Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMO), in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur in nature.
GM foods were first put on the US market in the early 1990s. Nowadays, the US alone plants over 50% of the world’s GM crops, followed by Argentina and Brazil which take up another 30%.
The four most commonly found genetically modified (GM) crops in the US are:
- Soy (91% of all crops)
- Cotton (88%)
- Canola (88%)
- Corn (85%)
All these are common ingredients used in modern food manufacturing. Hence, if your diet consists of mainly processed foods, you will be eating about 75% GM foods.
So, are GM foods safe? According to the biotech industry and the US government, a GM food is deemed safe as long as its composition and nutritional characteristics are substantially equivalent to an existing food.
The truth is GM foods have never been properly tested for human consumption. Only feeding studies on animals have been done and the results have raised much alarm.
In the following, you will discover that there is much more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse effects on human health and the environment. Thus, unless you want to be a guinea pig in this “experiment”, you should really think twice before buying GM foods.
Why GM Foods Are Produced —
The initial objective for developing plants based on GM organisms was to improve crop yield. As the world population is expected to grow from the current 6.8 billion to reach 9 billion by 2040, GM food manufacturers argued that this is the way to ensure an adequate food supply for the booming population. GM crops promised to meet this need by being:
- Pest resistant
- Disease resistant
- Herbicide tolerant
- Cold tolerant
- Drought tolerant
- Salt tolerant
The largest share of GMO crops planted globally is owned by a US company called Monsanto, which is also the manufacturer of the world’s best selling herbicide called Roundup.
Monsanto produces these patented GMO seeds which are also Roundup-tolerant, known as Roundup Ready crops. Such crops allow farmers to use Roundup as a post-emergence herbicide against most weeds.
Current Roundup Ready crops grown in the US include soy, corn, canola, sugar beet, and cotton.
Is it safe to eat crops sprayed with Roundup? Monsanto claims so and it has consistently relied on industry-funded data to declare the safety of Roundup. However, objective research published in peer-reviewed journals tells another story.
- Various studies on rats and humans have challenged Roundup’s alleged safety, ranging from hormonal disruption, impairment of liver and kidney function, to genetic damage.
- Environmentalists claim that Roundup is toxic to beneficial soil organisms and harmful to birds and small mammals by damaging their food supplies and habitat.
- Studies show that farmers use multiple times more Roundup on Roundup Ready crops than conventional ones, resulting in an epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds and the use of even more toxic herbicides in developing countries, including those banned in the US and Europe.
Additionally, have you ever considered what may come to your health when you are eating a genetically engineered crop that has been made resistant to such a potentially toxic herbicide?
Lastly, the claim by the biotech industry that GM varieties of plants produce higher crop yields has not been substantiated. A 2009 report published by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) concludes that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has only increased US crop yields marginally and is unlikely to play a significant role in increasing food production in the foreseeable future.
Potential Dangers Of GM Foods —
The biotech industry says that millions have been eating GM foods without any ill effects. However, no one has ever monitored the human health aspects of GM foods. Besides, even if the foods were creating health problems, it may take decades before the cause can be identified.
A good example was the introduction of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (transfat) back in the 1960s. Manufacturers claimed that it was healthier than animal fats, and it took the US government decades to acknowledge that transfat was in fact, the culprit of an epidemic rise in heart disease, breast and prostate cancers in the US.
We are playing with technology that we do not fully understand. At this point, no one knows the full extent of what happens to the end product when you splice in new genes, and then eat that product for several generations. However, GM foods have already raised enough concern that they may be inherently unsafe for humans and the environment.
Allergies. Allergic reactions occur when the immune system interprets something as foreign, different, and offensive, and reacts accordingly. All GM foods, by definition, have something foreign and different. Soon after GM soy was introduced in the UK, soy allergies skyrocketed by 50% in a single year. Soy allergies in the US have also soared after GM soy came to the market.
Gene transfer. There is the possibility that genes from GM crops may transfer to the DNA of human gut bacteria. A particular concern is the antibiotic resistant genes used in creating GMOs. Scientists use them as marker genes to identify the genes that have been successfully altered. Eating GM foods with these marker genes may encourage gut bacteria to develop antiobiotic resistance. Further, this foreign DNA may continue to produce inside our body even after we stop eating GM food.
Animal studies. There is hardly any feeding study on humans but the ones on animals have resulted in potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers, and testicles, and higher death rates.
Environmental impact. Outcrossing is the movement of genes from GM plants into conventional crops and related species in the wild. Nobody knows about the longer-term ecological consequences of such unintended cross-pollination.
To date, there is no direct link between eating GM foods and health problems. However, there is enough circumstantial evidence to raise concern. Given a choice, do you still want to eat GM foods?
Ways To Avoid GM Foods —
There are 30 countries around the world including Japan, Australia, and the EU countries that require all food and animal feed products linked in any way to GM crops to be clearly labeled as “genetically modified”.
In the US and Canada, there are yet regulations stipulating the labeling of GM foods.
Therefore, as individual consumers, you need to send the message that you do not want GM foods by voting with your dollar and shopping only at stores that endorse non-GMO. Here are two grocery chains that have embraced this standard:
Trader Joe’s – all products in Trader Joe’s private label are sourced from non-GMO ingredients.
Whole Foods – the two house brands, 365 Every Day Value and Whole Foods Market, are non-GMO.
If you want to avoid GM foods:
- Buy organic
- Buy products that carry a “Non-GMO” label
- Avoid at-risk ingredients made from corn, soybeans, canola, and cottonseed, which are commonly used in processed foods.