto, and DuPont apparently convinced voters that grocery bills would get pricier if the GMO labeling initiatives passed.
Despite these defeats, all of the attention GMOs have garnered has a lot of people carefully investigating what they eat. And there's no doubt about it, avoiding food with GMOs can be difficult: Nearly 70 percent of processed foods in the grocery story contain them.
But there are seven simple ways that ordinary Americans can avoid ingesting GMOs, should they so choose. Some may cost more than ordinary fare, while others shouldn't cost you a penny more than normal.
7. Wild-caught animals
Though scientists have yet to genetically engineer livestock in the same way they have crops, GMOs can still be a concern with meat. That's because feed corn has an 88 percent chance of being a GMO in the United States, according to the Non-GMO Project . Should you buy wild-caught fish or game, however, you can be relatively certain that GMOs haven't made their way through the animal's system. These options, however, are usually quite a bit more expensive than farm-raised variety.
6. Grain products without preservatives or sweeteners
In May 2013, an Oregon farmer discovered that Monsanto-engineered GMO wheat was growing on his field, even though he didn't plant it. That came as a surprise because GM wheat -- though it was once tested -- has never been approved in the United States.
Despite the discovery, Americans can be relatively confident that their grain doesn't contain GMOs. Grain-related products, however, require a closer inspection of the ingredient list. If high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), non-cane sugar, or vegetable or canola oil are included, it is highly likely that GMOs are present.
5. Cane sugar
A lot of the sweeteners we ingest come in two forms. The first is HFCS, and 88 percent of all corn is a GMO. The other is in the form of sugar. In the United States, half of all sugar comes from sugar beets, and 95 percent of all sugar beets is a GMO, according to the Non-GMO Project. The only reliable way to get non-GMO sugar is if it comes from sugar cane. This option is usually a bit pricier than regular, non-cane sugar.
With juices, as with grain products, close attention to the ingredient list is essential. Unless it's papaya juice, it's impossible for any other form of pure juice from the United States to contain GMOs. However, not every "juice" is 100 percent juice. That's because artificial sweeteners are commonly added. If they are -- and if they are in the form of HFCS or non-cane sugar -- they likely contain GMOs. The prices for 100 percent juice or juice blends are usually more expensive than for their sweetened counterparts.
3. Fruits and vegetables
This is, far and away, the easiest and most economical way to avoid GMOs. Papayas grown in Hawaii, sweet corn, and a small percentage of zucchinis and yellow summer squash are the only GMOs consumers need to be aware of. The rest of the fruit and vegetable kingdom is GMO-free -- as long as they aren't canned. Buying fresh fruits and vegetables, especially when they are in season, is the best, cheapest way to feed yourself and your family non-GMO food.
2. Non-GMO labels
The Non-GMO Project is an organization that was founded in 2005 with the goal of helping to educate consumers and provide verification of non-GMO foodstuffs. If you see a "Non-GMO Project Verified" seal attached to a food product, you can be confident that no GMOs are included. These products can sometimes be more expensive, though that isn't the case across the board.
1. USDA certified organic
Because the standards for USDA certification for organic foods include the stipulation that GMOs are not present in any form of a food product, the seal is a surefire way to avoid GMOs. Among all of these options, however, products with the organic seal are usually the most expensive relative to their non-organic counterparts.
It's up to each and every individual to determine how they want to approach consuming GMOs. For those who wish to avoid them, there are some simple and relatively inexpensive ways to avoid them --especially by eating fruits and vegetables. And for more common processed foods, though you might have to pay up for them, USDA organic and non-GMO labels are what to look for.
Fool contributor Brian Stoffel has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.