Over the last decade, GMO foods have become more and more prominent—much to the dismay of many natural health and wellness professionals, farmers, and scientists. But, what is the truth? Are GMOs dangerous or innocuous? Here is the GMO information you need to make informed decisions when purchasing foods for your family.
GMO Information You Need to Know Now
GMOs continue to be a hot topic, and just this past week the United States Department of Agriculture notified food manufacturers that all U.S. companies must label GMO crops by 2022. This sounds like a promising step for the anti-GMO groups and consumers, but the decision came with an important caveat—companies will not be required to label foods that come from GMO crops if they are deemed to be “highly refined.”
This ruling means that consumers will still be left in the dark as to which foods contain genetically engineered foods and which foods don’t. The foods believed, at this point, to be outside of the labeling requirements include cane sugar, vegetable oil, and corn syrup—just to name three primary ingredients found in baked goods, soft drinks, soups, pasta, and more.
What Are GMOs?
GMO is an acronym that stands for “genetically modified organism.” If you are still confused, you aren’t alone. The actual GMO definition recognized by most consumer groups and scientists explains that GMOs are a genetic “material” that has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory setting through genetic engineering. The GMO process combines plants, animals, viruses, and bacterium genes—that do not naturally occur together in nature—to better a species.
It is important to understand that plants that are grafted or otherwise naturally combined to better a species are not considered GMO. The idea behind the manipulation of genes is that the plants will better be able to withstand herbicides—and they may even be able to produce their own insecticide to repel or kill bugs.
GMOs Pros and Cons
According to theU.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, GMOs are beneficial “today and in the future.” It should be noted that this organization boasts “more than 100 farmer and rancher-led organizations and agricultural partners” but omits the fact that there are over 2,048,000 farms in the United States, not to mention other farming and “agricultural partners.”
It is simply disingenuous for the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance to act as though it speaks for the thousands of small farms across the United States. In their online journal The Food Dialogues, they note how innovations in agriculture—GMOs—benefit farmers and consumers. Here are the key points:
- Crops need less water and fewer pesticides to grow.
- Genetically engineered crops fight natural crop diseases.
- Genetically engineered crops can reduce pesticide use.
- Genetically modified crops need less attention, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Herbicide-tolerant crops reduce soil erosion.
- Genetically engineered potatoes resist bruising during shipping.
- Genetically engineered apples resist browning when sliced.
- GMO soybean seeds produce healthier oils than non-GMO soybeans.
- Genetic engineering has the potential to create a hypoallergenic peanut.
- Genetic engineering has the potential to create bananas in Uganda with six times as much vitamin A.
On the other side of the coin is the Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit organization that is committed to “preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices.” The Non-GMO Project believes:
- Consumers have the right to know what is in their food.
- Informed consumers can “vote” with their shopping dollars to change the way food is grown and made.
- Preserving the non-GMO food chain is critical for a healthy food supply.
- Genetic diversity of plants is essential to human and environmental health.
- Non-GMO seeds protect the rights of farmers, allowing them to own their seeds and grow varieties of their choice.
- Non-GMO systems support organic agriculture.
- Everyone deserves information so they can decide if they want to consume genetically modified organisms.
The Non-GMO Project states that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, and they point to the 2015 statement signed by 300 scholars, physicians, and scientists. Sadly, the research that proponents of GMOs use has been performed by the biotechnology companies that produce genetically modified seeds, herbicides, and insecticides.
Health Concerns of Genetically Engineered Foods
The Center for Food Safety cites six potential human health concerns of genetically engineered foods.
The Center for Food Safety states that GMOs are “inherently unstable” and that introducing new genes into foods is playing roulette with our food sources.
2. Allergic Reactions
In a study published in the journal Food Science and Human Wellness, researchers identify that when soybeans were enriched with the amino acid methionine from Brazil nuts, consumers allergic to Brazil nuts because allergic to GMO soy.
3. Antibiotic Resistance
A report published in the journal Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease indicates that genetically modified seeds and plants are commonly created with antibiotic-resistant genes. It is believed that genetically modified foods could cause a significant increase in infections and diseases in humans.
In an animal trial, rats that ate genetically modified potatoes showed significant detrimental effects in the immune system, body metabolism, and organ development. The study was funded by the government of Scotland and published in the journal The Lancet.
According to a study in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, genetically modified foods may cause toxic effects on the pancreatic, renal, hepatic, immune, and reproductive systems. The researchers note that clinical trials are necessary to determine GMOs full effects, as initial findings indicate they may promote cancer.
6. Loss of Nutrition
Studies dating back to the early 1990s suggest that genetic engineering of foods alters their nutritional value according to the Center for Food Safety.
How GMOs Affect the Environment
According to the Institute for Responsible Technology GMOs:
- Contaminate the ground.
- Cross-pollinate with non-GMO foods.
- Increase the use of herbicides, even though they are engineered to fight disease and bugs.
Research also shows:
- Mixing genes from unrelated species causes side effects we just cannot yet understand.
- GMOs harm insects, marine ecosystems, soil organisms, birds, amphibians, and insects.
- GMO plants including canola are now growing “wild” in parts of North Dakota and California.
In 2016, an economist from the University of Virginia found that the widespread adoption of genetically modified organisms has decreased the use of insecticides but increased the use of weed-killing herbicides. The lead author of the study notes that weeds are becoming more and more resistant, and the use of glyphosate is becoming more and more common.
How GMOs Affect Farmers
Most GMO information focuses on the health effects of GMO foods and what GMOs do to the environment. But a part of the equation that cannot be overlooked is the impact on independent farmers in the United States. Since GMOs were introduced, four companies essentially control the seed market, making it more and more difficult for independent farmers to stay in business.
In fact, the “big four” seed companies—Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and Dow—own 80% of the corn and 70% of the soybean market according to Farm Aid. One of the great challenges for organic farmers is contamination. Once their crops become contaminated through “accidental cross contamination” their foods lose their organic certification.
On top of that, even the farmers who want to grow GMO crops must purchase expensive patented seeds from the seed companies and pay licensing fees annually. If they stop paying, the farmers are often sued for patent infringement. Sadly, the United States Supreme Court has sided with Monsanto more than once.
How to Protect Your Family from GMOs
We mentioned the Non-GMO Project above, and they are important to mention once again. This nonprofit has verified over 50,000 non-GMO products and have over 14,000 retailers registered in their database. Before you head out to the grocery store, check their website and learn how to easily spot Non-GMO Project Verified foods in your local markets.
Another way to avoid genetically modified foods is to opt for certified organic produce such as:
- Sugar beets
- Summer squash
And since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require manufacturers to list GMO foods on labels, avoid packaged foods with:
|Corn||Corn flour||Corn meal||Corn oil|
|Corn starch||High-fructose corn syrup||Fructose||Dextrose|
|Glucose||Beet sugar||Soy||Soy flour|
|Lecithin||Soy protein||Soy isolate||Soy isoflavone|
|Vegetable protein||Vegetable oil||Canola oil||Grapeseed oil|