If you had asked me about five years ago what I think about GMOs (genetically modified organisms), I would have shown you a blank stare and probably tried to not to let it show that I have no idea what you’re asking me. Because I didn’t. Not because they didn’t affect me, but because I honestly didn’t know what they are and why they’re in my food. I learned about genetically modified foods when I was pregnant with our 2nd baby and immediately wished I had known sooner. I came across a book called “The Unhealthy Truth” by Robyn O’Brien and after a few pages I COULD.NOT.PUT.IT.DOWN! Every page was a new eye-opener, every chapter a new motivation to change what we eat. I highly, highly recommend this book for anybody who is on the fence about whether GMOs are safe for us to eat or not.
What are GMOs?
In order to make certain crops more resistant to pests, biotechs came up with the idea to insert a special gene, called Bt-toxin, into the DNA of corn and cotton plants. This toxin attacks the stomach lining of insects, killing the pests within a few of days of ingestion. Aside from that, they also inserted genes into plants to make them withstand herbicides (weed killers).
This definition is from the Non-GMO Project’s website:
GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.
Virtually all commercial GMOs are engineered to withstand direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. Despite biotech industry promises, none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.
Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights.
For a quick reference guide take a look at this PDF provided by the Non-GMO Project.
So, are they safe or not? Many, many scientists out there
are being paid to say are claiming that GMOs have no harmful effects on our bodies. I am not 100% on board with this because they often base this on animal studies, not human studies. They say that if GMOs were unsafe, then the cows, pigs, chickens, and other GMO-grain fed livestock would be dropping dead or be seriously ill by the thousands. They’re not, but they also only live a few years at best.
I really want to live a long and healthy life, so until there is a solid, unbiased long-term study that proves GMO consumption safe over a human lifespan, I’ll pass – NO THANKS!
Some people try to tell you that GMOs have been around forever: farmers have been breeding plants to have certain traits for hundreds of years. Yes, farmers have been practicing hybridization for many years, but there’s a significant difference to consider: plant hybrids are created when two of the same species (2 plants) were cross-pollinated to create a hybrid. Genetic modification takes place in a lab and it involves the DNA of two different species (a plant and an insect, or a virus). An example is “Round-Up ready” corn or soy. The DNA of these plants has been altered to withstand the use of herbicides. Imagine a corn plant doused with the heavy duty Round Up weedkiller and it doesn’t even flinch. You can’t wash this pesticide off because it’s inside the plant from the water it absorbs from the ground. You’re eating pesticides.
A jug of weedkiller has a warning label to keep away from children, and don’t ingest. But it’s ok to spray it on our food and let it seep into our soil.
What harm do GMOs cause?
Because the genetic modification process alters the plant’s DNA (its genes), our bodies sometimes don’t recognize it as a regular food. Instead they see this modified food as a harmful foreign substance and produce antibodies ==> the body has an allergic reaction. This doesn’t happen to everyone but it’s happening more and more often. Especially since the introduction of genetically modified foods. There’s no proven link (yet) between the GMOs and food allergies, but I believe this graph shows a significant indication that there’s a direct correlation:
The percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% to 13% in just 9 years; food allergies skyrocketed, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems, and others are on the rise.
Aside from GMOs itself, the “side effect” of GMO crops is an increased use of pesticides. Although GMO-proponents claim that these plants require less pesticides (since they have built-in ones), the reality is that the pests are becoming resistant to the built in pesticides so now higher and stronger doses are being sprayed on our food. We’re creating super bugs and super weeds. 180-185 million pounds of glyphosate are applied in the US each year. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in RoundUp (the same stuff some people spray on their weeds at home). There are numerous studies proving that glyphosate enters our bodies through the food we eat. There are also several studies that show the effects that this pesticide has on our health.
health risks include:
- Lung damage
- Immune Impairment
- Vitamin Deficiency
- Premature Aging
- Damaged Insulin Regulation
- Liver, Kidney, Heart and Spleen Dysfunction
- Higher Rate of Mortality
One study showed that the offspring of rats fed genetically modified soy had lower birth weights, higher infertility rates and a mortality rate 5 times greater than those fed a non-GMO diet. Another animal study suggests that genetically modified potatoes may cause cancer in rats, and additional research established a link between genetically modified peas and lung damage in mice.
Pesticides also reduce bio-diversity, pollute water resources, and are unsustainable. They kill butterflies and bees (which we really need to pollinate our food supply). Roundup herbicide has been shown to cause birth defects in amphibians, embryonic deaths and endocrine disruptions, and organ damage in animals even at very low doses.
What foods contain GMOs?
There are currently 60 types of crops that are allowed as GMO crops in the US these days. Twenty of them are corn varieties, followed by 11 types of rapeseed (Canola), cotton (11), tomato (6), potato (4), soy (3), sugar beets (3), squash (2), cantaloupe, rice, flax, raddicchio, papaya, alfalfa, and wheat.
The largest amounts grown and sold are corn (88% of all U.S. crop), soy (94%), sugar (95%), cotton (90%), and canola (90%). Those are BIG percentages. What makes it so much harder is that corn, soy, canola, and sugar are in almost EVERYTHING we eat. I challenge you to take a look at the boxes in your pantry and you will find at least one (or five) of these ingredients:
made from GMO corn and doesn’t involve the word corn:
Aspartame (Artificial sweetener)
Caramel and caramel color
Dextrose anything (such as monohydrate or anhydrous)
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
Mono- and di- glycerides
Polysorbates* (e.g. Polysorbate 80)
Sodium stearoyl fumarate
Sucralose (Artificial sweetener)
Tocopherol (vitamin E)
Vanilla, natural flavoring
Vanilla, pure or extract
Soy products can show up as:
Hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP) or hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
Miso (fermented soybean paste)
Mono- and di-glycerides
MSG (monosodium glutamate)
Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
Tofu (dofu, kori-dofu)
Vegetable gum, starch, shortening, or oil
How do I avoid GMOs?
First off – don’t freak out. You can do this! You can take one step (or bite) at a time and start eliminating GMOs from your diet by reading ingredient labels carefully. It will feel like you find corn, soy, and sugar in everything (because they are!) so to avoid the GMO version, buy organic as much as possible.
Organic foods, by law, can not contain any GMOs and organic meats, eggs, and dairy can only come from animals that are fed a non-GMO diet.
Avoid processed, boxed, premade foods as much as possible. Not only are they full of cheap fillers and artificial ingredients, they usually contain GMO ingredients. If you’re not into making your own crackers and pasta, then buy those products premade but organic. You don’t have to purge your entire fridge and pantry but start with those that you eat the most.
Here’s a list of the top 7 foods to start buying organic and why.
Instead, start eating fresh, whole foods. I know not everyone has time to cook from scratch 3x a day, but it doesn’t have to be gourmet meals. If I can do this, then you can too! Just remember that we’re not striving for perfection, just making it better – one bite at a time.
10 Tips to get started
Keep these things in mind when purchasing food (list is from eatlocalgrown.com):
Assume that if it isn’t labeled GMO-free, that it contains GMOs.
Look for products that are USDA Certified Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.
Avoid all corn, soy, and canola that is not specifically labeled as non-GMO.
Familiarize yourself with the abundant aliases for corn and soy.
Buy ingredients, instead of food with ingredients.
Cook from scratch.
Stop shopping at the grocery store (and go to your local farmers market instead).
Get to know your farmers personally.
Preserve food while it’s in season.
Don’t be wasteful. Use every single edible part to make your food dollars go further.