What You Need to Know About GMOs
Voters in California will soon decide if labeling genetically modified foods (GMOs) should become law. The result could have a huge impact on labeling in the U.S. food supply. Proposition 37 would require processed food products containing GMOs, to include the words "Partially produced with genetic engineering" on either the front or back label. Currently in America, there is no labeling requirement so you may not be aware how much of your diet is a product of modern science. Here's what you need to know about GMO's.
Genetically modified foods have had their DNA manipulated to include genes from another species of plants, animals, bacteria, or virus to alter the foods’ natural abilities. Some foods are changed to make them look better, more nutritious, or more flavorful. Foods are also altered to resist the cold, eliminate plant diseases, and tolerate certain herbicides and pesticides. The result of genetically-engineered foods on the whole is an improved yield that’s easier to store, ship, and sell. About 70 to 80% of processed foods in the U.S. particularly those that include corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and cotton oil, contain GMOs.
The History of Genetically Modified Foods in the US
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), GMOs were introduced to crops in the U.S. in 1996. Since then, they have literally taken over farms across America. In 2012, the USDA reports the percentage of all genetically-engineered crops planted stand at 93% of soybeans, 94% of cotton, and 88% of corn. Other common genetically-engineered crops include alfalfa, canola, papaya, sugar beets, and zucchini. Smaller percentages of strawberries, tomatoes, squash, cantaloupes, and potatoes are also available in grocery stores in the US and many more crops are in development. Around the world, many countries have banned or restricted the use of GMOs in their food supply.
Effects on Health
So what does the prevalence of these foods mean for our health and the environment? There have been no human trials to identify health effects of GMOs short or long-term, however multiple animal trials show a disturbing trend. A recent study in Food and Chemical Toxicology showed rats subjected to genetically-engineered corn over a 2-year period resulted in premature death and a higher incidence of liver and kidney damage. Other reports point to the risk of allergic reactions when genes from known food allergens, such as peanuts, are transferred to otherwise hypo-allergenic foods. From an environmental standpoint, the long term effects of GMOs on the natural ecosystem are difficult to predict, but they can potentially present risks to other animals and plants from unintentional cross-contamination.
How to Lower your GMO Intake
Even though they're unlabeled, if you want to lower your intake of genetically-engineered foods in your diet, there are steps you can take. Go for 100% certified organic foods since those regulations prohibit GMOs. Foods labeled as “organic” may have less genetically engineered ingredients, as they require at least 95% of the ingredients be organic as well. Lowering your intake of processed and pre-packaged foods is another way to leave GMOs on the shelf. In terms of meat, you might go for wild-caught seafood, or go for organic or grass-fed and pasture-raised meat. This will cut down on meat that has been fed genetically-modified corn and soybean products. Lastly, buying local from farmers’ markets, co-ops, or directly from small farms may also mean less genetically-engineered foods as large food manufacturers are the primary customers of companies that specialize in genetically modified crops.
For more information on how to lower your GMO intake, check out the Non-GMO Shopping Guide provided by the non-profit group, The Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT).
Addendum: This article is not attempting to take a stance on whether or not to ban GMOs and I apologize if any information was misleading. Whether or not you seek out non-GMO products is a completely personal choice like everything else when it comes to nutrition. We also acknowledge that more research needs to be conducted on the topic.
Have you taken steps to reduce your intake of GMOs? Why or why not?