Friday, April 19, 2013

Just Say No to GMO

Today I want to talk about GMOs.  They seem to be everywhere these days and there are quite a few misconceptions out there.  There are also important decisions being made right now concerning GMOs and our food and we can make a difference so it's important we're all knowledgable about GMOs.

What's a GMO?
I’m sure many of you know this, but lets cover the basics.  GMO stands for genetically modified organism.  GMOs are created by gene splicing which is also known as genetic engineering.  This can happen with both plants and animals.  From the Non-GMO Project:

This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.”

In other words, this isn’t combining breeds or crop selection.  GMOs could never naturally occur.

The Problems with GMOs
More than 60 countries have banned or heavily restrict GMOs, but not the US and Canada.  Why are so many countries hesitant to embrace this technology?  GMOs negatively effect the environment and small farmers.  In the limited studies that have been done, there have also been disturbing health implications.

Lets start with the environment.  Many of the GMO crops have been altered to contain herbicides or have herbicide or pesticide resistance.  These plants are now creating weeds that are resistant to the large amounts of chemicals used on the GMO crops.  This goes for bugs too.  GMOs have created “super” weeds and bugs in the same way overuse of antibiotics have created super bugs resistant to even the strongest drugs.

GMOs are also terrible for our farmers.  This whole subject is worthy of its own blog post but for the sake of today, lets briefly discuss GMO’s effect on farmers.  GMO seeds are highly controlled and considered patented property.  Even if farmers steer clear of GMO seeds, they have to deal with cross pollination and patent infringement.  Non of this is good for small business.

And of course there are the health repercussions.  Even if the other aspects of GMOs don’t bother you, this should get your attention.  In the limited studies that have been done on animals, GMOs have had alarming effects.  Liver and kidney enlargement and toxicity, pre-cancerous growth, cellular changes in babies, stomach lesions and changes to gut bacteria have all occurred in these studies. 

This stuff is scary!  While many are calling for more research, I don’t need it.  There have been no benefits to GMO use and the drawbacks are plenty!

Avoiding GMOs
So how do you avoid GMOs? There is a lot of information out today concerning GMOs and what is and isn’t safe.  The truth is, there are relatively few GMO crops that are being commercially produced today.  Unfortunately, there are tons of GMO crops (and a couple animals) that have been developed and could potentially be produced. Today, despite the short list of GMO crops, it’s important to know that GMOs make up the majority of each crop.  So if your buying soy beans for instance, you’ve got a 95% chance that it's GMO (unless it's organic).  For the items listed below, I make sure to buy organic or avoid it if I can’t.

GMOs currently on the market:
Sugar beets
Zucchini and yellow squash

Other crops that could be contaminated, either from cross-pollination or potential approval for commercial production are considered “monitored crops.”  These include:

Table beets
Bok choy
Chinese cabbage
Acorn squash
Delicata squash
Patty pan

But I Thought _____ was GMO Too?
You may have heard that tomatoes, potatoes, pigs, rice etc. are GMO.  As of today, they aren’t in commercial production.  Both tomatoes and potatoes were developed but both failed and were withdrawn from the market years ago.  Golden rice is currently being tested in Asia but not available here or on any commercial market.  Oh, and the pigs did exist but the research project was shut down.  These days we need to worry about the genetically engineered salmon that is currently being reviewed by the FDA.  For more information on that, check out both the ocean conservatory and the center for food safety.

Packaged Foods and the Organic Problem
If you buy packaged foods (and who doesn’t buy even a few things), avoiding GMOs becomes more difficult.  Besides looking for the ingredients listed above, you’ve also got to watch out for a whole other list of sneaky ingredients made from those GMO crops. Below is a list of ingredients to avoid unless they are specified organic (and clearly some of these we never need to ingest!).

Amino Acids
Ascorbic Acid
Sodium Ascorbate
Vitamin C
Citric Acid
Sodium Citrate
Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”)
High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Lactic Acid
Monosodium Glutamate
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
Xanthan Gum
Yeast Products

Now lets talk about that tricky organic labeling on packaged products.  Did you know not all of the ingredients must be organic?  Unless the product specifies 100% organic, it can contain up to 5% of non-organic ingredients.  This may not be a lot, but it’s enough to let GMOs into your food that sports that organic label. 

So if you’re buying packaged products that don’t specify 100% organic, make sure you read the ingredient label.  All organic ingredients will be specified and you can determine of the non-organic ingredients are clear from the GMO list.  You can also look for any product (organic or not) that has been labeled with the Non-GMO Project’s seal.  They have independently tested the products and certified they are GMO free.

For More Information
You can check out these sites for reliable GMO information:

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