You may or may not know or even care what GMO stands for but I think you should. GMO’s, or genetically modified organisms, are all over our food supply. In fact, the Grocery Manufacturers Association states “70-80% of the foods we eat in the United States [contain ingredients that have been modified].” How can something be so prevalent yet we know so little about it?
GMOs are living organisms that contain genetic material that is changed by humans using genetic engineering (GE) techniques. While nature does goes through its own changes due to natural selection or breeding, Genetic Modification is very far from natural. GMO foods are foods that are altered by inserting DNA from bacteria, viruses or other living material into other foods in order to create “desirable” characteristics. For example, inserting human growth hormone into salmon to make them grow four times as fast OR inserting a bacteria into sweet corn that “helps” it produce its own insecticide. (the salmon are not currently on the market but the corn is being sold and consumed throughout the US).
Unlike European countries, the United States does not require labeling of genetically engineered food. This makes it nearly impossible to avoid GMO’s. Some of the most commonly genetically altered crops include: alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beets and zucchini. These foods can be sold in their whole food form but they are also used to make a number of food additives such as lecithin, sugar, citric acid, sorbitol and soybean oil. For example, sugar beets are turned into processed sugar that is added into the majority of our snacks and treats and cereals. GMOs are also are used to feed livestock which we then eat. Unfortunately, since the US does not have labeling laws for GMO’s, it is not as easy as reading a label to determine if a product is the result of GE.
Proponents of GMO’s state that there are many benefits to engineering our food: increased crop hardiness and crop size, decreased pesticide use, more nutritional value, and the potential to decrease world hunger. However, there are many concerns with the safety and ethics of creating GE food. Some concerns include:
-a lack of FDA testing and research on the long term safety in humans,
-a possible increase in exposure to allergens and hypersensitivity to allergens.
-Some animal research suggests an increased cancer risk, endocrine disruption and reproductive disorders.
-There is also the safety of our environment as there has been increased, not decreased, pesticide and herbicide use.
It is my personal opinion that there needs to be more long term studies to determine the safety of GMO’s to us and to our environment. I try to avoid GMO’s whenever possible, especially for my little guy at home. I have my concerns about the safety of these foods, the effect that these foods have on our environment, and how large biotech companies who create GE foods use their power. To avoid GMOs I am extremely selective in what packaged foods I choose. I scan ingredient lists for those items I know are commonly engineered. I also choose organic when I can afford to do so. If it’s important to you to choose GMO -free then use these tips:
It is nearly impossible to eat a 100% GMO free diet and there is controversy regarding these food products. I truly believe that the consumer should be able to make an informed decision as to weather or not we want to choose GE foods for our families. Unless there is mandatory labeling for GMO foods the choice is being made for us. For more information on GMOs, check out these resources: