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GMO's 101 - Modern Alternative KitchenModern Alternative Kitchen

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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.

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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.

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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.

  1. Corn
  2. Soy- 60% of processed foods contain soy
  3. Potatoes
  4. Tomatoes
  5. Canola
  6. Cottonseed Oil- Every year, half a million tons of cottonseed oil makes its way into our salad dressings, baked goods, and snack foods
  7. Papaya
  8. Radicchio- the purple leaf vegetable often found in salad mixes
  9. Squash
  10. 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.

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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.

by Muffet

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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.

What are your thoughts on genetically modified foods? Do you try to avoid them or do you think there is too much hype over them?

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  1. I didn’t know that the 8 on a produce label means GMO. Is this required? If the label doesnt’ start with an 8 can I assume it is NOT GMO?


    • If it is 5 numbers and begins with an 8, it is a GMO.


    • Victoria, sadly not a whole lot is “required” for labeling GMO’s, at least not yet. The only way to know your produce is non-GMO is to buy organic.


  2. Would you share the links to the research articles about GMO testing on animals? I keep reading about how GMOs are unsafe, but haven’t found any scientific studies that show this to be true. While I don’t believe in consuming GMOs and buy 90% organic, I can’t assume to convince others that they are possibly dangerous without proof. Thanks!


  3. Holly, I understand peoples need for “proof”, as some with a degree in psychology and lots of classes on scientific testing methods, I am sorry to share with you that while there have been tests done on animals that show GM foods are safe, the methods were very, very flawed. Here is an article discussing some of the flaws and why the findings should leave us unsettled.

    Also, here’s another article discussing some testing done over the years.

    I hope this helps, if not just let me know and I can dig up some more information for you. My years of research on various topics has left what some people may of a nerdy hobby–interest in reading studies on anything! 🙂


  4. Thank you so much! I look forward to reading these articles and sharing them. I wish there was more readily available research out there on the danger of GMOs.


    • Holly, I totally agree. I really feel like my background in stats and testing comes into use when I read some of these studies. There need to be more studies done, and then translated into a way we can all read.


  5. […] I will note that I would recommend only buying organic sweet corn to avoid GMOs. If you are unaware of the harmful effects of genetically modified organisms, please read JerriAnn’s post, GMO’s 101. […]


  6. […] you heard about genetically modified organisms yet? Most processed foods are full of ingredients that have been altered at the DNA level to create […]


  7. […] in this product, unfortunately, is likely to be derived from genetically modified beets. Read more here about why avoiding GM foods is a good choice. And, even if it is not, it is most certainly still a […]


  8. […] If you are new to the world of real food, then maybe you don’t know much about GMO’s. That’s okay. Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals that have been manipulated at the genetic level using bacteria, viruses, or other substances to become a completely different product. This is not something that can occur naturally. Scientists are manipulating what God first created. For more on the basics of GMO’s, please refer to my previous post. […]


  9. […] Here, I’ll make it easier for you, here’s the link. […]


  10. […] dangerous if consumed as high levels. Not to mention, nearly 100% of the soy products sold here are GMO. TSP (textured soy protein) involves heavy processing of soybean oil with the use of toxic […]


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