GMO’s. GM foods. GEO’s. GE foods. What is all the hype over these?
Well I am referring to genetically modified organisms and/or foods (or genetically engineered). If you have not heard about them as of yet, don’t feel ashamed or silly, we –the consumers- are not really supposed to know about them. Unfortunately in this day and age, in which there is a scientist for everything, the food on our plates has been changed at the molecular level. Hard to comprehend, I know. Just the idea of someone going in and changing the DNA of a plant seems like something from a sci-fi movie. Sadly, it’s not. It happens every day and GMO’s are everywhere.
So, what are GMO’s and how did they find their way to our plates?
GMO’s are often referring to crop plants that are intended for human (and animal) consumption, while using the latest molecular biology techniques to make the crops “more desirable.” Certain traits can either be passed down from plant to plant through breeding or taken from one organism and placed inside another. Many molecular biologists have agreed that breeding takes too long, hence genetic engineering.
For example, scientists can take a gene from a cold water fish and introduce it to plants in order to ward off freezing and thus get a higher yield (now occurring in tobacco and potatoes). Other examples of genetic engineering include pest-resistant corn, herbicide-tolerant soybeans, and various drought-tolerant crops.
As for the history of GMO’s, it might be just as complicated. Following the discovery of DNA in the 1940’s, scientists began to understand how differing sequences of DNA could produce genetic differences. It only took about 30 years after the discovery of DNA for scientists to begin splitting and experimenting with DNA sequences. Thus, the GMO was born.
What are the potential risks of consuming GM food?
Unfortunately, the effects on our bodies and health are not fully known. The only studies that have been conducted, to date, are animal studies. This method may not be satisfactory in changing your mind; however, you must remember animal testing occurs frequently in regards to learning the effects of different things on humans. Animals tested on GM foods saw dramatic changes in health, including intestinal problems and infertility, to name a few.
Some experts and a large group of concerned consumers believe that the dramatic increase in health problems(cancer, stroke, heart disease, obesity-related deaths, etc.) can be directly linked to people’s diets.
How can I minimize the amount of GMO’s in my food?
Cutting out obviously processed foods from your diet is key. Nobody is perfect, and we still eat cereal and other boxed foods. However, it is almost a guarantee that your boxed foods contain GMO’s. Eat these foods minimally.
If we know the top 10 food crops (according to healthychild.org) that are genetically modified, we can all rest a little easier in knowing what to avoid.
- Soy- 60% of processed foods contain soy
- Cottonseed Oil- Every year, half a million tons of cottonseed oil makes its way into our salad dressings, baked goods, and snack foods
- Radicchio- the purple leaf vegetable often found in salad mixes
- Salmon- the first non-plant food to be GM. The company, AquaBounty, is fighting the FDA to get this fish, engineered to grow much quicker than its non-GM counterparts which will potentially harm the wild salmon species and people who consume it.
To make a more educated decision on what you’re feeding your family, check your produce label! The little stickers on the produce can tell you a lot. For example, a 5-digit number beginning with 8 (so for example 85235) means the item has been GM. A 5-digit number starting with 9 means it is organic.
Unlike European countries, we have no laws in the US requiring food companies to label their products as GM. The only way to know your produce has not been modified is to buy it organic. Certified organic foods cannot contain genetically modified organisms. However, in regards to packaged or processed certified organic foods, say cereal, only 95% of the ingredients actually have to be organic. Thus, the remaining 5% of ingredients can be conventionally grown and potentially genetically modified.
Want to make a difference?
First, and I know we hear this all the time, but you vote with your wallet (and by what you put on your plate). If we all buy even a few organic products each time we go to the grocery store, we will send food companies a message. Also, skip the grocery store and hit your local farmer’s market (but remember- just because it’s at your farmer’s market does not mean it’s organic, you have to ask!). Check out these sites for more information on farmer’s markets in your area.
Other than the purchases we make, there are also websites dedicated to demanding change from our government.
Say No to GMO’s will provide more information on the history and prevalence of GMO’s.
The Center for Food Safety also has numerous cases they work with in order to raise awareness. For example, this group is working with one mother whose newborn died after being exposed to pesticides. Their goal is to urge the White House to keep the “Big 6”- the six largest pesticide-using corporations to be held accountable for the harm they are causing. Sign that petition here.
The EPA is currently debating whether or not to allow Dow to spray a toxic herbicide on some new GE corn and soybeans. This toxic herbicide is bad for the farmer, consumer health, the environment, and US agriculture as a whole. Join the 17,000+ people and sign that petition here.
The Center for Food Safety has several petitions a month to raise awareness and put pressure on our government to make the changes necessary keep us, the consumers, and our environment healthy and sustainable.