You may have heard the acronym GMO tossed around a time or two. GMO stands for genetically modified organism. But what does this mean?
GMO’s are created by taking a native gene and injecting it into the gene of another organism. This can include genes from bacteria, viruses, or other plants and animals. The main point of GMOs is so foods can withstand the harsh chemical spraying of herbicides and pesticides. Some foods, such as corn, are also genetically altered to create an insecticide so that any bugs that come in contact with them are killed. By using both of these techniques, farmers are able to use harsh weed sprays and kill everything except for the crop they are growing. GMOs are also used to help to extend the shelf life of many fruits and vegetables. First of all, they are not natural; we are combining genes that would never naturally interact. The use of these genetically modified organisms are destroying sustainable farming practices, exhausting our grounds, contaminating our soils, and proposing future health risks for humans. GMO’s are not beneficial in our food system today in any way, shape, or form.
Where do you Find GMOs?
GMOs are found in more than 80% of processed foods in the United States. Corn is the number one grown crop in the United States and 86% of it is genetically modified. Not only is corn added to most processed foods but it is also the staple ingredient of animal feed; 60% of the feed that livestock eats comes from corn. The corn that they are fed would actually kill them in 6 months if they were not slaughtered earlier; a cow’s stomach does not agree with this type of diet. Grain fed animals also produce more saturated fats. Soy is another staple ingredient of processed foods and 93% of it is genetically modified. Over 90% of canola products are also genetically modified. Other common GM products include cottonseed, milk and milk products, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, squash, and zucchini. It may seem strange that milk is listed as a genetically engineered product, but look at it this way- The cow itself is not genetically modified, but the food products the cow is consuming typically are, including corn. It is also common for farmers to inject their cows with the genetically engineered hormone rBGH which increases milk production.
Who is Monsanto?
Monsanto is an international agriculture and biotechnology corporation responsible for the creation of GMOs. They manufacture and sell genetically engineered seeds, rBGH hormone, and PCB’s. From destroying Mother Nature, bullying the media, fooling the public, influencing USDA policies, and suing small farmers, they are one of the most hated companies in the world. They’ve been known to hide or destroy any information that provides truth to the products they are creating. Their practices are extremely controversial on a world-wide scale. They advertise that they are using fewer pesticides but studies show that they are actually using up to FIVE times the herbicide and insecticide that traditional farmers use. Monsanto tries to persuade consumers that they are helping to enhance nutrition, protect the environment, and increase yields. These are all failed promises. There is now more demand for pesticides, more deforestation, and more small farmers being put out of business because they cannot keep up with this technology.
How Did GMOs Pass Into our Food System?
One might ask…how could something so potentially dangerous and minimally studied enter into our food system? One name…Michael Taylor. When GMOs were first created, scientists warmed Monsanto (over and over!) that they may cause allergies, toxins, environmental hazards nutritional problems, and new diseases. These scientists warned that long term studies should be completed before putting GMOs on the market without even telling consumers. The FDA didn’t listen to this. But how could they get away with putting an unsafe and highly questionable product on the market? It turns out that the policy chief in charge at the FDA during that time was Michael Taylor, former Monsanto attorney. He completely lied about the actual opinions of the scientists at the agency. He instead stated that GMOs weren’t significantly different from regular crops so they didn’t need safety studies or labeling. The White House wanted to help promote biotechnology so they created this position for Michael Taylor. After the GMO policy went into place Taylor became Monsanto’s chief lobbyist and vice president. Guess what else? He is now back working with the FDA as their food safety czar. How great is it that the former Monsanto lobbyist is in charge of the safety of our food? Not! This is a prime example of big agency influences on our food system. It is wrong in so many ways.
Why should we stay away from GMO’s?
Genetically modified crops are such new technology that we do not know the long term impact of them. They may serve a long list of health issues including allergies, intestinal damage, resistance to antibiotics, liver problems, and even cancer. The genes also have the ability to mutate once digested and cause problems with our bodily functions. Several tests have been done on rats resulting in precancerous growth, damaged immune systems, heart problems, allergies, bleeding stomachs, infertility, precancerous cell growth, and many more harmful effects. Now that is scary! Even the FDA has doubts about the safety of GMOs. Currently, they are under the listing of “Generally Referred to as Safe”. No food that is sold on our store shelves should be listed under this category.
GMOs are not only impacting humans, but also our environment. GM seeds from one farm are spreading to organic farms nearby causing contamination of their seeds. Monsanto has sued many small farmers because of the cross pollination of GM seeds, even though most of these small farmers had no idea that the GM seeds were even on their property. Now how is this fair? If modern farming practices continue as they are now, we are going to slowly run out of resources for farming in the future. GMOs are very harmful to our environment. These new environmentally “friendly” pesticides that they are using as an alternative are leaching into the ground and contaminating our soil and water sources. As the need for crop land increases the annual rates of deforestation will continue to increase. Both of these scenarios are affecting our wildlife. Genetically modified crops are destroying biodiversity throughout nature and damaging the ability for local farmers to succeed. We cannot let bio-tech companies creating GMO’s monopolize agriculture. These producers are not thinking about our future, they are just thinking about their bottom line. Our country needs to start thinking about cost in dollars vs. cost in our health and the environment.
GMOs are banned or restricted in more than 60 countries around the world– but unfortunately this does not include the United States. Even worse, GMO labeling laws have not been passed within our country. Companies can chose to put “non-GMO” on their label, but it is not mandatory to list it as an ingredient. Here are a few ways to avoid GMOs in your diet-
- The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization that was created to keep consumers informed about GMOs in their food products. They are the only third party verification and labeling group within our country for GMOs. They work to educate consumers and promote non-GMO food choices. They believe that everyone deserves a choice in whether or not they want to consume genetically modified organisms in their food. I think this is exactly what our country needs. Consumers have a right to know what they are consuming, then they can make the decision that they feel is right. I believe that GMO-food labeling should be mandatory nation-wide. The Non-GMO Project has verified hundreds of products and has labeled them with their verification icon. They also have a lot of great information on their website including shopping lists, challenge groups, and a non-GMO cookbook. You can visit them at http://www.nongmoproject.org/about/
- Another way to avoid GMO products is to buy 100% organic foods. Foods that have been genetically modified are not allowed to be labeled 100% organic according to the USDA. If the label does not say 100% organic, be careful. Foods that just state the word “organic” can include up to 30% GMO ingredients.
- You know that little product number labeled on your fruits and vegetables? This can actually tell you a lot! If it is a 4-digit number that means that it has been conventionally produced. If it is a 5-digit number, and starts with an 8, then it is a genetically modified crop. If it is a 5-digit number and begins with a 9, it is organic. I know this can get confusing, but if you could write it down somewhere it is great to have with you when you go to the grocery store!
- A few other ways to avoid GMOs are to buy 100% grass fed beef, shop locally and ask your local farmers if they use GM seeds, or even grow your own food! Become familiar with the top GMO foods and try to at least be cautious of those when shopping. These include corn, soy, canola, cotton, dairy, etc.
Start slowly and do the best you can! Buy organic whenever possible. If you have room for a garden, grow your own fruits and vegetables. Try joining a local farm share. Plan your grocery list ahead of time. Last but not least, advocate for the labeling of GMOs!
PBS has a fun interactive game where you can engineer your own crop & see how it really works! http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/harvest/engineer/transgen.html
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