By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Do you want to know if the food you’re purchasing and consuming contains genetically engineered (“GE”) ingredients (other more common acronyms include “GM” for “genetically modified” and “GMO” for “genetically modified organisms”)? Does having a choice about whether to feed your family GMO foods matter to you? Even though nearly 50 countries worldwide, including Japan, China, Russia, and New Zealand, provide their citizens such a choice by mandating the labeling of GMO foods, the FDA has no such requirements; it allows GMOs to infiltrate our conventional food supply undetected despite never having adequately tested GMO foods for short and long-term safety.
Currently, the only way to avoid GMOs in food is to buy food that is organically produced (look for the USDA Organic label) or is labeled as “non-GMO.”
Must-Know Facts About GMOs
Until mandatory labeling is in place in the U.S., here are some other facts you should know about GMOs:
- GMOs are everywhere. According to the Non-GMO Project, up to 80 percent of conventional processed foods (i.e. soups, sodas, condiments, chips, crackers, etc.) contain GMO ingredients. In the U.S., according to the Center for Food Safety, up to 94 percent of soy, and up to 92 percent of corn, grown are GMO. Upwards of 95 percent of sugar beets may now be GMO, and 88 percent of cotton is as well (food products often contain cottonseed oil).
- Since corn accounts for 95 percent of total feed grain (corn-feeding helps keeps the cost of animal food production low), most commercially produced beef, dairy products, poultry and eggs come from animals that were fed GMO corn; sis also used in animal feed. Fast food is also notoriously high in corn content.
- Additionally, cows are often injected with recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rGBH), a GMO product. While use of rGBH increases milk production, it also leads to increased antibiotic use in dairy cows, which has contributed to greater antibiotic resistance in humans.
- Milk from rGBH-treated cows contains high levels of a natural growth factor (IGF-1), which is linked to the development of breast, prostate and colon cancers.
- GMO crops are generally engineered to withstand much heavier-than-normal pesticide application; by consuming them, you also consume pesticide residues. Pesticides have been linked to numerous health problems including blood, kidney and liver toxicity, birth defects, and even cancer. Children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of pesticides.
- In addition to corn and soy, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, and yellow squash are GMO crops sold and commercially produced in the U.S. GMO plums, raddichio, rice and wheat have been approved in the US, even though they are not yet commercially produced or sold here, In 2015, the FDA approved GMO salmon, which will soon be available in restaurants and markets.
- The FDA does not independently test GMO foods for safety; instead it relies on information volunteered by the GMO industry. As the CFS says in its legal petition, “Because there has been no government-mandated, independent, peer-reviewed scientific testing of GE foods, the public has been serving as an unwitting laboratory for this experimental food technology.”
- According to the Non-GMO Project, “In more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs.”
- Children are more susceptible to GMO health effects than adults because their bodies are still developing.
- GMO monocrops (the planting of one crop over acres and acres) and resulting heavy pesticide use may be causing Bee Colony Collapse, a phenomenon that could eventually threaten our ability to grow food to eat (we need bees to pollinate our crops).
- GMO crops are threatening organic food production. Seeds from GMO plants can drift onto neighboring organic farms and contaminate crops, which can lead to loss of organic status.
- According to the Center for Food Safety, “GE crops may be the greatest threat to sustainable agriculture on the planet.” Farmers who plant Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soy use up to “five times more herbicide than non-GE farmers who use integrated weed-control methods.” Many organic farmers control crop pests by using a natural bacterial spray.
“The advent of genetically engineered, insect-resistant crops is likely to lead to insects that are immune to this natural pesticide. When this biological pesticide is rendered ineffective, other farmers will turn to increasingly toxic chemicals to deal with the “superbugs” created by GE crops. Meanwhile, organic farmers will be out of options.”
Watch the CBS News Report video: GMO crops threaten livelihood of organic farmers
Not only do organic farmers face loss of organic status, but they also face lawsuits when GE crop seeds blow onto their land. Monsanto, the company which created GE seeds crops that can withstand its toxic RoundUp Ready pesticide, has attempted to sue hundreds of farmers for patent infringement, even when these farmers passively received the Monsanto seeds in the wind.
Watch the CBS News Report video: Agricultural Giant Battles Small Farmers
The Center for Food Safety (CFS), a non-profit organization which challenges harmful food production technologies and promotes sustainable alternatives, sums up the GMO issue by saying:
“A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer…
…As for environmental impacts, the use of genetic engineering in agriculture will lead to uncontrolled biological pollution, threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction, and the potential contamination of all non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material.”
Each time we purchase any food product that is not organic, we not only run the likely risk of consuming GMO ingredients, but we indirectly support GMO food production through profits. If you want to avoid GMOs, opt for organic food whenever possible, and tell your lawmakers that you want to know if there’s GMOs in the food you’re buying!
References and Resources:
- Center for Food Safety (CFS). “Genetically Engineered Crops.” Centerforfoodsafety.org, Accessed Feb. 29, 2012. “About GE Foods,” and “Crops in the Pipeline.” Accessed May 18, 2016.
- Brahic, Catherine. “Corn-fed Animals are Fueling America.” Newscientist.com, Nov. 10, 2008.
- Organic Consumers Association. Genetic Engineering section: rGBH at Organicconsumers.org, Accessed Feb. 29, 2012.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid (2,4-D):Chemical Summary, EPA.gov, Accessed Feb. 29, 2012.
- EPA. Children are at Greater Risks of Pesticide Exposure, EPA.gov, Accessed Feb. 29, 2012.
- National Pesticide Information Center. Pesticides and Human Health. NPIC.org, Accessed Feb. 29, 2012.
- The Non-GMO Project.”GMO Facts: Frequently Asked Questions.” Nongmoproject.org, Accessed May 18, 2016.
- Park, Alice. “7 Things You Need to Know About GMO Salmon.” Time.com, Nov. 19, 2015.
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