Are GMOs Safe?
While many studies claim no correlation to any health issues with GMO consumption, there are a number of studies that do show frightening correlations including multi-organ damage and reproductive disruption. The serious health risks are becoming harder to dismiss.
How to Avoid GMOs
It’s not easy. It is estimated that 60 to 70 percent of processed food contains a GMO ingredient, according to the Colorado State University Extension.
As for produce, buying organic is one very good way to avoid GMOs. There are times when organic crops have been contaminated, but for the most part, buying organic keeps you free of genetically modified foods. We prefer to purchase most of our food from local farmer’s markets where we can get to know the farmers. Besides growing it yourself, local farmer’s markets are typically the best way to get the freshest, healthiest produce. And buy heirloom produce as much as possible! It’s funny looking, but much healthier and much tastier! Read The Difference Between Heirlooms, Hybrids, and GMOs for more information on heirlooms.
Another way to avoid GMOs is to avoid the foods that are most often genetically modified.
What Foods Are Genetically Modified?
The foods most likely to be GMO are corn, soybeans, cotton (for oil), canola (also a source of oil), squash, papaya, and sugar beets, which are refined into sugar. There’s also GMO alfalfa, but that is used for animal feed, not for sprouts that people eat. That leaves quite a lot of your garden untouched.GMO versions of tomatoes, potatoes, and rice have been created and approved by government regulators, but they aren’t commercially available.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 70 percent of corn grown in the United States has been genetically engineered. The two most common genetically modified corns are BT corn and herbicide resistant corn. BT corn is genetically altered to contain the bacterial Bt toxin, an insecticide. Herbicide resistant corn varieties are resistant to glyphosate herbicides, Liberty and Roundup. Now fourteen countries grow herbicide-resistant GM corn.
Corn hybrids have been marketed with tolerance to imidazoline herbicides under the trademark “Clearfield.” Not to be confused with GMOs, the herbicide-tolerance trait was bred into the corn by using a tissue culture selection and the chemical mutagen ethyl methanesulfonate.
For those who eat a conventional, modern diet, GM corn seems to be in everything! It’s prevalent in most processed foods. Look out for the following ingredients which are either made directly from GM corn or are processed using GM corn:
- Artificial Sweeteners (many are derived from corn in one way or another)
- Artificial Flavors
- Ascorbic Acid (most vitamin C is made from GMO corn)
- Caramel Color
- Citrate (Calcium Citrate, Magnesium Citrate, Potassium Citrate, Sodium Citrate)
- Corn Meal
- Corn Oil
- Corn Starch
- Corn Syrup
- Decyl Glucoside (body care products like shampoo)
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Honey (High fructose corn syrup is often fed to bees to increase production. In addition, honey is often mixed with corn syrup by unscrupulous companies). Lactic Acid (often made using corn fermentation)
- Modified Food Starch
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) (often made from corn)
- Natural Flavors
- Vitamin E (Tocopherols)
- Xanthan Gum
And believe it or not, this is an incomplete list. As you may have figured out, this means breads, cereals, baby foods, baby formulas, sauces (ketchup, BBQ sauce, etc.) veggies burgers, soy cheese, protein powders, supplements, candies, instant dinners, peanut butters, pastas, and even hospital IV’s are likely to contain genetically modified corn. Almost anything packaged! This is one of many reasons to prepare your own food and avoid anything processed.
Even organic corn has been shown to be contaminated by pollination. The farther away non GMO corn is from GMO corn fields, the less likely it will be contaminated, but it seems to be spreading.
The first genetically modified soybeans were planted in the United States in 1996. Now, more than 93% of soybeans the United States produces are genetically modified, according to the USDA. GM soybeans are planted all over the world. The most commonly used GM soybeans are Roundup Ready soybeans. Soybeans have natural protection against pests. But weeds are a major problem for farmers growing soy. Roundup Ready soybeans possess a gene, agrobacterium sp. strain CP4, a bacteria, that causes the soybean to be herbicide resistance. Now the farmers can spray massive amounts of herbicides onto the crop fields without harming the soybeans.
Fortunately, since soy is well known to cause severe allergic reactions in people (and we suspect that the number of people allergic to soy is on the rise partly due to the GM soy), it’s fairly common for packaged foods to be labeled as having soy, or labeled to show they were processed in facilities that also process soy. But there are lots of food manufactures who do not label soy or that use soy and label it under a different name. Below is a list of both common names for soy and ingredients that are often derived from or contain soy. So watch out for these ingredients:
- Estrogène Végétal
- Fermented Soy
- Flavoring (including natural and artificial)
- High Protein Flour (possibly)*
- Hydrolyzed Plant, Soy or Vegetable Protein*
- Hydrolyzed Soy Protein
- Isolated Soy Protein
- Isolated Soybean Protein
- Kinnoko Flour
- Kyodofu (freeze dried tofu)
- Many vegetable broths
- Plant Esters
- Plant Estrogen
- Shoyu sauce
- Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
- Vitamin E
- Xanthan Gum
GMO soy is found in pastries, infant formulas, supplements, protein powders, cereals, vitamin E, bread, cheese, dough, candy… Once again, pretty much anything and everything processed and packaged as convenient food.
Meat, Dairy, and Eggs
While scientists are beginning to genetically modify animals, the current problem with GMOs from meat comes from the foods we feed our livestock.
Chickens, cows, and pigs (as well as many “free range” livestock) are fed genetically modified corn and soy. You are what you eat (and drink, and are injected with). So conventional meat, eggs, and dairy are essentially made up of GMO corn and soy.
Farmers who want to avoid genetically modified feed can purchase corn and soy feed that is labeled GMO free. But the feed is often contaminated with GMOs. Even organic animal feed is not free from contamination! In 2006, Albert Straus, owner of the Straus Family, wanted to make sure the food he was producing was completely free of genetically modified foods. He made the decision to test the feed he used for his 1,600 cows and found that nearly 6% of the corn feed he used, labeled organic, was contaminated by GMOs (read the Times article, When Organic Isn’t Really Organic).
While dairy shares the same problem as meat and eggs, as it is essentially created in large part from genetically modified animal feed, Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, also known as RBGH, is another problem with conventional milk. This Monsanto hormone artificially forces cows to increase their milk production by 15 percent. While not a genetic modification, it’s worth mentioning that this is nasty stuff that should be avoided at all costs.
The easiest way to avoid meat contaminated with GMOs is to go vegan or to know the farmer that raised the meat so you can be assured that precautions are taken. Regardless of where one’s ethics are when it comes to eating meat, animals should be allowed to roam freely and eat what nature intended. This produces healthier meat that is generally completely GMO free. But with the spread of genetically modified pollen, it may eventually become harder and harder to insure animals don’t eat GM plants.
More than 50% of sugar sold in America comes from sugar beets. Genetically modified, Roundup Ready sugar beets account for more than 90 percent of the crop. This figure is likely to increase since the USDA granted non-regulated status for genetically engineered beets just last year, and the FDA approved them to be to be sold on the market under the name “sugar.”
If the ingredients say “cane sugar,” there should not be GM beet sugar in the food.
The only currently commercially-produced GM fruit is the Hawaiian papaya. In the late 1980s, the University of Hawaii developed a papaya genetically engineered to be resistant to Papaya Ringspot Virus. They did it by transferring viral genes encoded with capsid proteins into the papaya genome. The capsid proteins cause something similar to an “immune response” from the plant. The genetically modified papaya plants are no longer susceptible to infection, allowing farmers to cultivate the fruit even when the virus is widespread. The GM papaya is often held up by GMO proponents as proof of how genetically engineering food can benefit us.
The first GMO papayas were grown in Hawaii commercially in 1999. Now these Transgenic papayas account for more than three quarters of Hawaiian papaya crops and they are contaminating the organic crops. NW Resistance Against Genetic Engineering reported that independent laboratory testing results showed widespread GM contamination.
Fortunately GM papayas can be avoided if you buy the large Caribbean or Mexican red papayas, which are not genetically modified.
Accordning to Wikipedia, “A genetically engineered rapeseed that is tolerant to herbicide was first introduced to Canada in 1995. In 2009, 90% of the Canadian crop was herbicide-tolerant. As of 2005, 87% of the canola grown in the US was genetically modified. A 2010 study conducted in North Dakota found glyphosate- or glufosinate-resistance transgenes in 80% of wild natural rapeseed plants, and a few plants that were resistant to both herbicides.”
If it’s not labeled Organic or certified GMO free, canola oil is almost definitely genetically modified.
Summer squash and zucchini were genetically modified to become more resistant to viruses and bacteria. But there was a problem. Cucumber cockroaches love GMO squash. They wound the leaves, leaving open holes in them. The cockroaches’ feces get absorbed into the stem causing bacterial diseases.
Some experts say that genetically modified squash have blended with wild squash species.
Farmers generally do not want to use GMO squash seeds for the aforementioned issues, and most experts say that conventional store bought squashes are very unlikely to be GM squash.