GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. They are an effort by biotechnology to make growing crops more beneficial. The GMOs can help crops grow faster, resist pests, and other “beneficial” effects. The folks over at justmeans.com give a good overview of what GMOS are, but the summation is that GMOs are organisms whose DNA has been altered by scientists. The DNA change is done by inserting DNA from another species. You should note that GMOs are different from Cross breeding. Cross breeding is something I’ve seen personally with pears and apples. My uncle has actually done with apples and pears. You plant rows of apple trees next to rows of pear trees and eventually you will grow fruit that are a mixture of the two–my uncle called them “pearapples”. You have cross bred the same species to create a hybrid. An example of using GMOs in crops, though, would be when you take a tomato and give it slices of DNA from a fish, trying to make it resistant to cold (Source.) The article at justmeans.com doesn’t really address why this is a problem, other than being averse to agrarian morals. Are there any negative effects on people, or the soil, or the produce themselves for trying to make it possible to grow produce outside of it’s “zone”? It seems like it would bring a lot of diversity to starving populations if we could come up with a way to grow crops universally. Well, most things that sound ideal usually have a catch. GMOs are no exception. According to Independent Science News, GMOs have been found to contain a viral gene that can actually make humans sick. (source.) For a long time, GMO opponents have cited the carcinogenic nature of GMOs, as well as causing people to be fat, and leading to gluten sensitivity or intolerance.
With all of these strikes against them, I know I would like to avoid them in what my kids eat, but how do you know? Here are the top 4 ways to avoid GMOs in your food.
1) Know the top foods that use GMOs. Soy, Corn, Canola, Sugar Beets, Cotton, Dairy, and Papayas.
2) Understand that USDA Organic label does NOT Mean the product is GMO free. Look for the product to be labeled 100% organic, or to have a label from a trusted 100% organic certifying group. The USDA will allow up to 30% GMOs in their organic fare, so be careful.
3) READ THE BARCODE. Fruits and Vegetables have a barcode on them.
- If it is a 4-digit number, the food is conventionally produced.
- If it is a 5-digit number beginning with an 8, it is GM. However, do not trust that GE foods will have a PLU identifying it as such, because PLU labeling is optional. 
- If it is a 5-digit number beginning with a 9, it is
4) Look for labels that say “Non-GMO”.
There are some other great tips in this article here, but those are the highlights from me. (Of course MEAT contains GMOs as well from the cows themselves having been injected with GMOs, or from having eaten hay or grain that contains GMOs, so be wary of meat. Buy grass fed organic if you’re going to eat meat. Whole Foods or a local farmer are great sources.)