What You Need to Know About GMOs
“Genetically modified organisms,” or GMOs, are plants and animals that have been created by combining DNA of different species in a way that could not occur in nature or by traditional cross-breeding. GMOs are on the rise in the United States, with 80-90% of commercial crops such as corn and soy being genetically engineered.1
The health impact of eating GMOs is not well understood, and some statistics point to their potential harm. GMOs were introduced in the United States in 1996, and the following nine years saw a nearly 100% increase in the incidence of people with three or more chronic diseases.2 Because there are not laws in place requiring GMOs to be labeled, you probably don’t even know when you’re eating them. Luckily, there are some ways to avoid these potentially problematic foods.
Why you should avoid GMOs
1. GMOs Increased Herbicide Use.
One of the main selling points of genetic engineering is the creation of more pest-resistant crops. This is a double-edged sword however as chemical- and pest-resistant weeds infest farmers’ fields. In an effort to control the “superweeds” that have sprung up, farmers use more and more herbicides to kill them, but the resistant weeds are still growing–the rate at which they are spreading increased by 25% in 2011, and 51% in 2012.3 These dangerous chemicals are used in higher and higher amounts as an answer to increased resistance, eventually making their way into your body via the food you eat.
2. The impact of GMOs is poorly understood, and they have the potential to cause disease.
There is no requirement that the safety of GMOs be guaranteed, or even researched. The research is left up to the manufacturer, and why would a company like Monsanto (one of the world’s leading producers of genetically engineered seed) acknowledge the danger of the products they sell?
There is significant evidence beginning to surface that GMO foods promote disease. A study published in 2012 showed that rats on a diet of GMO corn suffered increased tumor growth and early mortality when compared to a control group.4 Similar studies on GMO animal feed prompted the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) to publicly denounce GMOs in the food supply, warning that “it is biologically plausible for Genetically Modified Foods to cause adverse health effects in humans.”5 GMOs have been correlated with a long list of health problems, including thyroid cancer, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and infertility.6
Crops are genetically altered to make them weather- and pest-resistant. Corn has been engineered to produce a natural insecticide, called Bt-toxin, which kills insects by destroying the cell walls of their digestive tract. This potent chemical can’t be washed off–it’s part of the genetic makeup of GMO corn. Bt-toxin is not specific to insects and has been shown to poke holes in human cells,7 damaging the intestines and causing leaky gut.
3. GMOs cross-contaminate non-GMO crops.
Perhaps the biggest reason to avoid GMOs is that if we continue to grow them, it’s possible we won’t be left with any crops that haven’t been genetically engineered. Farmers can’t protect against cross-pollination by wind and insects, and the resulting seed will be a hybrid of their non-GMO crop with the GMO crop. Corn is one of the most commonly genetically engineered foods, with about 90% of it being GMO, and due to cross-pollination, that remaining 10% is not guaranteed to be GMO-free. Because we don’t understand the impact of consuming GMOs, it’s clear that we need to understand the gravity of this situation before we are left without other options.
The Most Common GMO Crops
- Corn (including high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, corn syrup)
- Sugar Beets (most sugar is made from this)
- Canola (as in canola oil)
- Cotton (including cottonseed oil)
- Zucchini and yellow squash
5 Ways to Avoid GMOs
1. Buy organic.
Foods labeled 100% USDA organic cannot lawfully contain GMOs. Buying 100% organic ensures not only that your food is non-GMO, but that is free from dangerous pesticides, hormones, and other chemicals. Look for labels that say “100% Organic” or “USDA Organic.” Assume that anything labeled “Made With Organic” contains some organic ingredients, and the rest may be GMO.
2. Buy Grass-Fed Meat
Pay attention to what your food eats. This is extremely important because the diet of the animals you eat affects you as well, and if they ate a diet of GMO feed, it will end up in your body regardless of whether or not the animal was itself genetically engineered.
GMO crops are cheaper and more abundant, and therefore they are the first choice for animal feed in the United States. Unless certified grass-fed and organic, animals were almost certainly fed a diet of GMO grains. The same applies to the food you buy at a farmers’ market or Whole Foods. Stick with pasture-raised, organic meats, and always ask if the animal was fed GMO. To learn more about how to decode food labels, check out my article here.
3. Buy Non-GMO Project Verified.
The Non-GMO Project is an independent organization that verifies foods that do not contain any genetically engineered ingredients. They are the only such organization in the US and Canada.
Food manufacturers are adept at using food labeling to their advantage. A pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for example prominently states on the label that they “source non-GMO ingredients,” but in fact, their dairy cows eat GMO feed.8 The Non-GMO Project cannot verify Ben & Jerry’s because of that fact.
4. Use Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide
Organic food can be expensive, and if you’re on a budget there are ways to shop smart in order to avoid GMOs. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a yearly guide outlining which foods are most commonly GMO, and which foods are a safer bet. Buy them all organic if you can, but if that’s not feasible, at the very least buy organic when it comes to the most commonly GMO foods.
5. Support the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT)
Few states have laws in place requiring that GMO ingredients be clearly labeled, but the non-GMO movement is gaining momentum, thanks in large part to organizations like the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT). They have made it their mission to research the effects of GMOs and educate the public and the government. I support them by donating a percentage of my online store sales. One of the biggest things you can do is fight with your money and boycott GMO products.
Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives is one film I recommend about the problems with GMO, food manufacturers, and the laws that are being put in place. Stay informed and ask questions when it comes to your food. You have a right to know exactly what you’re putting in your body! Check out my video on GMO for more information.
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