“Most GMOs have been engineered to withstand the direct application of herbicides and/or to produce an insecticide.” — source nongmoproject.org
Two years ago here in Colorado we had a citizen initiative on our ballots that would require all food to be labeled whether or not it contains GMO. And to my great surprise and deep disappointment the initiative did not pass. Yes, there was a non-stop avalanche of commercials against this initiative, the amount of money poured into our state to fight against this initiative was colossal. But the choice of having a choice, to know what’s in our food seemed like an obvious one to me.
In this post I’m not trying to convince you one way or another. But I do want to share with you those things I have learned about GMOs which helped me to make up my mind on whether or not I consider them safe. Hope you find this information both informative and useful for when you shop for your family.
This post naturally became a rather lengthy one. If you are not in a mood to read it all the way through I made quick links to help you jump to the parts of the post that interest you most.
What are GMOs?
“Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or though traditional crossbreeding methods.” — source nongmoproject.org
1. Not the same as crossbreeding or selective breeding
Sometimes people think that GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) is the same as selective breeding, a practice to help create better crops that yield better and more abundant fruits, grains or vegetables.The crossbreeding and selective breeding practices are ancient. People have always experimented with plants to seek a variety with resilience to cold or a particular disease or to make fruit sweeter. Or to make fruit look and smell good, but not taste good (looking at your supermarket fruit). In cross-breeding we combine existing plants to seek a new verity with desired qualities. Like with any technology it could be used in good ways and bad ways as well. But GMO is an entirely different practice.
2. Designed to withstand herbicides, not to better food quality
The main purpose of the GMO modifications is to create crops resistant to pesticides and herbicides. In other words, the GMO corn sprayed with Round-Up (the Monsanto’s other creation) will be OK while everything else will die around it. And since the purpose is resistance to some pretty harsh chemicals these crops are subsequently treated with a lot more chemicals. So, a GMO corn, for example, is not only genetically modified it is also treated with much more pesticides and herbicides than a regular corn, not even an organic one.
Some GMO modifications are done to improve marketing value of a vegetable or fruit. For example, a genetic modification in apples is aimed at preventing browning (which comes from natural reaction of certain enzymes to oxygen, similarly to mangoes, bananas, eggplants and some other fruits or veggies). To me personally it seems like the value of fresh fruit and vegetables stems from all the nutrients present in them, enzymes included. Eliminating something that is an essential part of a fruit to merely improve its marketing value seems like the wrong way to go.
“Most GMOs have been engineered to withstand the direct application of herbicides and/or to produce an insecticide. However, new techniques are now being used to artificially develop other traits in plants, such as resistance to browning in apples.” — source nongmoproject.org
Other GMO modifications, such as those in salmon, cause the fish to grow unnaturally fast and big. Such unnatural growth in a living and complex organism has not been sufficiently studied to know whether or not it has long-term consequences to human health. Also, as such salmon may escape into the wild we will have no way to reverse the spread of modified, and potentially harmful, genes among wild salmon.
Are GMOs safe?
Here are some other facts to consider:
3. Forbidden or labeled in other countries
More than 60 countries around the world — including Australia, Japan and all of the EU countries — require GMOs to be labeled. Globally, there are also 300 regions with outright ban on growing GMOs.
4. Created by the company responsible for birth defects in Vietnam
In the absence of credible independent long-term studies the safety of GMOs is unknown. Yet, what it is know to us is that companies inventing and pushing the GMOs are infamous for little or no respect for people’s health and well being. Former Monsanto (now part of BAYER) is the GMO giant who owns not only the GMO seeds, but the most commonly used herbicide in the US — Round-Up — is the very same company that manufactured Agent Orange during Vietnam War. Monsanto proudly states so on their website claiming “saving American lives”. Yet the Agent Orange, officially listed as herbicide, is a form of chemical weapon in my belief as it lead to some of the most devastating and catastrophic consequences for those exposed — both Vietnamese population and US military. It has been firmly established that agent Orange is linked to many forms of cancer as well as birth defects. And what makes this even more tragic is that those birth defects are passed on from generation to generation so the sufferings of the people in the exposed areas continues to this day. (Vietnam demands Monsanto pays compensation for Agent Orange victims).
5. Harassment of farmers
Because GMOs are a laboratory developed modifications the biochemical companies patent their seeds. As a result, the biotech companies that make GMOs now have the power to sue farmers whose fields have been contaminated with GMOs, even when it is the result of drift of pollen from neighboring fields. There are known legal cases where farmers attempted to bring law-suits against Monsanto for intentionally contaminating their fields and subsequently trying to sue the farmer for violation of their patent. This poses a serious threat to farmer sovereignty and to food security of any country where they grow.
6. Hazardous to the environment
Another fact to consider is that GMO-based agriculture is built around heavy use of harsh chemicals, most common of the is the glyphosate (Round-Up). As the sole purpose of the genetic modifications is to withstand Monsanto’s own herbicide the crops then are subjected to even more chemical treatments than any conventionally grown crops. As a result the use of RoundUp has increased 15 times since the introduction of GMOs. After all, remember that both GMOs and RoundUp are products of the same company. It makes a great business for them.
Genetically modified crops are also responsible for the emergence of “supersedes” and “superbugs” which require even more toxic poisons such as 2,4-D.
Where do GMO show up in our food?
Genetically engineered versions of the following crops are widely commercially used and are considered to be high risk for being GMOs:
- Sugar Beets
- Yellow Summer Squash
- Some apples
Livestock, bee, and aquaculture feeds are at high risk for being genetically engineered; this impacts animal products such as:
How to avoid it in your food
Read and know your labels
There are two types of labels that help to navigate away from GMO products. One is USDA Organic and the other is Non-GMO Verified. These two labels aren’t identical in what they certify.
The USDA Organic standard by the US Department of Agriculture does not allow GMOs, but they do not require testing to verify.
NON-GMO Project Verified
The Non-GMO Project is an independent, non-profit organization providing verified non-GMO choices. Here on their website you can learn more about their work and how their verification is done.
Here are some other little known facts worth knowing. Sometimes you might see Non-GMO Verified label on a product like salt or orange juice. This may seem odd, but while salt isn’t genetically modified it often contains GMO corn as anti-caking agent.
NON GMO Project app
The above mentioned Non-GMO Project that does the third party verification has an app you can download that helps to search for non-gMO projects or scan miscellaneous bar-code to learn more about given product.