I am completely aware of how crazy the food industry is and how practically impossible it can be to navigate your way through it! So, in case you have ever wondered what a GMO is….I’m here to help.
GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.” According to the Non-GMO Project, GMOs “are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.” The genetic engineering that happens in a lab could not happen in nature.
Why does genetic engineering even take place? There are a variety of reasons. Genetic engineering allows scientists to alter a food crop or farm animal so it can grown bigger and faster. The process may also allow a crop to be more resistant to weeds, bugs and disease. While this does allow for greater food production, the process has started to create additional issues. Now, because of genetic engineering, we are faced with “super weeds” and “super bugs” that are resistant to traditional pesticides, requiring the use of even more chemicals to fight them. It’s similar to the debate surrounding the use of hand sanitizer and the potential for the emergence of a “super bug” that is resistant to antibiotics.
Whether or not you need to be concerned about GMOs is still a grey area because the jury is still out as to whether or not consuming GMOs is harmful to humans. There is growing evidence that suggests GMOs are not as safe as the biotech companies claim them to be and many consumers are concerned about the long-term effects of GMOs due to the lack of testing. The majority of the testing that has been done to date has been conducted by the exact same companies that are producing GMOs, such as biotech giant Monsanto. Here in the United States, the FDA has approved GMOs for commercial production. However, the U.S. is one of the very few developed countries in the world who has not banned, severely restricted or at least required labeling of GMOs.
How common is it to find GMOs in our food supply? I have read that anywhere form 60%-80% of our conventional (non-organic) processed foods contain GMOs. GMOs are everywhere, and until further testing is done, you and your children are the guinea pigs.
Some examples of genetic modification:
- Strawberries or tomatoes are injected with fish genes to prevent the fruit from freezing, according to GMO Awareness.
- Dairy cows may be injected with genetically engineered growth hormones to increase milk production, according to GMO Awareness.
- Enviropig, AKA “Frankenswine.” Enviropig was genetically altered to better digest phosphorus, making their manure less harmful to marine life. Scientists added E. Coli bacteria and mouse DNA into a pig embryo to create this little creature. In case you’re wondering, all Enviropigs were euthonized in 2012 due to loss of funding.
So how can you avoid or reduce GMOs?
Look For The Non-GMO Project Label
This label is provided by the Non-GMO Project. The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. They offer North America’s only third party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and products.
Certified Organic foods cannot contain GMOs. In our house, there was a time when we did not buy organic boxed food items. However, we have since started buying organic regardless, simply because it ensures that we are not buying a genetically modified product. We often think of only buying organic produce to avoid pesticides and chemicals, but boxed food has a strong chance of being genetically modified.
Become Familiar With High-Risk GMO Crops
- Sugar Beets
- Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash
NOTE: Animal products, including honey, are high risk due to contamination in feed.
Keep in mind that boxed food items contain these ingredients. Companies are sneaky, so you have to be an avid label reader. As an example, to avoid GMO sugar, you also have to avoid genetically modified sugar beets. To do this, don’t buy a product where “sugar” is listed as an ingredient because it is most likely a combination of sugar from both sugar cane and GM sugar beets. Instead, it should read “pure sugar cane. ”Make sure the word cane is listed with sugar!
Many boxed items are corn based or contain soy, so be sure to read your labels!
My advice is to simply do your best based on the needs of your family and your budget. It is no secret that eating an organic and non-GMO diet is more expensive. Take inventory of the foods your family eats most, check the list to see which foods/ingredients are at the highest risk of being genetically modified, and start to make small changes based on your findings. Good luck!
Comment and tell me, do you avoid GMOs?