What You Need to Know About GMOs

What do soda, fast food French fries, margarine, salad dressing, corn chips, and corn flakes all have in common? They all contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms) also know as genetically modified or engineered foods. Read on for answers to the most commonly asked questions about GMOs.

What are GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals created through the process of genetic engineering. Genetically engineered foods have a piece of DNA from a totally different species, such as bacteria or viruses, spliced into their DNA. Genetically engineered soybeans, for example, have DNA from bacteria and viruses forced into their DNA to help them withstand the onslaught of weed killers such as Roundup. Genetically engineered corn has DNA added so that it has a pesticide built right into it. This process creates a whole new unstable species of plant that would have never occurred in nature. None of the current GMO crops offer increased yield, drought tolerance, or enhanced nutrition.

Hybrid foods are completely different. Hybrids are created when cross pollination occurs between plants. This process can be facilitated by man or it can occur spontaneously in nature.

Which foods are genetically modified?

As of 2012, most corn, soy beans, canola, cotton, and sugar beets are GMO. From these crops, products such as corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, high fructose corn syrup, and many more are created and added to processed foods. This is why nearly 80% of processed and most fast foods contain GMOs.

Other crops that are genetically engineered include Hawaiian papaya, a small amount of zucchini and yellow squash, and alfalfa. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also considering approving a GMO salmon, which would grow much larger and faster than regular salmon.

Are GMOs safe?

Despite what the agricultural industry might say, there is little research on the long-term effects of GMOs on human health and the environment. The FDA has allowed GMOs into our food supply with only the research and assurances of safety from the biotech companies that create them. Interestingly, the person at the FDA responsible for this decision was Michael Taylor, former vice president of public policy at Monsanto (the largest producer of genetically engineered seeds).

Independent research has found that several varieties of GMO corn caused organ damage in rats. Other studies have found that animals were losing their ability to reproduce. There are also concerns that GMOs can increase allergies or cause immune system problems.

Environmental issues are also a cause for concern. GMOs allow farmers to use more weed killers, exposing both us and the environment to more toxins. Super weeds and super bugs that are resistant to the weed killers and the pesticides built into GMOs are now showing up. In addition, GMO crops can cross pollinate with non-GMO crops, irreversibly changing the face of plant life with unknown consequences.

Are GMOs labeled?

The U.S. is one of the only developed nations that does not require labeling of GMOs. Fifty countries including all of Europe and even China require labeling of genetically modified foods. Many European countries have banned GMOs.

Even though they have been in our food supply since 1996, most people in the U.S. know little about GMOs. Actually, the 2006 Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology poll found that only 26% of American consumers believe that they have ever eaten a food that was genetically engineered. The truth is most people, including babies and children, eat them every single day.

Will labeling genetically modified foods increase the cost of food?

The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act will not increase the cost of food for you or food producers. It simply adds a label to genetically engineered food. Companies change their labels all the time. Remember, when companies were required by law to add trans fats to labels, the cost of food did not go up.

What can I do to eat fewer genetically engineered foods?

    • Vote “yes” on the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, which will require that genetically engineered foods are labeled. It will be on the November 2012 ballot. Once GMOs are labeled, we can make an informed choice. We have a right to know what’s in the food we are eating and feeding to our families. Visit http://www.carighttoknow.org for more information.
    • Buy Organic. All USDA certified organic foods are free of GMOs.
    • Avoid nonorganic products that contain GMO foods including soy, corn, canola, cottonseed, and sugar beets. Read labels. If the food contains high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, it probably contains GMOs.
    • Look for the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label. Some companies have voluntarily labeled their foods.
    • Shop at Trader Joe’s. All of their produce and all Trader Joe’s brand foods are free of GMOs. So look for “Trader Joe’s” on the label.
    • Use the free iPhone app Shop No GMO.

Resources and References:

Go online to Earth Open Source.Then click on “GMO Myths and Truths” in the Featured Report section.

New analysis of a rat feeding study with a genetically modified maize reveals signs of hepatorenal toxicity. Seralini, G.-E. et al. Arch. Environ Contam Toxicol., 52: 596-602, 2007.

A three generation study with genetically modified Bt corn in rats: Biochemical and histopathological investigation. Kilic A and Akay MT. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 46: 1164-1170, 2008.

Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice. Velimirov A et al. Bundesministerium fur Gesundheit, Familie und Jugend Report, Forschungsberichte der Sektion IV Band 3/2008, Austria, 2008.

Carole is a registered dietitian and an exercise physiologist. She writes and speaks on a variety of diet and health related topics including trendy foods, heart disease, low carb diets, the Mediterranean diet, high blood pressure, sodium, plant based diets, healthy options in place of sugary drinks, calories, and more. She also consults with individuals and companies on diet and health. She can be reached at healthyeatingrocks@gmail.com.

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