The Good, Bad and Ugly about GMOs
There is a mountain of information about GMOs, and with the mounting evidence that GMOs pose a risk, we ask the question: Are GMO foods the next best hope for feeding our planet or should we follow the example set by consumers in the European Union, whose outcry reached such proportions that virtually all major manufacturers publicly committed to stop using GM ingredients in their European brands?
Before we go much further, you may be asking, “What the heck is a GMO anyway?” Simply put, Genetically Modified Organisms, aka, “GMO”s are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.
Virtually all-commercial GMOs are engineered to withstand direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. Despite biotech industry promises, none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.
Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights.
The Case for GMOs
According to the GMO industry, there are many good reasons to use GMOs:
• Reduced need for herbicides
• Reduced need of pesticides
• Reduced greenhouse emissions as GMOs require less tillage or plowing, thus less use of fossil fuels
• Ability to manipulate foods to increase desirable components such as nutrients
• Increased production of food for starving third world countries.
The big question: “Are GMOs safe?”
The EU consumer-led revolt against GMOs was triggered in February 1999 when media coverage exploded after top GMO safety researcher, Dr. Arpad Pusztai was called to speak before Parliament and went public with some very alarming research results.
Dr. Pusztai, a highly respected leader in the field with 35 years employment at the Rowett Institute in Scotland, had been given a UK government grant to design the long-term testing protocols that were supposed to be part of the European GM food safety assessment process. When Pusztai fed rats GM potatoes genetically engineered to produce a supposedly safe insecticide called the GNA lectin, all the animals showed potentially pre-cancerous cell growths, smaller brains, livers and testicles, partially atrophied livers, and damaged to the immune system–with most changes appearing after just 10 days.
Americans Ill Informed about GMOs
Many U.S. consumers mistakenly believe that the FDA has approved each and every GM food through rigorous, well-designed, long-term studies, and thus GM food ingredients are allowed to be in our food supply. The reality is that the FDA has absolutely no GMO safety testing requirements, and GM ingredients are very common in prepared foods. Unless a processed food contains only organic ingredients, it is highly likely to contain GM ingredients. The “research” that supports GMO safety is voluntarily provided by companies on their own GM crops and has been described by critics as “meticulously designed to avoid finding problems”. But 44,000 FDA internal documents later made public as a result of a lawsuit revealed problems. The overwhelming consensus among the FDA’s scientists was that GM foods were substantively different, so different that their consumption might result in unpredictable and hard-to-detect allergens, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems.
How to Go Non-GMO
If the risks documented in Genetic Roulette raise enough questions about GMOs’ potential for harm that you wish to avoid consuming GMOs here are a few tips:
If you are traveling to Europe, no worries, GMOs are banned in EU foods. In the United States and Canada, however, GM foods are not only legal, but are unlabeled, so avoiding them can be challenging.
Eat Organic: Organic foods are not allowed to contain GM ingredients. Even the small percentage of non-organic ingredients allowed in foods labeled organic is not allowed to contain GMOs.
Carefully read the label if purchasing prepared or processed foods, vitamins, prepared or processed foods:
• Most generic vegetable oils and margarines used in restaurants and in processed foods in North America are made from soy, corn, canola, or cottonseed—the four major genetically engineered crops. Avoid these oils, unless they are organic or labeled non-GMO. Choose any other oil, e.g., olive, sunflower, or safflower.
• Check the list of ingredients for GM enzymes, additives, sweeteners, soy and/or corn derivatives. Genetically modified bacteria and fungi are used in the production of enzymes, vitamins, food additives, flavorings and processing agents in thousands of foods on the grocery shelves as well as health supplements.
• Flavorings such as vanillin and hydrolyzed vegetable protein, which is derived from corn and soy, can also come from GM sources. Xanthan gum is another product that may be derived from a GM process.
• Aspartame, the diet sweetener, is a product of genetic engineering.
• Honey can be produced from GM crops. For example, some Canadian honey comes from bees collecting nectar from canola. This has shut down exports of Canadian honey to Europe.
• Most packaged foods contain soy and/or corn derivatives, e.g., soy or corn oil, soy flour, soy protein, soy lecithin, textured vegetable protein, corn meal, corn syrup, dextrose, malt dextrin, fructose, citric acid, and lactic acid. Non-GMO alternatives can be found not only in health food stores, but in supermarkets. Mayonnaise, for example, which is traditionally made with soy oil, can be found in both non-GM soy and safflower varieties.
Vitamin Supplements: Among vitamins, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is often made from corn; vitamin E is usually made from soy. Vitamins A, B2, B6, and B12 may be derived from GMOs as well. In addition, vitamin D and vitamin K may have “carriers” derived from GM corn sources, such as starch, glucose, and maltodextrin. In addition to finding these vitamins in supplements, they are sometimes used to fortify foods. Organic foods, even if fortified with vitamins, are not allowed to use ingredients derived from GMOs.
• Ask what oil is used for cooking. If the answer is “vegetable oil,” margarine, soy, cottonseed, canola or corn oils, ask if olive or some other oil can be used instead or for something cooked without oil. Check to make sure the olive oil is
pure and not a blend of canola and olive.
• Avoid menu items with dairy, unless organic, and items made with non-organic meat. Very few restaurants buy organic milk or milk certified to be from cows that are not treated with genetically modified rbGH, and both non-organic meat and dairy products usually come from animals that have eaten GM feed. Also, a common enzyme, chymosin (called rennet), used in the production of hard cheeses, was formerly derived from the stomach linings of calves. In 1990, a GM cbymosin was introduced and is now found in more than 70% of non-organic U.S. cheeses.
• Ask what foods are freshly prepared. Avoid menu items made with packaged sauces or processed foods since most contain GM derivatives (e.g., corn and soy derivatives).
• Avoid desserts and soda made with aspartame. Most all diet drinks are made with aspartame.
For an extensive list of foods by brand and category, indicating if they have GM ingredients, see the True Food Shoppers Guide to Avoiding GMOs www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/cfs-shoppers-guide1_94012.pdf
This article was researched and written by David J. Schaaf – Blog writer and healthcare talent acquisition specialist with a growing interest in a pro-active healthcare solutions and initiatives.