By |November 18, 2016 |Food Industry, Holidays, Latest Posts|

Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans and pumpkin pie – the traditional Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S.

In terms of the menu, not much has changed over the years. But whether you are vegetarian, vegan, traditionalist or non-traditionalist, what has changed is what we are consuming – for better and for worse.

Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) entered the food supply in the 1990s with the FLVR SAVR tomato. Twenty years later, ten other crops are now grown from genetically modified seed.

gm crops can tolerate more pesticide and herbicide

Percentage of Foods Raised From GMO Seed (as of 2015)

Field Corn 92%  |  Soybeans 94%  |  Cotton 94%  |  Canola (Canada) 98%  |  Sugar Beets 95%
Sweet Corn, i.e corn on the cob, canned and frozen corn (small percentage)
Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop)
Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approximately 25,000 acres)
Alfalfa (for use as hay and forage for animals)

The biotech industry is continuing to expand its reach. Arctic Apples, genetically modified to resist browning, hit the market this year. ‘White Russet’ brand potatoes are genetically modified to resist bruising and have fewer black spots. Even animals are being subjected to genetic modification for our consumption.

Because so many ingredients in our food products are derived from these genetically modified crops, a substantial percentage of our food supply contains GMOs.

Ingredients derived from GMOs (from the Institute for Responsible Technology)

  • soy protein, soy lecithin, cornstarch, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, meat, eggs
  • dairy products from animals that have eaten GM feed (and the majority of the GM corn and soy is used for feed)
  • dairy products from cows injected with rbGH (a GM hormone)
  • food additives, enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet) and rennet used to make hard cheeses
  • honey and bee pollen that may have GM sources of pollen

boy drinks milk

There have been no human studies on the safety of GMOs and a mounting number of animal studies make clear there are serious health risks associated with consuming GM food. In addition to calling for a moratorium on GM food, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has asked physicians to advise all patients to avoid GM food. So far, 64 nations enforce right-to-know labeling laws and almost half that number have banned GMOs including most of Europe, Mexico, Zambia and Russia. Despite world-wide concern and poll after poll indicating a large majority of Americans want mandatory labeling, efforts to pass GM labeling laws have repeatedly failed.

Factory Farming

While the change in how we grow fruits and vegetables has taken a turn for the worse, the way we raise animals for food has seen a slight improvement. Third party certification programs to ensure humane treatment of farm animals are gaining traction as more people are refusing to consume animals raised in unacceptable conditions. Yet, standards can differ widely among certification programs making it difficult for consumers to choose wisely.

For example, Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States has described the American Humane Certified label issued by the American Humane Association (AHA) as being based on “an industry-friendly standard that doesn’t really differ from what the industry is already doing.” The AHA’s standards, at least as of 2014, “allow producers to burn off their birds’ beaks to prevent cannibalism … which tends to arise when birds are confined with nothing to do.” Even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) chooses not to recommend this label.

Farm Forward, a groundbreaking organization committed to “promoting conscientious food choices, reducing farm animal suffering and advancing sustainable agriculture” has created several tools to help consumers make more humane choices. One of these tools is their BuyingPoultry website. Still in beta form, the site provides a comprehensive directory of U.S. poultry brands and ranks them according to BuyingPoultry’s grading system. They also offer trustworthy assessments of third party certification programs and measures them against their grading system. Check out their quick and simple guide which you can find at the bottom of this page and is summarized below.

The Animal Welfare Approved Program has the most rigorous standards and is the gold standard of all certification programs. If it also carries the claim that it’s certified heritage, the product meets even higher welfare standards.


The Global Animal Partnership (GAP) is a tiered certification system. Starting at Step 1, the Step 5+ seal of the GAP indicates the product meets their highest welfare standards. If it also carries the claim that it’s certified heritage, the product meets even higher welfare standards.


Third party certifier Certified Humane and Global Animal Partnership Step 4, Step 3 and Step 2 seals are classified by BuyingPoultry as “Better Than Factory Farming” but not “Significantly Better Than Factory Farming.”

Make it Traditional, Not Conventional

With plenty of resources to make informed, healthy choices this Thanksgiving, use these tips to make it traditional, but not conventional.

               Avoid conventional food to avoid GMOs.

               Choose organic or look for the Non-GMO Project Verified logo.

Avoid animal products that derive from conventional farming methods and find meat, dairy and egg brands that have been certified by trustworthy animal welfare verification programs.

Happy Thanksgiving!