A lot of my friends seem to be not that bothered about GMOs. I mean, they’ll agree they’re not good and will tsk vaguely about bees dying or something, but for the most part, they seem to confuse genetic modification with cross-breeding (i.e. modern cross-bred grains) and they don’t go to any particular lengths to make sure the food they’re buying doesn’t contain GMOs. Mostly they’ll just look at me like I’m a lovable hippy, a luddite or I’m about to author a book on how GMOs are linked to the FBI, JFK and the moon landings or something. But gradually people are starting to realise that concern about GMOs is not about rejecting science and the modern world and its not about conspiracy theories. Many modern scientific discoveries have turned out to be wonderful (IVF, insulin and the mapping of the human genome and epigenome)…so it was bound that some discoveries would go equally wrong. I am not a scientist, but I thought it might be helpful to share a quick rundown on the basics of what I know about genetically modified foods and why I choose to exclude them from my family’s diet.
What are GMOs?
Well, to start with, GMOs are Genetically Modified Organisms. They are created in a laboratory by the artificial manipulation (gene splicing) of the genetic material of living organisms to create unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes. Sometimes they’re marketed to the public as being a ‘good thing’ for the world and the beginning of the end of world hunger because they promise drought resistant crops and increased nutritional values. However, in reality, GMOs are both anecdotally and evidentially responsible for health problems, environmental damage and violations of the rights of both farmers and consumers.
But they’re safe, right? I heard there were studies that proved they were safe.
Well, there have been studies conducted in the US testing the safety of GMOs…oddly enough, conducted by the same biotech corporations that originally developed the research and continue to profit from the sales of the same products. It speaks strongly that more than 60 countries around the world, including all the countries in the EU, have significantly restricted or banned the production and/or sales of GMOs. In contrast to that, in the US, GMOs are in around 80% of conventional processed foods…but considering American foods are shipped all around the globe, that means you really have to think about the foods you’re buying. If you’re just starting out, the foods which are most likely to be genetically modified are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soya, sugar beets and zucchini. These are the foods which are between 88-99% GMO in the US and are therefore are easy ones to try to avoid when you’re out shopping. Not easy when you have to remember to check for soy lecithin, a common emulsifier (think nearly every chocolate on the market), cornstarch, corn oil and high fructose corn syrup (again, its in so many processed foods) and canola and cottonseed oils (sometimes labelled very vaguely and they can be sneakily added in very small quantities into healthy foods like dried fruits which are packed with a little bit of oil).
Are you crazy? Are you saying I can never eat corn or soya again?
You can, of course, eat what you want. But if you choose not to consume or support genetically modified foods, just make sure that when you’re buying foods that contain the main offenders listed above, that you buy the organic versions. Certified organic foods cannot be genetically modified. Some US and Canadian certification labels allow for a very small margin of cross contamination these days. For that reason, some organic food companies have chosen to boycott the organic certification labels and can no longer label their foods organic. So if there’s a food you like and its not labelled organic – go to the producer’s website and check out their ethos or call up the company. Very often you will find out about the company’s stance on GMOs in their FAQs and I have been surprised at some of the brands I like (Genius – in the UK – and Linda McCartney to name a couple) which are GMO free.
OK, but if these foods have been designed to be more resilient, then at least there will be less need for pesticides, right?
Again…no. The toxicity of herbicides such as Roundup has been increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. The companies developing the GMOs are also the ones who are developing and selling agricultural chemicals. I’ll leave it to you to do the math. In fact, one of the reasons that organic plants are better for you is because they are forced to be ‘tougher’ and not mollycoddled with pesticides. Studies have consistently shown that while organic plants are not necessarily better than non-organic plants in terms of their micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), there is a significant increase in the amount of phytochemicals in organic plants. Phytochemicals are the compounds that give vegetables and fruits their natural properties which we benefit from when we eat the plants – such as being anti-inflammatory or anti-cancer.
Why do you eat GMO-free?
Well, I hope I eat GMO free anyway. There is always the risk of some cross-contamination in some crop which becomes an ingredient in a food I eat and glyphosates (the key ingredient of Roundup) have made their way into the water supplies of many areas. And when you eat in restaurants, there’s no way of knowing unless they promote that they are GMO-free (like Chipotle). But I’m pretty darn vigilant for the sake of me and my family because: 1 – I don’t want my baby girl consuming the ever-toxic pesticides which cover both these and non-GMO conventional crops. 2 – I don’t like the dirty behaviour of those who hold the patents on GMO crops. Through the use of their vast budgets and political influence, they are allowed to sue farmers whose fields have become contaminated with GMO crops when drifting from neighbouring fields. 3 – And ultimately the long term health and environmental impact of GMOs are an unknown factor. But if the short term impacts are anything to go by (a sharp increase of inflammatory gut conditions and autoimmune disorders of near pandemic proportions), I’ll pass on finding out the long term impacts, thank you. Maybe this will be helpful to some of you who have seen the anti-GMO bandwagon passing by and have had no clue why to jump on it. Maybe you’re already on the bandwagon but have no clue why. Or maybe this is all new to you. I’ve now shared what I know…let’s just hope ‘the man’ doesn’t come and get me now! 🙂