Awareness of genetically modified foods is on the rise in the US, and although many countries ban GM foods outright, we’re nowhere close. Why? Our government has a close relationship with the producers of GMO, from campaign contributions and lobbyists to a revolving door (meaning that many government workers alternate their duties with working with, and being invested in, GMO).
That means it’s up to consumers to take charge of their health—and there’s plenty of third party evidence that genetically modified foods have negative effects on the gastrointestinal tract, overall wellness, and even long term (multigenerational) effects on DNA (hamsters on a PARTIAL GM soy diet became infertile after three generations, and many ranchers are finding that pigs and cows who have long since been fed a GMO diet are starting to have more miscarriages and false pregnancies, delivering water sacks instead of babies).
But it can be difficult to avoid when so much of what’s available at your local grocery store contains some amount of genetically modified food. So first, what is GMO?
What Is GMO?
Many people confuse selectively cultivating crops (a process which has brought us things like cauliflower and giant corn) or mixing two species using breeding or cuttings (bananas), with genetically modified plants. So let’s clear this up.
When people talk about genetically modified organisms, they’re talking about something happening in a lab, usually splicing DNA together. BT corn contains a pesticide producing bacteria that some fear can join your natural, good gut bacteria, and produce the same pesticides meant to kill insects in you. There’s a patented genetically modified salmon (yes, an animal, not a plant!) that’s supposed to be more profitable but often has huge defects. In China, they have cows that have been genetically modified with human DNA so that they can create a closer proximity to breast milk (noble, but with huge potential for disaster!).
In contrast, there are many farming techniques that get confused with genetic modification. The biggest difference is that these techniques take place over time, giving people and the environment a chance to adapt and evaluate. When you splice genes together, you don’t really know what you’re getting until you put it into action… and by then it’s too late.
Of course, there are ways that natural, technically organic farming techniques can go astray and it has nothing to do with the term GMO. For example, you can selectively breed a very mutagenic crop by always seeding from the 10% that were least eaten by pests. After a few generations of this, you have developed something that even bugs won’t eat!
What Is GMO In The Grocery Store?
Anything labelled “organic” is definitionally NOT GMO. There’s one exception to this, and that’s fish. There is no FDA standard for organic fish, so you need to research where your fish is coming from, and what the sources and practices of that fishery are. Because of the nuclear disaster in Japan and the oil spill in the gulf, now’s a bad time to be eating fish anyway as shrimp and fish affected by these disasters are still being found by fishermen. If you can get fish locally because you live next to a river, lake, or coast, go ahead and schedule a tour/visit and ask about their practices, just be friendly.
Organic food in your grocery store will have a 9 at the beginning of their labels. However, if you don’t want to buy all organic foods but just want to avoid GMO, then watch for these offenders:
- Corn (check labels for corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup—high fructose corn syrup is corn syrup processed to be sweeter, and therefore cheaper since they can use less for the same purpose.)
- Soy (Edamame, condiments, tofu)
- Cottonseed Oil (check labels)
- Canola Oil
- Sugar Beet Sugar (check labels)
- Hawaiin Papaya
- Some varieties of Squash
When it comes to imported fruits and vegetables, it’s a bit more of a gamble. Many areas still use traditional farming methods that don’t rely on heavy pesticide use, while in other cases having no one looking over your shoulder means you can go crazy spraying for pests and weeds.
The biggest problem with avoiding GMO is reading labels—corn sugar, as corn syrup is trying to be called—is cheap, and it’s in almost everything. It’s a cheaper sweetener than cane sugar (or even beet sugar, which is on the list anyway), and it saves labor when you’re trying to create a consistent product.
If you hate reading labels (it can turn a twenty minute trip into an hour long one!) there’s an app for that. The Institute For Responsible Technology has a free phone app to help you navigate the grocery store and avoid GM foods.
Finally, in terms of meat, stick to organic, and if you can, grass-fed. If it’s not grass fed, it’s been corn fed, and there’s a good chance that it was GM corn (not to mention possible increases in pesticides, and if it’s not organic, hormones and antibiotics).
While it may be more expensive to eat GMO free, but the evidence for those concerned about their health suggests it’s worth it. Take the time to contact your representative, and tell them that minimally you want GM foods labelled, but better yet you’d like them banned. Really though, it’s up to you—vote when you shop.
And just to end on a lighter note, it’s likely that if we discontinued GMOs, many of the problems would start to go away, just like reducing antibiotic use in ranching reduces the number of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
What do you think about the prevalence of GM foods? Share your thoughts on this article below, and let us know if we missed anything.