You may have noticed a lot of media hype around the genetic modification of our food supply in recent years. Here’s a quick 4-1-1 if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about.
What are Genetically Modified Organisms GMOs)?
Genetic modification is the process of inserting the genes of one species into the DNA of another species. The result is called a genetically modified organism, or GMO. The acronyms GEO (Genetically Engineered Organism) or simply GM or GE are also used. This technology was developed in the 1970s, and the result is that many foods (60-70% of the U.S. food supply) now contain ingredients that were never meant to be ingested.
The five major GM crops are corn, soy, canola, cottonseed and sugar beets. Approximately 85% of the corn grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered to either produce an insecticide, or to survive the application of herbicide. And 93% of soybeans are genetically engineered to survive massive doses of Roundup herbicide.
Other common GM products include:
- Some varieties of zucchini, crookneck squash, and papayas from Hawaii
- Milk containing rbGH
- Rennet (containing genetically modified enzymes) used to make hard cheeses
- Aspartame (NutraSweet)
Are GMOs harmful?
According to the Center for Food Safety…
A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer.
How do I avoid GMOs?
- Buy Organic. This is especially important when buying frozen, canned and other packaged foods (think cereals, baby food, baked goods, condiments and lunch meats). Certified organic products are not allowed to contain genetically engineered foods. It’s not enough for the label to say “made with organic ingredients,” because only 70% of the ingredients have to be organic to make this claim. To ensure the products you buy are GMO-free, you have to buy 100% organic. These days, most grocery stores have a natural section where you can find organic packaged goods, or you can head to your local Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or health food store for more selection.
- Watch out for the Big Five. Try to reduce your intake of foods containing corn, soy, sugar beets, cottonseed oil and canola oil. Most processed foods contain one or some combination of these foods. I try to avoid products with soy, cottonseed oil and canola oil all together. Since I cook a lot of Mexican food at my house, I look for the Non-GMO label or the Certified Organic label on any tortilla chips I buy. To avoid products containing genetically modified beet sugar, bake with and look for products containing 100% cane sugar, evaporated cane juice or organic sugar.
- Buy Wild Rather Than Farm-Raised Fish. This will help you avoid consuming fish raised on genetically modified feed, and you’ll reduce your mercury intake as well. (Atlantans, you can get wild Alaskan salmon and other high-quality seafood from the Dekalb Farmer’s Market.)
- Buy Grass-Fed Beef and Organic, Free-Range Poultry and Eggs. This will also help you avoid ingesting genetically modified feed. Stay away from soy substitutes like veggie burgers.
Where can I find more resources?
- Download this Non-GMO Shopping Guide for more in-depth information on GMOs, selecting the healthiest brands, and the hidden GM ingredients. You can also get this info straight from your phone with the True Food Shoppers Guide Mobile App so you’ll always make the best choice when you’re shopping.
- Check out the Center for Food Safety Web site to stay up to date on legislature regarding genetic engineering.
- Dr. Mercola’s Web site has a library of great articles and commentaries on this topic.
- Non-GMO Project
- Natural News
I hope this helps you make some sense of all the GMO chaos. Contact me with any further questions, and I’ll do my best to find an answer, and your comments are always welcome.
I know that more and more food corporations, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, Ben & Jerry’s and Starbucks, are committing to being GMO-free. Please send me other companies you know of that are making this pledge!
Have a great weekend!