Do you remember the days when your mother or grandmother made big family meals from scratch? Everything tasted pure and delicious, and the food was all naturally prepared and from the earth. You knew it was safe to eat and everyone felt abundantly satisfied from every bite.
In today’s society we aren’t that lucky. The use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and especially genetically modified crops has turned the simple habit of eating healthy foods into a confusing maze. We have to be careful what direction we take or we may be unintentionally eating unhealthy foods.
When food has been altered at the gene level, it is often referred to as genetically modified organisms or the acronym “GMO.” You have probably also heard genetically altered, genetically engineered, or genetically manipulated as terms to describe the food you think is food.
GMO foods are everywhere—from produce sections to most aisles in your average grocery store, with approximately 70% of all products estimated to contain components of genetically modified materials. The intention should be to consume the healthiest foods to nourish your body, and knowledge can be a very powerful tool in the world. The question is, who do you believe? Some argue that GMO foods are the answer to solving third world hunger by creating more yields for farmers and foods with a longer shelf life.
The biotech conglomerate Monsanto is known as the pioneer of genetically engineered crops and the agrichemicals used on farms worldwide today. Monsanto and many junk food companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestle, and PepsiCo Inc. spent millions of dollars to fight against the GMO-labeling efforts of 2012’s California’s Proposition 37—a GMO-labeling initiative. The money used to prevent GMO-labeling could have gone a long way to provide food for the hungry around the world. Monsanto spent $7.1 million toward the GMO fight, while PepsiCo Inc. provided $2.5 million, Coca-Cola gave $1.7 million, and Nestle U.S.A contributed about $1.3 million. Every GMO-labeling initiative in the U.S. has not had success.
Statistics indicate that 94% of Americans and 88% of Canadians want GMO products labeled, and currently there are no labeling laws required. Do other countries support GMO crops like the U.S. and Canada? No. There are approximately 26 countries with total or partial bans on the production and sale of GMO products. About 60 other countries around the world also have significant GMO restrictions as well. The countries around the world that don’t consider GMO foods safe include New Zealand, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, and the countries within the European Union.
Why is it so important for us to have GMO awareness, labels, and to avoid genetically modified foods at all cost?
GMO Health Risks
A 2004 U.S. National Academies of Sciences report states, “To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.”
However, there have been very few actual studies on the effects of GMO foods on human health. Large agribusiness companies produce substandard studies, and they won’t investigate how GMO foods affect the immune system, liver function, endocrine system, cancer potential, the influence of gut bacteria, and many more possible GMO concerns.
Several independent studies report adverse effects from GMO foods and products. There are many scientists that speculate that genetically altered foods can trigger allergic, asthmatic, or inflammatory reactions in some people. There is a fear that GMO foods may create new toxins that lead to diseases and antibiotic resistance. There are animal lab tests and observations by farmers who feed livestock genetically modified feed that indicate vital organ damage and extensive reproductive problems.
GMO Environmental Impact
Whether GMO foods impact human health or not, there is much environmental concern as well, including organic farms being exposed to genetically engineered pollution. It is possible that genetically engineered crops are transferred to neighbouring organic farms by the wind and pollen from bees. Such may have been the case in 1998 when Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser’s canola was found to contain 95-98% of Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready gene in 10-kilometers of land. Schmeiser hadn’t even purchased any Monsanto seed. Organic crops are in jeopardy; however, in some cases GMO crops may not necessarily feed the world after all.
GMO crops had a reduction of pesticide application and soil erosion from tilling, according a U.S. National Academy of Sciences report in 2010. The report also claimed that genetically engineered crops have created glyphosate-herbicide resistant weeds, which would cause the GM crops to lose effectiveness without another weed management strategy from farmers.
Herbicide Roundup Overuse
There is an environmental concern with farmers using five to 10 times more herbicide Roundup on Roundup Ready crops than with conventional crops such as soy and canola. The heavier herbicide use may also pollute the groundwater, lakes, and rivers. The development of herbicide-resistant superweeds could threaten many of the county’s crops and could cause a dreadful outcome from heavy use of herbicide.
Modified Gene Populations
Once a genetically engineered gene has changed, it can’t return to its original form. A 2010 University of Arkansas study indicated that approximately 83% of wild or weedy canola that was tested had contained genetically modified herbicide-resistance genes. Some of the canola also contained a combination of transgenic traits and herbicide resistance genes that hadn’t previously been developed within canola. This suggests that the modified genes are creating populations.
Endangered Species at Stake
Monarch butterflies, an endangered species, is also at stake according to a 1999 Cornell study. Monarch caterpillars have been consuming milkweed leaves dusted with pollen from GMO corn: about half of the caterpillars died within four days.
Foods Impacted by GMOs
In the U.S., there are more than 50 genetically modified crops approved for sale. There were zero acres of genetically modified seed in 1994, and today there are over 200 million acres. There are over 1,000 patents issued for genetically modified foods today.
The Big Three: Soybeans, Canola, and Corn
With no laws mandating the labeling of genetically modified crops, a complete list of genetically modified food would be difficult to provide. There are, however, an estimated 30,000 different products that are considered modified sitting on grocery store shelves. Unless a product is certified organic, then it may contain genetically modified foods.
Modified soybeans, corn, and canola are all considered major components on those shelves. Also, consider corn or soybean derivatives such as corn oil, cornstarch, corn flour, high-fructose corn syrup, soy oil, soy flour, soy lecithin, and soy protein isolates. They count as well. More than half of North America’s soy crops are genetically modified. In the U.S. 35% of all corn and about 50% of all cotton are grown from genetically modified crops. Also, the majority of the canola oil from Canada is derived from genetically modified rapeseed. It is a good idea to also avoid generic vegetable oils, restaurant margarines, and processed foods because they are mostly made from modified ingredients such as soy, corn, canola, or cottonseed unless they are labeled otherwise.
Other Known GM Crops
There are many other genetically modified foods throughout grocery stores. Some more common genetically modified crops to avoid include sugar beets, sugar cane, peas, papaya, squash, tobacco, sweet corn, corn, tomatoes, cotton, zucchini, and rice. Some Canadian honey is known to come from nectar that bees have collected from genetically modified canola plants. Grocery stores will also contain genetically modified seedless and seeded grapes.
You must also be careful of your supplemental vitamins. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is often made from GMO corn, and GMO soy makes vitamin E. Vitamin D and K may also be linked to GMO corm sources like glucose, starch, and maltodextrin. Vitamins A, B2, B6, and B12 may also come from genetically modified ingredients.
Avoid Modified Animal Products
The conventional meat and dairy products that you would purchase in your local grocery store typically come from animals that consume genetically modified feed. The cow’s milk isn’t safe either. In the U.S., there are nearly 22% of cows injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which means they are genetically modified.
Invisible GM Ingredients
In cookies, cereals, and other processed products, you may not know for sure whether they contain genetically modified ingredients. These are among the included ingredients that may be made from genetically modified crops: aspartame, baking powder, caramel colour, cellulose, citric acid, cobalamin, whey, whey powder, xanthan gum, sorbitol, inositol, inverse syrup, leucine, lysine, stearic acid, fructose, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, glycerol, glycerol monoleate, malitol, malt, and malt syrup.
For a complete list visit www.nongmoshoppingguide.com
How To Be a Conscientious Consumer
What does the conscientious shopper buy with so many GMO-infected foods on the market today? There are definitely steps you can take to avoid GMO consumption.
Organic crops don’t contain genetically modified organisms, or pesticides and fertilizers. Organic and grass-fed animals are also free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Local holistic markets, farmer’s markets, natural health food stores, and organic farms are good places where can find organic food. When purchasing organic products look for the labels “organic,” “100% organic,” and “made with organic ingredients.”
Look for the Non-GMO Project Seal
The Non-GMO Project is North America’s only third-party verification for products that avoid genetically modified ingredients. They are a non-profit organization with a commitment to educating consumers about non-GMO choices. Just like GMOs themselves, the list of non-GMO products is growing and growing.
For a complete list visit www.nongmoshoppingguide.com
To help make the right choices at the health food store, download the free iPhone application ShopNoGMO at the iTunes store.
Avoid Suspect Ingredients
When buying organic products or foods is not an option, what do you do? Be sure to avoid products with ingredients that may have been derived from GMOs. Remember, the main genetically modified food crops include soybeans, canola, corn, cottonseed, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, papaya (from China), and also yellow squash and zucchini. A non-organic product must indicate pure cane sugar, or the sugar from the product may have come from sugar cane and genetically modified sugar beets. Dairy products may also be derived from cows that were infused with genetically engineered bovine growth hormone.
To solve the problems of GMOs in today’s society, it is important to have access to the proper education to make informed choices. Your non-GMO choices will allow you to eat real food—as natural as your mother and grandmother used to make for you.
The Institute of Holistic Nutrition, Nutrition and the Environment — Course Notes. Toronto, 2014, p. 32, 76, 130-140.
George Mateljan, The World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the healthiest way of eating (Seattle: George Mateljan Foundation), 2007, p. 374, 401, 447.
Elson M. Haas, M.D., and Buck Levin, PhD, R.D., Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine (New York: Random House, Inc.), 2006, p. 376, 482-483.
‘GMO Facts,” Non-GMO Project web site; http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/, last accessed March 12, 2014.
Stephen Lendman, “Potential Health Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods,” Global Research web site, February 22, 2008; http://www.globalresearch.ca/potential-health-hazards-of-genetically-engineered-foods/8148, last updated Feb. 15, 2014.
“Companies Against GMO Labeling,” Inspiration Green web site; http://www.inspirationgreen.com/vote-yes-on-37.html, last accessed March 12, 2014.
“Non-GMO Shopping Tips,” Non-GMO Shopping Guide web site; http://responsibletechnology.org/media/images/content/ShoppingTips-2013.pdf, last accessed March 12, 2014.
“Non-GMO Shopping Guide,” Non-GMO Shopping Guide web site; http://responsibletechnology.org/media/docs/Shopping-Guide-Fall-2013-w14.pdf, last accessed March 12, 2014.