What are GMOs?
A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. (source)
History of GMOs?
Small-scale experimental plantings of genetically modified (GM) plants began in Canada and the U.S. in the late 1980s. The first approvals for large-scale, commercial cultivation came in the mid 1990s. Since that time, adoption of GM plants by farmers has increased annually. (source)
Where are they used?
GMOs are used in biological and medical research, production of pharmaceutical drugs, experimental medicine (e.g. gene therapy), and agriculture (e.g. golden rice). To date the most controversial but also the most widely adopted application of GMO technology is patent-protected food crops that are resistant to commercial herbicides or are able to produce pesticidal proteins from within the plant, or stacked trait seeds, which do both.
The largest share of the GMO crops planted globally are owned by the United States firm Monsanto. In 2007, Monsanto's trait technologies were planted on 246 million acres (1,000,000 km2) throughout the world, a growth of 13 percent from 2006. However, patents on the first Monsanto products to enter the marketplace will begin to expire in 2014, democratizing Monsanto products. In addition, a 2007 report from the European Joint Research Commission predicts that by 2015, more than 40 per cent of new GM plants entering the global marketplace will have been developed in Asia. (source)
What percentage of our crops are based on this technology?
In the corn market, Monsanto's triple-stack corn, which combines Roundup Ready 2-weed control technology with YieldGard Corn Borer and YieldGard Rootworm insect control, is the market leader in the United States. U.S. corn farmers planted more than 32 million acres of triple-stack corn in 2008 and it is estimated the product could be planted on 56 million acres in 2014–2015.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), in 2010 approximately 15 million farmers grew biotech crops in 29 countries. Over 90% of the farmers were resource-poor in developing countries.
6.5 million farmers in China and 6.3 million small farmers in India grew biotech crops. The Philippines, South Africa (biotech cotton, maize, and soybeans often grown by subsistence women farmers) and another twelve developing countries also grew biotech crops in 2009.
10 million more small and resource-poor farmers may have been secondary beneficiaries of Bt cotton in China. The global commercial value of biotech crops grown in 2008 was estimated to be $130 billion.
In the United States, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports on the total area of GMO varieties planted. According to National Agricultural Statistics Service, the states published in these tables represent 81–86 percent of all corn planted area, 88–90 percent of all soybean planted area, and 81–93 percent of all upland cotton planted area (depending on the year). (source)
Why are these crops so bad?
The documented health risks of genetically engineered foods:
- Evidence of reactions in animals and humans
- Gene insertion disrupts the DNA and can create unpredictable health problems
- The protein produced by the inserted gene may create problems
- The foreign protein may be different than what is intended
- Transfer of genes to gut bacteria, internal organs, or viruses
- GM crops may increase environmental toxins and bioaccumulate toxins in the food chain
- Risks are greater for children and newborns (source for all and more info)
HERE's a great FAQ about why you should avoid GMOs.
Are they safe?
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) doesn’t think so. The Academy reported that “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.
The AAEM asked physicians to advise patients to avoid GM foods before the FDA decided to allow GMOs into food without labeling, FDA scientists had repeatedly warned that GM foods can create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects, including allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems. They urged long-term safety studies, but were ignored.
Since then, findings include:
- Thousands of sheep, buffalo, and goats in India died after grazing on Bt cotton plants
- Mice eating GM corn for the long term had fewer, and smaller, babies
- More than half the babies of mother rats fed GM soy died within three weeks, and were smaller
- Testicle cells of mice and rats on a GM soy change significantly
- By the third generation, most GM soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to have babies
- Rodents fed GM corn and soy showed immune system responses and signs of toxicity
- Cooked GM soy contains as much as 7-times the amount of a known soy allergen
- Soy allergies skyrocketed by 50% in the UK, soon after GM soy was introduced
- The stomach lining of rats fed GM potatoes showed excessive cell growth, a condition that may lead to cancer.
- Studies showed organ lesions, altered liver and pancreas cells, changed enzyme levels, etc.
How can we spot these GMO foods?
A rumor that is circulating the internet states that you'll be able to spot a GMO produce item by it's PLU number. This is false. Stating that a PLU that starts with an "8" is GMO ridden would be awesome except the problem is that most companies do not label with an “8″ Why? Because they know that consumers won’t buy GM foods if they are properly labeled, and so far there is nothing that is making them do that.
As Jeffery Smith (seen HERE on Dr. Oz) says, “Those that run PLU-universe figured that someday some retailer might want to distinguish between a GMO and a non-GMO for price or inventory purposes. So they created a convention of 5 digits starting with an 8, just in case it catches on. But it hasn’t. No one uses that number 8 as far as we can tell. And why would they? Most Americans say they would avoid GMOs if they were labeled.” Just take Monsanto executives quote, “If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.”
Ugh, so where does that leave us?
Knowledge is power. Some websites that keep me and my family on the up and up are:
- Non-GMO Project HERE
- Organic Consumers Association HERE
- Institute for Responsible Technology HERE
- Dr. Mercola HERE (we love thier newsletter)
- Healthy Child, Healthy World HERE
How to know if it's non-GMO?
There are databases galore, print outs about and hundreds of websites that highlight what brands are non-GMO. No really, just google 'non-GMO directory' or 'non-GMO brands.'
HERE's an awesome database that we love to check out for our packaged/processed brands. Be in the know about what you're purchasing.
Also, numerous brands are starting to 'brand' their packaging with the image above, stating they are non-GMO. Support those brands if this is something that is important to you and your family.
Other ways to avoid GMOs:
- Buy whole foods - favor foods that you can cook and prepare yourself, rather than foods that are processed or prepared.
- Grow your own food - this way you know exactly what was grown, and what went into growing it.
- Shop locally - although more than half of all GM foods are produced in the US, most of it comes from large, industrial farms. By shopping at farmers markets, signing up for a subscription from a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, or patronizing a local co-op, you may be able to avoid GM products and possibly save money at the same time.
- Be a label lover - seek products that are specifically labeled as non-GM or GMO-free.
- Purchase beef that is 100% grass-fed - most cattle in the U.S. are grass-fed, but spend the last portion of their lives in feedlots where they may be given GM corn, the purpose of which is to increase intramuscular fat and marbling. If you're looking to stay away from GMOs, make sure the cattle were 100% grass-fed or pasture-fed
- Buy food labeled 100% organic - the US and Canadian governments do not allow manufacturers to label something 100% organic if that food has been genetically modified or been fed genetically modified feed. However, you may find that organic food is more expensive and different in appearance from conventional products. Also, just because something says "organic" on it does not mean that it does not contain GMs. In fact, it can still contain up to 30% GMs, so be sure the labels say 100% organic.
- Become familiar with the most common applications of genetic modification. HERE's a list of the products (and their derivatives) that are most likely to be genetically modified. (source)