GMOs have been a hot topic lately. When our grandparents and great-grandparents were growing up, there was just food. There was no need to label produce as organic or non-organic. Eventually, organic became necessary to distinguish between crops that started being sprayed with pesticides. Now, in addition to organic and non-organic foods, we have a new concern on the rise: Genetically Modified Organisms. Many have taken a firm stance against them, confident that they have no place in our food supply. Others are either not convinced or are unsure about their impact.
To illustrate what GMOs are and their potential effects, I have defined key terms and answered some of the most frequently asked questions by those on the fence or trying to better understand GMOs.
GMOs refer to a Genetically Modified Organisms.
GM refers to Genetically Modified.
GE refers to Genetically Engineered. The genetic material of a genetically modified organism is altered by genetic engineering practices.
Monsanto is a Fortune 500 company and multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation that produces GM seeds and glyphosate, the herbicide marketed under the name Roundup.
Proposition 37 was a 2012 proposition in California that, if passed, would have required labeling of GM foods. Companies that benefit from Monsanto’s GM seeds paid millions of dollars to prevent the proposition from passing. Some of these infamous companies were Pepsi, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Kellog’s, General Mills, Heinz, & ConAgra. Unfortunately, the proposition was defeated. Other states are now pursuing – and pressing for – GMO labeling.
What are GMOs?
GMOs are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses, or other plants and animals. Pretty much all GMOs are designed to do one or both of the following:
- resist the direct treatment of herbicides
- produce an insecticide
As of now, the US Government does not require GMOs to be labeled, leaving consumers unaware of whether or not their food contains these potentially harmful substances.
Haven’t farmers been using GMOs for thousands of years?
No. Farmers have not been using GMOs for thousands of years. GMOs were first introduced in the 1990s. What farmers have being doing for thousands of years is selectively breeding through the practice of hybridization by way of cross-pollination.
Why were GMOs created?
According to Monsanto’s website, Monsanto believes that by using their genetically engineered seeds and chemicals, it is helping farmers to feed the growing global population using fewer resources. To date, there is no substantial evidence to prove that GMOs have been substantially beneficial.
How do GMOs infringe on non-GMO farmers’ rights?
Many non-GMO farmers have suffered the loss of their farming rights because of GM crops. When GM crops are growing, there is a high chance of contamination among neighboring crops through insect pollination or wind – circumstances beyond anyone’s control. When this drift happens – with or without the non-GMO farmers’ knowledge – they risk being sued by Monsanto. That’s right. Because of natural behavior, Monsanto bullies these non-GMO farmers by filing suit against them for stolen “intellectual property.” Not only that, but organic farmers must then take a loss on their GM-tainted crops that they can no longer sell as organic.
How do GMOs impact the environment?
When insect pollination and wind cause drift, the chemicals from the GM crops are spread into the wild population altering the ecosystem and destroying biodiversity. We now have more toxic chemicals in our environment and food supply than ever before and are losing beneficial insects like bees, which are crucial to the survival of healthy crops. In fact, we are currently experiencing Colony Collapse Disorder in which worker bees are suddenly disappearing at alarming rates.
How do GMOs impact animal health?
Exposure to GMOs in animals have been linked to the following health issues:
- accelerated aging
- allergic reactions
- liver, kidneys, pancreas, spleen, & gastrointestinal dysfunction
- antibiotic resistance
- interference with insulin regulation
How do GMOs impact human health?
In May 2011 Reproductive Toxicology reported the detection of GMO toxic substances in women and their unborn babies. Aside from this study, there are very limited clinical studies done on humans and GMOs. The vast majority of assurance we have of GMO safety comes from Monsanto itself. Definitely not reliable! A lot of money has been thrown at ensuring that extensive clinical research has not been carried out. GMOs are also relatively new to our food supply, making it difficult to gauge complete accuracy in any findings. This scant amount of evidence makes it impossible for the government to make recommendations against GMOs. That said, many other countries have decided that GMOs are not safe and have either banned them entirely or have implemented strict labeling policies. Some countries have also begun to reject imports of crops from the US in which GMOs are suspected.
Concerns that are rising about GMO exposure are the same effects that have been identified in animal studies. There is also speculation that GMOs are linked to the rise in certain cancers, food allergies, and fertility issues over the past several years. Of course without clinical studies, there is no concrete evidence. It is up to the consumers – you –to decide if consuming GMOs is worth the risk.
What are the top GM foods?
GMOs can be found in a vast majority of foods. While not limited to the list below, these are most likely to contain GMOs:
* denotes that 85-95% of the supply grown in North America is GM.
- sugar beets *
- corn *
- soybeans *
- canola/rapeseed *
- cotton *
- Hawaiian papaya*
- animal feed – this means that animals who ingest animal feed (i.e. corn and soy that is GM) will yield meat, dairy, and eggs that are GM.
GMOs are also accounted for in 80% of conventionally processed and packaged foods. This is because many sweeteners, enzymes, additives, flavorings, and even vitamins are commonly found to contain a form of GMOs.
What’s the bottom line?
Monsanto is a multi-million dollar company that will use its power to persuade the masses into believing all the good GM crops will do for the world. We do not have enough evidence to prove that GMOs are safe for our health, and most of the evidence we do have indicates that GMOs will destroy our health, the environment, and make it virtually impossible for organic farmers to survive.
Let me leave you with these questions:
If GMOs are as safe as Monsanto is leading us to believe…
Why did so many giant corporations whose products contain GMOs pay millions in order to ensure that Proposition 37 would NOT be passed?
Why won’t the government – at the very least – mandate that our food be labeled so that consumers may make informed choices about the foods we buy and choose to put into our bodies?
Why have many countries outside of the U.S. banned the use of GMOs or implemented strong policies in regard to labeling? And why have some countries begun to ban imports of US crops that are suspicious of containing GMOs?
Do you like the idea of being a guinea pig? Of putting something into your body that has so many potential dangers? That has been deemed safe by the manufacturer who is prohibiting extensive research to be done?
For a complete list of companies pledging not to use GMOs in their products, click here.
Aris A. & Leblanc S. “Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada.,” Reproductive Toxicology (2011): 528-33.
Behrokh Mohajer Maghari and Ali M. Ardekani, “Genetically Modified Foods and Social Concerns,” Avicenna Journal of Medical Biotechnology (2011): 109-117.
Foulk, Kayla, “Identifying the Role of Glyphosate-Containing Herbicides on Honeybee Mortality Rates and Colony Collapse Disorder,” (2008/2009). (link)
GMO Awareness, GMO Defined, July 2013. (link)
Main, Emily, Organic vs. Monsanto: Farmers Get Their Day in Court, July 2013. (link)
© 2013 Marisa L. Ware
This article was also shared on Sunday School Blog Carnival, Natural Living Monday, Traditional Tuesdays, Tuned-In Tuesday, Well Fed Wednesday, Party Wave Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, & Thank Your Body Thursday.