You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about GMOs, genetically modified organisms - genetically modified crops or foods where specific changes were made to the DNA by genetic engineering.
This is done through the insertion of a gene from another species of plant, animal, bacteria, or even a virus, and is used primarily in agriculture to increase a particular crop’s resistance to herbicides, pests, or bad weather.
These genetically engineered or modified foods first became available for sale commercially in 1994, while the first genetically modified plant was produced back in 1983 (an antibiotic resistant tobacco plant).
Common crops include soy, corn, canola, sugar beets, and cottonseed. The corn one is of huge importance because so many companies use high fructose corn syrup in their products. Aside from being one of the causes of the obesity epidemic that has swept the country over the past couple of decades, high fructose corn syrup is usually made using GM corn. Americans now consume more high fructose corn syrup than actual sugar. In tests on laboratory rats, males given high fructose corn syrup often did not reach adulthood, developed anemia, high cholesterol, and heart hypertrophy. That last one means that their little hearts enlarged until they exploded.
So how can you avoid GM foods?
First you could buy food that is labeled 100% organic. U.S. and Canadian governments do not allow companies to label something as 100% organic if it has been genetically modified, or has been fed genetically modified feed. You could also start shopping at organic stores. You will definitely want to start doing that after you learn that 80% of the processed food found in traditional grocery stores contains genetically engineered ingredients.
Another thing that is important to mention is that these foods are not tested by the FDA before they’re allowed on the market. They are overseen by the FDA, yes, but there is no actual approval process for genetically modified foods. Foods are typically assumed to be safe unless the FDA has some evidence to the contrary. The FDA, in other words, has to prove that there’s a problem with the food, as opposed to the company needing to prove the product is safe to the FDA’s satisfaction before it goes on the market.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) urges doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients, citing animal studies that show immune system disorders, accelerated aging, infertility, organ damage, and gastrointestinal problems. Some human studies on GM foods show that the material left behind inside us can potentially cause long-term problems. This fits in pretty well with a study by the Food and Chemical Toxicology Journal that showed rats fed a lifetime of GM corn developed mammary tumors, as well as severe liver and kidney damage.
Another shocking thing about the use of GMOs is that there have been next to no studies done on their safety. On Monsanto’s website, it says “aspects of the GM crop which are the same as the non-GM counterpart do not require safety assessment.” I guess that basically means that if a crop is the same, in their opinion, as the non-GMO crop, then they don’t have do tests to ensure they’re safe to consume.
Here’s how to tell if the food you’re consuming has been genetically modified: one of the easiest ways to do this is with fruit and vegetable labels. If the number on the label is a 4 digit number, then that means it has been conventionally produced. If it’s a 5 digit number beginning with an 8, then it has been genetically modified. And if it has a 5 digit number beginning with a 9 that means the product is organic. There are also many non-GMO shopping guides that you can download on your phone, to use while you’re grocery shopping.
Most developed nations do not consider GMOs safe for human consumption. In nearly 50 countries around the world, including all of the E.U., restrictions are placed on the sale of GMOs, or they are banned outright. Most of the American GMO watchdog groups are pushing for the same types of restrictions in the US.
Ask yourself, how comfortable are you with GMO food? Are you willing to step outside your comfort zone to shop for healthy alternatives?Image at the top of this post is by By Lotus Head from Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa (sxc.hu) GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons