Genetically Modified Foods: Why (And How) to Steer Clear

Healthy eating is very important to Dhara Baiden who understands the power of food.  While living in the UK, she studied at the College of Naturopathic Medicine headquartered in London, England.

When I lived in the UK from 2001 to 2005, people were pretty well aware of genetically modified (GM, alternate terms GMO or GE) foods.  The media covered it regularly, and people generally knew that if they wanted to avoid foods containing GM ingredients, they could—companies had to clearly display it on the box if their product contained them.  Many countries throughout the world, like Brazil, China, South Korea, and most countries within the European Union, require companies using GM ingredients to label their packaging accordingly.  Almost a decade later, living in the USA, I realize no such comparable FDA regulation exists, and it is much harder to figure out what food products contain GM ingredients. In fact, many Americans are unaware of what GM even means, nor do they understand the potentially negative impact GM foods have on their health.

GM crops have been altered at the molecular level.  They are most commonly altered so that they are resistant to herbicides—that way, farmers can spray herbicides on their fields to effectively kill weeds without reducing crop output. When crops have resilience to herbicides they are capable of surviving otherwise lethal doses of herbicide poisons.  This poses two problems: first, it means the food we eat has been changed molecularly, and therefore our bodies don’t know what to do with it. Second, it means we are ingesting the poisons from the potentially heavy doses of herbicides being sprayed on GM crops.

It is difficult to know what long-term problems may result from molecularly changing the crops we eat.  The Institute for Responsible Technology writes: “When foreign genes are inserted, dormant genes may be activated or the functioning of genes altered, creating new or unknown proteins, or increasing or decreasing the output of existing proteins inside the plant. The effects of consuming these new combinations of proteins are unknown.”  One could argue that we are a society-wide experiment right now—changing the genetic makeup of food is new, and therefore the human disorders it causes cannot yet have extensive study behind them.  Importantly, however, animal studies involving GM foods have been published, and show disturbing effects ranging across many different organ systems.  Jeffery Smith, author of Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, and founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, wrote about one particular study that found the following: “After feeding hamsters for two years over three generations, those on the GM diet, and especially the group on the maximum GM soy diet, showed devastating results. By the third generation, most GM soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to have babies. They also suffered slower growth, and a high mortality rate among the pups” (huffingtonpost.com).

Since GM crops can withstand a heavy dousing of herbicides, the resulting foods can contain high levels of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup.  The list of ailments that potentially result from ingesting glyphosate is vast, and includes sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancer (responsibletechnology.org).  Glyphosate also has a negative impact on gut flora.  According to mercola.com, “Studies have already confirmed that glyphosate alters and destroys beneficial gut flora in animals, as evidenced by the increasing instances of lethal botulism in cattle.” Gut flora is vitally important to maintaining good health, and so unbalancing that flora can lead to countless disorders including allergies and digestive problems.  Furthermore, preliminary studies discussed on justlabelit.org show that insecticide from genetically modified corn is “now showing up in our bloodstream and the umbilical cord blood of pregnant women.”

The foods that are typically genetically modified are corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini, crookneck squash, and sugar beets.  The list seems simple enough until you think about how many thousands of products use those ingredients in various forms.  The good news is that there are ways to shop responsibly so we can avoid buying products containing GM ingredients:

  • Buy organic. By law, to label something organic, it cannot contain GM ingredients.
  • Look for the Non-GMO Project seal. This not-for-profit organization is “committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices” (nongmoproject.org).  Consumers can trust this independent, third-party to validate products as free from genetically modified ingredients.
  • Have a “safe” list with you when you shop.  Download the Non-GMO Shopping Guide from nongmoshoppingguide.com and see what products in a wide array of categories (including dairy, baby food, and beverages) are free of GM ingredients.  It’s even easier if you are an iPhone user, because there is an app called ShopNoGMO, which is available for free in the iTunes store, and has the list of “safe” products.

People who feel this issue is important are encouraged to sign the petition at justlabelit.org to urge the FDA to require labeling of genetically engineered foods.  Simply put, if people don’t buy genetically modified foods, then food producers will stop growing them.  As Jeffery Smith points out, if only 5% of Americans stopped buying foods with GM ingredients, we would hit the “tipping point” and get the big-name food producing companies to stop using GM.

Dr. Steve Windley writes in his article “Genetically Modified Foods,” Americans are in a “watch and see situation where we hope nothing bad happens and that we can hopefully revert if catastrophe begins to take shape.  Consumer education and voice will dictate this issue.”

Reference List

Mercola, Joseph (2010). “The Hidden Epidemic Destroying Your Gut Flora.” Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/12/10/dr-don-huber-interview-part-1.aspx

Smith, Jeffrey (2010). “Genetically Modified Soy Linked to Sterility, Infant Mortality in Hamsters.” Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeffrey-smith/genetically-modified-soy_b_544575.html

Windley, Steve (2008). “Genetically Modified Foods.” Retrieved from http://arch.ttu.edu/w/images/d/d8/Genetically_Modified_Foods.pdf

http://justlabelit.org/

http://www.nongmoproject.org/

http://www.responsibletechnology.org/

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