What is a GMO? Are GMOs safe or unhealthy? What sets non-GMO foods apart from organic foods?
These are all GREAT questions!
There’s definitely been quite a bit of debate and confusion surrounding the production and consumption of genetically modified foods in recent years. Let’s take a look at some of the facts to better understand the issue at hand.
The ABCs of GMOs: 26 Facts to Better Understand the Issue at Hand
The acronym GMO stands for “Genetically Modified Organism.”
Biotechnology and bioengineering are the fields of science that study and create GMOs.
The Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology was established as a formal policy in 1986 and describes the US Federal system for evaluating all products developed using modern biotechnology (a.k.a. GMOs). At the time, there was debate regarding whether regulation would require new laws and a new agency dedicated to its regulation (this debate continues today). According to the framework, three existing Federal agencies are to regulate GMOs: APHIS (The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
To create GMOs, DNA from different species are merged, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes that cannot occur in nature through natural crossbreeding.
Experiments show that GMO foods can interfere with the metabolism, increase inflammation, reduce fertility, and compromise liver and kidney function.
“Frankenfood“ is a common (and funny!) nickname for GMO foods.
Golden rice was the first GMO food created with the goal of increasing nutrient value. It was created to help supplement the diets of children who suffer from vitamin A deficiency, and was considered a significant breakthrough in biotechnology.
Most GMO crops are created to withstand specific herbicides, pesticides and diseases. Opposed to the goal of the creating golden rice, which is pretty altruistic, the real goal is to increase crop yield and, in turn, company profit.
GMOs are subject to intellectual property law like all other man-made inventions.
Many large agribusiness and GMO seed manufactures are jockeying to keep GMOs unlabeled: they collectively provided millions of dollars to fuel the fight against Prop 37, which would have made GMO labeling mandatory in California.
The knowledge regarding the safety of GMOs is uncertain. We are essentially being treated as walking, breathing test subjects.
Labels identifying GMO produce or processed foods containing GMO ingredients is currently not mandatory in the US. Some GMO produce may be labeled with a 5-digit PLU code beginning with an 8. However, since PLU labeling is optional, this is not an effective way to identify GMOs.
Monsanto is the company you hear of most in regards to GMOs as they are one of the largest producers of GMO seeds as well as the herbicides to which the seeds are resistant. A company chemist produced glyphosate in 1970. This chemical is now produced by many manufacturers, but is sold by Monsanto under the name Roundup. Monsanto’s seeds are called Roundup-Ready since they are resistant to roundup. As of 2009, the overall Roundup line of products (seeds and herbicide) represented about 50% of Monsanto’s $11.7 billion revenue.
Studies have determined that GMO produce is nutritionally-deficient in comparison to their natural counterparts. For example, non-GMO corn contains 437 times more calcium, 56 times more magnesium, and 7 times more manganese that GMO corn. Furthermore, GMO corn was found to contain 13 ppm of glyphosate (an herbicide), compared to zero in non-GMO corn.
Certified organic foods cannot, by law, contain GMO ingredients.
60-70% of processed foods contain GMO ingredients. With 90% of the average American’s food budget going towards processed foods, it is probable that the majority of Americans are consuming GMOs.
There are many unanswered questions regarding the health effects of GMOs. Until these questions are answered, the safety of GMOs cannot be effectively determined.
The “revolving door” is a term used to describe the intimate and incestuous relationship between the US FDA, EPA (the regulatory authorities) and GMO producers such as Monsanto.
In 2012, 94% of soy grown in the United States was genetically modified. Since soy is found in so many processed foods nowadays, most processed foods contain GMOs.
Tomatoes are often wrongly thought to be a common GMO. The truth is that there are currently no GMO tomatoes on the market.
Unapproved GMO wheat was recently discovered in Oregon. This is not the first incidence of an unapproved GMO found in the commercial food supply: in 2006, unapproved GMO rice was detected in the commercial rice supply. This raises food safety and public health concerns.
Most vegetable oil used in the US is produced from genetically modified canola, corn, cotton, and soybeans. Vegetable oil is sold directly to consumers as cooking oil, shortening, and margarine, and is also used in prepared foods.
A common argument of GMO-supporters is that GMOs will help solve world hunger. While this may have been a goal initially (as with golden rice), it is clear that companies use GMOs primarily to increase profits (at the expense of small farmers and consumers).
Only a few countries have given GMOs the big red X: Saudi Arabia has banned the growing of GMO foods and the importing of GMO wheat; Ireland has banned growing GMO crops; Sri Lanka and Thailand have banned the import of GMOs; growing and selling GMO foods is illegal in Algeria.
It is up to you to vote with your wallet and choose organic, non-GMO foods.
Zucchini is yet another common GMO crop, so be sure to purchase organic zucchini!