If you’ve educated yourself on the dangers of GMOs, you know the big ones you need to look out for. The crops that are almost always genetically modified, like corn and soy. An overwhelming majority of the corn and soybeans grown in the US is genetically-modified.
Most people who are into real food aren’t very into soy, since it’s kinda terrible for you, so that one seems easy enough to avoid. And we know to watch out for non-organic corn-containing processed food products.
Still, many of us might be consuming GMO food ingredients without even realizing it. And while many consumers try to boost immunity and improve their health with vitamin supplementation, they could unknowingly be taking a daily dose of GMO, too.
Vitamins Commonly Made from GM Corn and Soy
In addition to various artificial food flavorings, enzymes, and other additives, many synthetic vitamins added to foods are derived from GMOs. These are often the very same kind you’d find in most vitamin supplements.
Vitamin C, which you’ll find added to many processed foods, is commonly derived from corn. We know based on the fact that 85% of corn grown is genetically-modified, that the odds aren’t good for a corn product to be free from GM contamination. It’s pretty safe to say that most vitamin C added to “fortify” foods and used in vitamin supplements is likely to be made from GMO corn. So yeah, that’d be a big, “no thanks” on that packet of powdery, fizzy, Vitamin Corn drink for me this coming cold season.
Similarly, your odds of GMO-free vitamin E aren’t much better. Vitamin E is usually derived from soy. With a 9 out of 10 chance that it’s GM soy, I’ll definitely pass on taking a vitamin E supplement.
But even if the vitamin itself isn’t made from a GMO, vitamin supplements commonly carry GM contamination. Vitamins D and K may have “carriers” that are derived from GM corn, such as starch, glucose, and maltodextrin. And many, many multivitamins contain these types of carriers.
“More and more vitamins are coming from genetically modified sources.”
A research director for the Organic Materials Review Institute has stated their concerns with increased risks of GMO-sourced vitamins:
The NOSB [National Organic Standards Board] should be aware that a growing number of vitamins are produced using genetically engineered organisms, making it ever more necessary to develop natural and from organically produced and non-synthetic sources.” Brian Baker, OMRI
Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin), vitamin B-12, vitamin C, and recently, vitamin A are made from a process that involves genetically modified microorganisms.
First, the genetic engineers identify certain types of bacteria or fungi that can produce the vitamin they’re looking for. (Yes, bacteria can produce vitamins, part of the reason why fermented foods filled with tons of probiotic bacteria are so much more nutritious!) But then, they genetically alter the microorganism, seemingly to increase its production, before it’s placed in steel fermentation tanks to produce the vitamin in mass amounts. The vitamins are then “isolated” and supposedly purified.
But does the GM microorganism remain in the finished product? Manufacturers and GMO proponents of course say no, that genetically-altered DNA isn’t found in the vitamins. Somehow, I’m not convinced.
In 1989, a GM-produced supplement was claimed to be responsible for the deaths of 37 people and the disabling of several thousands more in the US. Does that sound like a safe product to you?
GMO Vitamins Could Be in Your Certified Organic Food
With this being the reality of the production of vitamins today, if you’re going to take vitamins, finding organically-sourced supplements ought to be a priority.
But what if you don’t take vitamin supplements? Vitamins are so commonly added to many foods, even certified organic foods, to “fortify” them. So is buying certified organic a guarantee against getting GMO-sourced vitamins dumped into the foods you eat?
The USDA’s National Organic Program rules state that an organic product “must be produced and handled without the use of excluded methods,” which would include genetic engineering. They aren’t very clear on what exactly counts as an “excluded method,” however.
Gwendolyn Wyard, processing program reviewer at organic certifier Oregon Tilth says that this ambiguous rule has led to “inconsistent interpretations of the GMO prohibition by organic certifiers.” Wyard explained to the Organic Consumers Association that, “an organic processor putting a GM-derived vitamin in their product could say ‘I have handled a product without the use of an excluded method.'”
Additionally, if the processor has received a statement from the vitamin supplier stating that genetically-altered DNA isn’t present or detectable in their product, that’s another way to get the OK for an organic label. ‘Cause the people who sell the GMO vitamins are definitely the ones we should rely on to determine their safety, right?
Avoiding GMO Vitamins
It seems that the only way to make sure you’re not consuming these products of genetic engineering is to avoid manufactured vitamins entirely. I’m a pretty big believer in trying to obtain vitamins from food, not supplements, so I don’t take any vitamins, myself.
And as for foods “fortified” with these GM vitamins, I try to avoid those, too. If it has to be fortified with fake vitamins, it probably isn’t all that healthy to begin with. Foods that are commonly fortified are grain-based products like bread and cereals, and many beverages like juice, flavored water, or tea, so you may want to check their labels to see if vitamins have been added. They very well may be from genetically-modified sources.
If you’re looking for high-quality supplements, I’d recommend checking out the listings on the Village Green Marketplace here.
Could there be GMOs in your food or vitamins?
I think this is yet another reason to support the labeling of GMOs, don’t you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
“Genetically-Modified Food Abounds in US,” Real Science
“Vitamins Present GMO Challenges for Organic Industry,” Organic Consumers Association
[photo credit: modified from photo by bradley j on Flickr]