What You Need to Know About GMOs
Unless everything that has passed through your lips for the last two decades has been certified organic, you’ve been a human subject in a global science experiment that involves genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Even worse than the fact that foods that contain GMO ingredients continue to remain unlabeled as such, there’s a valid concern that the term “organic” will eventually become meaningless due to “genetic trespassing” from the cross-pollination of crops on both sides of the fence. Here’s a basic run-down on what you need to know about GMOs and how you can avoid them.
The ABCs of GMOs
A genetically modified organism, or GMO, is a plant or animal that has had its genetic material altered by the introduction of DNA from another species of plant or animal, or a bacteria or virus. The point? The biotech companies leading the way in this engineering fiasco would like you to believe that they are fighting world hunger by creating food crops with certain desirable traits, like the ability to resist pests – and the pesticides that kill them. A classic example is GMO corn, which has been genetically modified to contain the pesticide Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) in its DNA so the plant won’t die when sprayed with the pesticide. Of course, the true motivation behind this feat of engineering becomes clear when you consider that the same companies also manufacture the Bt pesticide and even sought and obtained a patent on the seed to grow the corn with the claim that they are novel life forms similar to an invention.
GMO engineering isn’t limited to plants, as previously mentioned. The DNA of cows and pigs are modified to contain a gene that promotes the release of high levels of growth hormones to make the animals grow faster and larger, or in the case of cows to produce more milk. The biotech industry is constantly targeting new foods for modification is what seems to be a determined effort to gain control of the world’s food supply. Although this list is always changing, some of the newly acquired and likely soon-to-be “Frankenfoods” include apples, salmon and dried fruits.
One Bad Apple…
There is a lengthy story within a story concerning GMOs and the biotech industry in general. Political and ethical considerations set aside for this article, however, there is sufficient evidence to show that “the experiment” is a failure. For one thing, GMO crops have not reduced the need for pesticides. In fact, according to the Non-GMO Project, the use of the pesticide Roundup has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. (It’s not hard to read into the implications of that, right?) Furthermore, in the same way that overuse of antibiotics has created super germs, we now have super weeds and super pests that can only be managed by the use of super pesticides, namely the 2,4-D toxin found in Agent Orange.
More than 60 countries around the world have banned or restricted GMOs, but despite serious concerns about the impact to environmental and human health the U.S. is not one of them. Polls clearly show that American consumers want GMOs out of their food supply, with more than 53% actively avoiding any food that has been genetically modified. The problem is that there is currently no mandatory labeling of GMO foods or ingredients in the U.S., even though 91% of Americans want these products labeled accordingly. While that situation continues to be hashed out through legislation, you can join the bandwagon of American consumers that are fending for themselves.
Just Say “No” to GMO
Ah… if only it were that easy. At least 70% of everything on supermarket shelves contains GMO-something-or-other. With a lack of labeling standards, it’s more important than ever to be savvy about how to navigate through the store to end up with the safest products in your home. Foods that are labeled USDA Certified Organic (for now, anyway) are still GMO-free. You should also know that many companies have voluntarily joined the ranks of the Non-GMO Project Standard to gain independent GMO-free certification, so you can now look for the Non-GMO seal on the product package. Many cereals are staring to sport this label.
Food crops that are high-risk of being GMO include corn (approximately 88% of U.S. crops as of 2011), sugar beets (approx. 95%), cotton (approx. 90%) and soy (approx. 94%). Milk, eggs, meat and even honey are at risk due to the contamination of feed) as are papaya, zucchini and yellow summer squash. It should also be noted that products that contain soy derivatives (high-fructose corn syrup; soy, corn or canola oil; soy lecithin, etc.) are affected. This means some oils, breads, most packaged cookies, chips, crackers and processed foods in general.
The best choices to go with to put some distance between GMOs and your dinner plate include fresh produce (with the exception of GMO corn introduced in 2012), pasta, rice and beans (with the exception of heat-and-eat packaged products).
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