When I find myself in a conversation with someone about GMOs, it often goes something like this:
Me: GMOs are the devil. Friend: GMOs. Hmmmm…yes, I know that GMOs have a bad rap, but I honestly don’t even really know what a GMO is.
If you are in the same boat, and would like to know more about GMOs….read on!
What exactly is a GMO?
A GMO is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. This is not traditional crossbreeding and cannot occur in nature. This is altering the DNA of a plant to produce a trait that is not natural in the species. The DNA comes from things like viruses and bacteria. Crops are engineered with the intent to be resistant to other viruses or bacteria, resistant to herbicides or pesticides, have altered starch or fat content, and/or more.
Though a genetically modified fruit or veggie may look the same, buyer beware. An ear of corn by any name may taste quite sweet, but those little frankenkernals of corn may jump right off the cob and bite you right back. Odds are, you are eating the frankenfoods all the time while blissfully unaware since the labeling of GMO foods and ingredients is not required in the United States. There are no restrictions against GMOs in the US; however, most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. In more than 60 countries around the world there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs.
Why are GMOs bad?
I would love to write a whole book referencing all of the studies that find GMOs to be heinous. In the interest of being brief, though, best selling author and GMO expert, Jeffrey Smith sums it up nicely. He is the founding executive director for the Institute of Responsible Technology, and here is a summarized version of the 10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs :
1. GMOs are unhealthy.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) urges doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients. They cite animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. Human studies show how genetically modified (GM) food can leave material behind inside us, possibly causing long-term problems. Genes inserted into GM soy, for example, can transfer into the DNA of bacteria living inside us, and that the toxic insecticide produced by GM corn was found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses.
Since the debut of GMOs in 1996, the percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% to 13% in just 9 years; food allergies skyrocketed, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems, and others are on the rise. Although there is not sufficient research to confirm that GMOs are a contributing factor, doctors groups such as the AAEM tell us not to wait before we start protecting ourselves, and especially our children who are most at risk.
2. GMOs contaminate―forever.
GMOs cross pollinate and their seeds can travel. It is impossible to fully clean up our contaminated gene pool.
3. GMOs increase herbicide use.
Most GM crops are engineered to be “herbicide tolerant”. Monsanto, for example, sells Roundup Ready crops, designed to survive applications of their Roundup herbicide—the deadly weed killer.
Between 1996 and 2008, US farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide on GMOs. Overuse of Roundup results in “super weeds,” which are resistant to the herbicide. This is causing farmers to use even more toxic herbicides every year. Not only does this create environmental harm, GM foods contain higher residues of toxic herbicides. Roundup, for example, is linked with sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancer.
4. Genetic engineering creates dangerous side effects.
By mixing genes from totally unrelated species, genetic engineering unleashes a host of unpredictable side effects.
5. Government oversight is dangerously lax.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example, doesn’t require a single safety study, does not mandate labeling of GMOs, and allows companies to put their GM foods onto the market without even notifying the agency. Their justification was the claim that they had no information showing that GM foods were substantially different. But this was a lie. Secret agency memos made public by a lawsuit show that the overwhelming consensus even among the FDA’s own scientists was that GMOs can create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects. They urged long-term safety studies. But the White House had instructed the FDA to promote biotechnology, and the agency official in charge of policy was Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney, later their vice president. He’s now the US Food Safety Czar.
6. The biotech industry uses “tobacco science” to claim product safety.
Biotech companies like Monsanto told us that Agent Orange, PCBs, and DDT were safe. They are now using the same type of superficial, rigged research to try and convince us that GMOs are safe. Independent scientists, however, have caught the spin-masters red-handed, demonstrating without doubt how industry-funded research is designed to avoid finding problems, and how adverse findings are distorted or denied.
7. Independent research and reporting is attacked and suppressed.
Scientists who discover problems with GMOs have been attacked, gagged, fired, threatened, and denied funding.
8. GMOs harm the environment.
GM crops and their associated herbicides can harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems, and soil organisms. They reduce bio-diversity, pollute water resources, and are unsustainable.
9. GMOs do not increase yields, and work against feeding a hungry world.
Whereas sustainable non-GMO agricultural methods used in developing countries have conclusively resulted in yield increases of 79% and higher, GMOs do not, on average, increase yields at all. This was evident in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2009 report Failure to Yield―the definitive study to date on GM crops and yield.
The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, authored by more than 400 scientists and backed by 58 governments, stated that GM crop yields were “highly variable” and in some cases, “yields declined.”
10. By avoiding GMOs, you contribute to the coming tipping point of consumer rejection, forcing them out of our food supply.
Because GMOs give no consumer benefits, if even a small percentage of us start rejecting brands that contain them, GM ingredients will become a marketing liability. Food companies will kick them out.
Now this part really blows my mind. How did the company who brought us Agent Orange, poisonous PCBs, and DDT get into the food business? The fact that the same company who produces Roundup (linked to birth defects, cancer, crop and livestock loss) also produces GM Roundup-ready seeds. So they genetically alter seeds to be resistant to the poison Roundup, then they pour tons of that poison on crops. Then we eat them.
One glance at the statistics and it’s clear: The U.S. and Monsanto dominate the global market for genetically engineered crops. Forty percent of the world’s genetically modified (GM) crops are grown in the U.S., where Monsanto controls 80 percent of the GM corn market, and 93 percent of the GM soy market.
How do I avoid GMOs?
Don’t buy them! Nothing speaks louder than dollars spent, or rather…not spent. Most processed foods contain GMOs. That is ok…nothing healthy comes from processed junk anyway. Top GMO foods include: soy, corn, canola, alfalfa, cotton, milk, sugar, aspartame, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and papaya. Look for foods that are certified organic or that bear the Non-GMO project seal.