A Crash Course on GMOs

What are they, what health risks do they pose, and how can you avoid them?
BY April Reigart TIMEMay 11, 2013 PRINT

Perhaps you’ve been hearing lately a bit of the controversy surrounding GMOs and you are wondering, what exactly is a GMO

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. This means the DNA structure of a plant or animal has been altered, usually by forcibly injecting into its cells a virus or bacteria carrying DNA from another species. 

This process allows for the combining of two different species that would normally not be combined in nature. An example is genetically modified rice that contains human genes, or Atlantic salmon engineered to contain genes from unrelated species of fish.

According to the Non-GMO Project, 80 percent of all packaged and processed foods being sold contain GMOs. What are their potential hazards and how do you avoid GMOs? Here is your crash course.

1. Which Foods Definitely Contain GMOs? There are certainly many tests and field trials being conducted by biotech companies, from glow-in-the-dark potatoes to engineered salmon

Many of these creations are pending FDA approval before they can hit the market. However, there are many GMO crops being sold to us every day without our knowledge because GMO labeling is not required in the United States. 

The top GMO ingredients being sold for consumption in the United States, according to Green America and the Non-GMO Project are: corn, soy, canola, cotton, sugar beets, papaya, alfalfa, milk, crookneck squash, zucchini, and aspartame. 

Not only should you watch for these specific ingredients in foods, but also for their derivative ingredients, like soy lecithin, soy protein isolate, high fructose corn syrup, and sugar that is not listed as “cane sugar.” These sneaky ingredients are included in all types of processed foods, including condiments, salad dressings, yogurts, cookies, cereals, breads, and even pasta sauces.

2. What Are Possible Health Risks of Consuming GMOs? One of the biggest concerns in consuming GM foods is antibiotic resistance. According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, antibiotic genes inserted into food crops can help create “super-diseases” against which the antibiotics that we have now will not be effective. 

Other studies have shown a marked increase in food allergies, digestive issues, excessive cell growth, which could possibly lead to cancer, and issues with infertility. I highly recommend reading some of the lab studies.

3. How Can You Avoid GMOs? One of the most important things you can do to ensure that you and your family are not eating genetically engineered foods is to purchase certified organic foods or those verified by the Non-GMO Project. 

In order to obtain organic certification, it must be shown that a food has not been genetically altered in any way. As for non-organic foods, some have been verified by the Non-GMO Project and carry the Non-GMO seal. All those foods are listed on their website. 

There’s also a new label in town: Certified Naturally Grown. To obtain the Certified Naturally Grown approval, a farmer must be committed to the organic growing process and not use any genetically altered seed. 

This label is more attainable by smaller-scale farmers who may not be able to afford the cost of attaining full organic certification. You may see this type of labeling on your small, local farmers’ produce. You can learn more here.

You can also be aware of the companies that most aggressively support the use of GMOs and even lobby against government efforts to label GMOs in foods. Some of those companies are listed here. It is also important to realize that GMOs are banned or labeled in most other countries. 

The way that we consumers can most effect change in food policies is through our dollars. If we all start talking to our grocery stores, schools, and local restaurants and ask them to stop using GMOs, they will have to start listening. 

If we stop purchasing GM-processed foods from these giant corporations, they will have to start addressing these concerns or go out of business. It is important to remember that we are our own best health advocates.

April Reigart is a certified holistic health coach and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She does private and group coaching and lectures monthly to a Web-based fitness group.

April Reigart is a certified holistic health coach and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She does private and group coaching and lectures monthly to a Web-based fitness group.
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