GMO Bananas vs Organic | What to Buy?

GMO Bananas vs Organic title with bunch of bananas

When shopping for bananas do you get confused with the different labels?  Should you go with GMO bananas vs organic?  Does it matter?

I strongly believe fed is best.  By fed is best I mean not everyone has access to organic produce and finances to buy organic foods so, therefore, buying regular GMO bananas might be the best option.  This article will provide you a better understanding of the difference between GMO Bananas vs Organic and how you can identify them at the grocery store.

Benefits of Bananas

Bananas are a great healthy snack.  Bananas are a staple food and are found in homes worldwide.  They are readily available at the grocery store and are now often found at gas stations across the United States.

Bananas are a rich source of carbohydrates and include a variety of vitamins and minerals.   Bananas are a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium, and phosphorous. 

They are one of the most eaten fruits worldwide. 

Ecuador is the largest exporter of bananas. It is an important cash crop for the country and makes up 27.7% (based in 2020) of total bananas exported (1). 

Bananas grow best in a tropical climate.  Different ways to use bananas include topping breakfast cereal, adding them to a smoothie, or as a side for breakfast or lunch.

Banana Varieties

There are over 1,000 different varieties of bananas. The most common variety of bananas sold in US grocery stores is the cavendish.  It is slightly sweet and bruises easily.

In other parts of the world such as Asia, Southeast India, and Central America, the non-organic cavendish bananas are not the ideal banana due to their quality of taste and ease to bruise.  There are many other varieties they believe taste better. 

What are GMOs?

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are organisms not found in nature. Instead, GMOs are created in a lab. 

The organism is modified to create an altered organism using genetic engineering.  A gene from a virus or bacteria is often added to the organism to alter its genetic sequence.

Why would farmers use GMO crops?

GMOs can be used to develop a crop that is resistant to pests, make fruit sweeter, create bigger produce, or even prevent apples from browning.  There is controversy over whether the genetic modification should and can be used to increase the yield of a crop, or provide drought tolerance.

GMO crops have also led to superweeds popping up, produce toxins, cause allergic reactions, and increase the risk of cancer.

Genetic engineering it can allow a farmer to spray the crop directly with harmful pesticides. We then in turn ingest the pesticide residues.   Farming has been around for over 10,000 years while the use of pesticides has only been around for a few decades.

GMO crops farmers can use pesticide tolerant crops.  This is a big concern. 

Pesticides are making their way into our bodies and food is the primary way of exposure to humans.  95% of humans have pesticides in their bodies (6).

Health concerns regarding exposure to pesticides:

  • ADHD
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Autism
  • Behavioral problems
  • Breast cancer
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Decreased cognitive skills for children with prenatal exposures
  • Diabetes
  • Early onset puberty
  • Fertility issues in women and men
  • Fetal brain damage
  • Increased risk of miscarriage and pre-term births
  • Leukemia & lymphoma
  • Neurobehavioral developmental issues
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Reduced IQ
  • Reproductive effects
  • Testicular cancer

What are GMO foods?

An estimated 75% of food products sold at grocery stores contain GMOs. 

In 2018, in the United States, GMO soybeans made up 94% of the total soybeans planted.  The percent of GMO cotton planted was 94% and GMO corn was 92% of total corn planted (2).

At this time the United States does not require companies to label GMO foods.  This is less than ideal for those that want to avoid GMO foods.

In 2015, 38 countries had banned the use of cultivation of GMO crops (3). Although, some countries still allowed imports of GMOs even though cultivation was banned.  Russia had banned both cultivation and import, but in 2020 allowed the import of GMO soy.

Can GMO Bananas be Helpful

There is the concern with TR4 (Tropical Race 4), a fungal disease that could wipe out the banana plantations in Central America.  Australia has been researching and has developed a GMO banana that is resistant to the TR4. In this case, GMO fruits could be helpful in preserving the banana industry.

GMO bananas vs Organic list.

What are Organic Foods?

Organic foods are produced without using synthetic chemical pesticides.  The type of seeds, fertilizers, soil, water source, pest control, among many other things are all things considered by organic farmers. 

Organic farming emphasizes renewable energy sources and enhances the environment for future generations.  Maintaining and improving the water quality while minimizing the use of synthetic products are also part of organic production. Organic agriculture is much better for the environment than conventional farming. 

Eating mainly organic produce reduces your pesticide exposure.  Pesticides and harmful chemicals are in the rainwater, soil, and other places. Organic farming significantly reduces our exposure.

One study in 2014 showed that adults who ate a diet of mostly organic for one week reduced the pesticides in their bodies by 90% (4).

Organic foods are non-GMO foods.  But just because a product is non-GMO does not make it organic.

Organic foods tend to taste better and be of higher quality.  Some studies show there is not much difference in vitamins and minerals between organic vs GMO produce. One study proved there are higher antioxidants in organic foods than conventional GMO foods (5). These antioxidants are important in protecting our bodies from harmful chemicals such as pesticides.   

Organic foods tend to be more expensive foods.  This is because the labeling and care for the crop takes more expenses.  The more the consumer demands organic production, the more we can see prices go down. Grocery chains such as Aldi and Lidl are making organic produce much more reasonably priced.

GMO bananas vs organic prices currently differ by about twenty cents at a local grocery store in Raleigh, NC.

What is the Non-GMO Project?

The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization with a mission to provide product verification and education so people can make informed decisions that allow them to care for themselves and the planet. 

By supporting Non-GMO you are helping build a Non-GMO, supply chain for future generations. 

Labels to Look for when shopping for Non-GMO and Organic

When shopping for organic bananas look for USDA organic.  Organic foods are non-GMO, but non-GMO does not mean that it is organic.  A non-GMO product does not mean sustainable farming is being practiced. Some of the most likely concerning chemical fertilizers are used on non-GMO bananas and other produce.

Non-GMO Label

NonGMO Project logo

The Non-GMO Project label is the most trusted non-GMO label and the fastest growing.   

Organic Food Labels

USDA organic label with explanation of difference

Organic products have to meet the following standards in order to be able to use the USDA organic label.  There are 4 different organic labels that you will see.

100% Organic

100% organic means 100% of the ingredients used are organic.

Organic

The product must contain at least 95% organic ingredients.

Made with Organic ______

The made with organic _____ claim can be used if the product contains 70% of organically produced ingredients.

Specific Organic Ingredient Listing

Specific organic ingredient listing can be used if less than 70% of ingredients are organically produced. 

What are PLU Codes?

Price look-up numbers, also known as plu codes, are how the cash register attendant rings up your grocery order at the grocery store. This is a code system using digits for produce. 

It tells you what you are buying.  The PLU code is located on a small sticker. The stickers are on the individual produce. 

For organic fruits or produce, it is a 5-digit PLU code that starts with 9.  Conventional produce will be a 4-digit code that begins with a 3 or 4. 

Genetically modified produce is a 5 digit code that begins with 8.  Although many companies do not separate GMO produce from conventional produce since such a large portion is now GMO.   Since plu codes are not mandatory, many companies just categorize them as conventional bananas or produce.

EWG’s Dirty Dozen List

The EWG (Environmental Working Group) publishes the Dirty Dozen List.  It is a list of fresh produce that has the most pesticide residue.  Bananas rank at number 28.

These are the fresh produce items you want to make sure to wash well before eating.

1)  Strawberries

2)  Spinach

3)  Kale, collards, and mustard greens

4)  Nectarines

5)  Apples

6)  Grapes

7)  Cherries

8)  Peaches

9)  Pears

10) Bell and hot peppers

11)  Celery

12)  Tomatoes

List of tips for avoiding pesticide residue

Tips for avoiding pesticide residue

  1. Wash produce before peeling or eating
  2. Eat organic when possible
  3. Buy local and in season
  4. Freeze organic foods
  5. Advocate for change

Peeling back the layers on gmo bananas vs organic

When deciding between GMO bananas vs organic look for 100% organic.  Eating organic has significant benefits to our bodies and the environment. Organic bananas will have a 5 digit PLU code starting with 9. 

Bananas are a convenient and healthy snack option. As always fed is best, but when given the choice and having the resources, organic bananas would be the better option than GMO bananas.

Resources:

  1. Workman, Daniel. Bananas Exports by Country. https://www.worldstopexports.com/bananas-exports-country/. Accessed July 11, 2021.
  2. GMO Crops, Animal Food, and Beyond. https://www.fda.gov/food/agricultural-biotechnology/gmo-crops-animal-food-and-beyond. Accessed July 11, 2021.
  3. Where are GMO crops and animals approved and banned? https://geneticliteracyproject.org/gmo-faq/where-are-gmo-crops-and-animals-approved-and-banned/. Accessed July 11, 2021
  4. Oates, Liza, et al. “Reduction in urinary organophosphate pesticide metabolites in adults after a week- 81 long organic diet.” Environmental research 132 (2014): 105-111.
  5. Crinnion, Walter J. “Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, 84 and may provide health benefits for the consumer.” Alternative Medicine Review 15.1 (2010): 4-13.
  6. Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009.

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