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It's a classic case of mistaken identity.

Some common grocery store products have odd names or unique features, and they're mistaken for GMOs. But many are proudly non-GMO — and some of them are Non-GMO Project Verified!

The Butterfly helps shoppers find products that meet the highest standard in North America for GMO avoidance. To unmask the real GMOs, we bring you the truth about some of the most misunderstood products on the market.

Is Modified Corn Starch a GMO?

This might be the question we're asked more than any other. The confusion is understandable — the word "modified" is sitting right there.

In truth, corn starch might be GMO — but not for the reason you think.

Flour in a spoon before weighing itThe "modified" in "modified corn starch" doesn't mean genetically modified. It means that the starch was changed in some way to make it more useful in food production. For example, if a crop is harvested, processed and milled into a powder, then treated so it can withstand higher temperatures, it has been changed from its natural state. But do those changes make it a GMO? Nope. None of those changes are genetic modifications. Products that are changed this way can be Verified by the Non-GMO Project.

However, if an organism's DNA has been altered in a lab, creating combinations of plant, animal or bacterial genes that do not occur in nature? Those kinds of changes — modifications to an organism's DNA — result in GMOs, which we believe should be clearly labeled and segregated from the food supply. And it’s all too possible that some corn starch products are derived from GMOs.

The GMO risk in corn starch is because the product is made from corn, which is a high-risk crop. At least 92% of the corn produced in the U.S. is genetically modified. Any product that contains corn as a major ingredient must comply with the Non-GMO Project Standard requirements, which include ingredient testing, tracing and segregation.

Where's the synbio?

Alternatives to traditional animal proteins are all the rage. The market for meat alternatives — from plant-based to cell-cultured — is already booming, and forecast to expand another 11.2% by 2027. With so many products to choose from, how can a concerned consumer steer clear of GMOs?

The Non-GMO Project has hundreds of Verified alternative proteins for you to choose from — you can browse Verified products to find something that suits your fancy.

Lady holding a tasty vegan burger at workplace

With its massive media coverage (not to mention its (in)famous origins in genetically modified soy and synthetic biology) the Impossible Burger could give the impression that all meat alternatives are made with GMOs. In fact, some of the biggest brands in alternative proteins, including products made by Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods' main competitor, are Non-GMO Project Verified. (There are other great verified brands too, including Before the Butcher, Field Roast and Lightlife, to name a few.)

Imposters in the produce section

Fresh fruit can seem simply too good to be true (particularly at the height of berry season). Add in handy characteristics such as seedlessness, and the thoughtful shopper starts to wonder if these products are GMOs. Fruit is made to scatter seeds far and wide, but watermelons and grapes both appear in popular seedless versions? How can that be?!

Happily, neither the seedless watermelon nor the grape is a GMO.

Thompson grapes, the most common seedless grape variety, can be traced back as far as the Ottoman Empire, long before the advent of modern biotechnology. Flame seedless grapes, the most common red seedless variety, are the result of traditional crossbreeding methods of several existing cultivars, including the Thompson.

Seedless watermelons are a sterile hybrid produced through skilled breeding. It's a bit like cross-breeding a donkey and a horse to create a sterile mule — a reproductive dead end, but unique and useful nonetheless. Seedless watermelons may have small, white "seedlets" that aren't mature enough to grow new plants (and don't inspire the awkward "ptooey!" of full-grown, black-husked seeds).

Side view of cheerful young teenager girls friends outdoors in garden, eating watermelon.

To date, the Non-GMO Project's research team — who track more than 460 biotech developers around the globe — have found no reports of genetically modified watermelons on the market or in development.

Meaning you can snack with wild abandon.

Non-browning apples — GMO or no?

What about pre-cut fruit, particularly kinds that resist browning? That depends on the product.

There is a non-browning GMO apple on the market — the Arctic Apple. Arctic Apples come in Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties, with Fuji and Gala versions in development. Packaged servings of Arctic Apple from a grocery retailer should be labeled with a bioengineered food disclosure, but other food service venues don't require it and the appearance of the disclosure can vary widely.

What You Need to Know About Bioengineered (BE) Food Labeling

At the Non-GMO Project, we wonder why the Arctic Apple was even produced when there is a perfectly delightful non-browning non-GMO apple available — the Opal apple. Opals were created through traditional cross-breeding methods, producing a crispy, sweet and slightly tangy fruit with naturally low levels of the enzyme that causes apples to turn brown. The Opal apple is proudly Non-GMO Project Verified, and is grown in our home state of Washington.

GMOs need not apply

In separating GMOs from naturally overachieving crops, we found that some of those "too good to be true" foods are simply too good to be GMOs. They are products of nature's bounty, skilled breeders, or a combination of the two.

New GMOs and products of synthetic biology are entering the market at an alarming rate. With so many choices to be made every day, it helps when some of those choices are just a bit easier.

That's where we come in.

The Non-GMO Project has you covered, from the Product Verification Program, ongoing monitoring of the biotechnology sector and the latest news you need to keep GMOs out of your shopping cart. We're proud to help you locate the kinds of non-GMO choices you want for your family, and for generations to come.

Apple treeIt’s lunchtime at your local supermarket and like many people, you head to the convenient grab-and-go aisle. Maybe you want to add fruit to your meal so you pick up a package of pre-sliced apples with a little snowflake sticker. These apples show not a single sign of damage or any brown discoloration marks. It isn’t luck how pristine these apple slices look: this is a new type of GMO technology. This pre-sliced apple may have been sitting on the shelf for a few weeks, and while it may not have turned brown yet, it doesn’t seem quite right to call this apple fresh.

Green appleThese immaculate-looking apples with the little snowflake symbol are Arctic Apples, and they are created in laboratories using new genetic engineering techniques. Arctic Apples produce less of the enzyme polyphenol oxidase, which ordinarily causes apples to turn brown, either from damage or when they are cut up. For example, while it may appear to be in perfect condition, an Arctic Apple could be damaged when it was harvested and shipped. It should appear brown due to it being on its way to becoming rotten. Want to try juicing it? You may be caught off guard by its distinct, vibrant green juice, which highly contrasts with the traditional golden apple juice color.

 Arctic Apple varieties currently on the market include Arctic Golden (in biotech lingo, the cultivar “event” is called GD743) and Arctic Granny (GS784), and Arctic Fuji (NF872). They are dubiously referred to as “value-added” GMOs. However, it doesn’t feel like having imperfections masked is an added value for the consumer. Perhaps the added value is realized more by the seller due to the extended shelf life of these apples that won’t show their age or any obvious discoloration due to bruising. 

 Arctic apples have been available in supermarkets and online since late 2017, and are a big enough seller that the company creating these GMO apples, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, is tripling their production. Okanagan Specialty Fruits is planning a major expansion into food service territory. That means Arctic Apples may soon be available in institutional settings like school cafeterias, hospitals, prisons, and even sports stadiums. It’s easy to speculate that these GMOs may be a boon to large-scale food service operations, where the goal is to sustain shelf life — and at least the appearance of freshness — for as long as possible.

While it may seem beneficial to have an apple variety that provides less waste due to fewer customers getting scared away due to imperfections, the cost of having GMO apples is not worth the benefit, especially because there are non-GMO alternatives.

Freshly cut Opal Apples

Freshly cut Opal Apples.

If you do want apples that don’t easily brown, Opal apples are a non-GMO variety produced using natural breeding techniques. They are a warm golden color, crunchy in all the right ways, with a balanced flavor profile — not too tart and not too sweet. Opals are picked, packed, and shipped onsite at the family-owned orchard FirstFruits Farms in Washington State. FirstFruits is committed to using sustainable farming methods to produce these delicious hybrids.

 At the Non-GMO Project headquarters, we got so excited about this season’s Opals that we had to give them a try. We cut up the apples and let them sit for a couple hours. After resting at room temperature for the better part of an afternoon, they still looked incredibly appetizing with only the slightest hint of natural browning. 

There’s an old-school hack to stop apples of almost any kind from spontaneous browning: spritz them with a little pure lemon juice. The citric acid is a natural preservative that chefs use all the time to keep various foods looking their best while making the journey from kitchen to table. Look mom, no genetic engineering! 

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