Non-GMO alcohol and your health

By Kim Melton, RD

(Image Credit: Getty Image)

Recently there have been several corporate producers of vodka that have decided to make their products from non-GMO crops. Smirnoff, in particular, has made videos and a rather large ad campaign highlighting that their product is now made with non-GMO corn and has always been gluten free. To be clear, corn doesn’t have gluten in it, so this claim is simply for marketing purposes. Apparently, they hope to reach a broader base of consumers with the message that the newer version of vodka is somehow healthier.

There are a few concerns with advertising a product like hard liquor that is non-GMO and gluten free as being a better choice compared to the original version. First, let me point out that according to The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), ethanol and acetaldehyde are Group 1 carcinogens. Both of those substances are contained in alcoholic beverages. IARC is responsible for the classifying system that is used to identify carcinogens. When they do this, they place each substance in one of the following groups:

Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans
Group 2A: Probably carcinogenic to humans
Group 2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans
Group 3: Unclassifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans
Group 4: Probably not carcinogenic to humans

This isn’t to say that drinking alcohol will automatically cause one to get cancer. The amount of exposure, family history and various other lifestyle choices are all contributing factors. The list of groups and the foods that are in them does not imply they are a single source for cancer.

Making vodka or any other liquor from a non-GMO corn or other crop isn’t going to change the fact that alcoholic beverages are a Group 1 carcinogen. What Smirnoff and other alcohol producing companies get wrong on their food labels is that GMOs are, in fact, safe to consume and have no effect on determining whether or not a product is considered a “healthy” food. In addition, The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine issued a report in 2016 in which over 20 scientists, researchers and agricultural experts examined 20 years of health data in both Europe and North America. They found that GMOs are safe to consume, are the same nutritionally as their non-GMO counterparts and have not caused allergies, cancer, digestive or other illnesses. The report states:

“Many people are concerned that GE food consumption
may lead to higher incidence of specific health problems
including cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal tract illnesses,
kidney disease, and disorders such as autism spectrum
and allergies. In the absence of long-term, case-controlled
studies to examine some hypotheses, the committee
examined epidemiological datasets over time from the
United States and Canada, where GE food has been
consumed since the late 1990s, and similar datasets from
the United Kingdom and western Europe, where GE food is
not widely consumed. No pattern of differences was found
among countries in specific health problems after the
introduction of GE foods in the 1990s.”

Environmentally, using GMO crops allows farmers to grow higher yields while using less land. This translates into using less chemicals, water and less tillage which helps support a healthier, cleaner environment. Consider this infographic that demonstrates the positive impact GMOs have on the earth:

The choice is yours to make when choosing one product over another. Make sure you are an informed consumer and determine whether a food label is being used to make a product APPEAR to promote better health. Or, the label is accurately providing information about its contents.


Kim Melton has a BS in dietetics from Purdue University and has been a Registered Dietitian for over 25 years. She owns NutritionPro Consulting based in Michigan where she offers food and nutrition consulting, private counseling, freelance writing and public health as well as public speaking.