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Understanding GMO’s and Why You Should Care

Genetically modified or engineered food (GM or GMO) has become a hot topic of conversation over the last couple of years. Over the last year, there has been a huge push for the FDA to require food labels on any product containing genetically modified ingredients. As a matter of fact, March 27, 2012 marked the record-breaking one million signatures in favor of GE labeling, which is more signatures than any other food petition previously submitted to the FDA. More than 40 countries worldwide, including all of Europe, already have GE labeling. You have probably seen an article or news program on the issue recently, but you may not understand what all the fuss is about.

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Most people don’t understand that GMO food products are big money. Over the last 10 years, the agriculture biotech industry has spent over a half billion dollars in lobbying to make sure the consumer is kept in the dark.

GE crops became commercially available in the United States in 1996 and currently constitute the vast majority of corn, cotton and soybean crops grown in the country. More recently, biotechnology firms have developed genetically engineered animals, including food animals like hogs and salmon. Today, some estimates indicate over 90% of all soy and corn grown in the U.S. is done with genetically modified seeds.

So what does GMO really mean?

GMO stands for genetically modified organism, which refers to any food product that has been altered at the gene level. Genetically modified foods are also frequently described as genetically engineered, genetically altered or genetically manipulated. For hundreds of years farmers crossbred their plants, but crossbreeding is far different than the process GMO crops undergo. Essentially in GMO, crop genes are turned on/off, removed or altered, in an attempt to make the plant more resistant to pests or chemicals used during the pesticide spraying process. The main concern when it comes to consumer health is that scientists are unsure of how these genetic changes will affect our short- or long-term health.

We are barely scratching the surface when it comes to understanding how agriculture genetics work and how they affect humans. We are just beginning to understand that our DNA can be damaged or made healthy by what we consume in the form of food. It was once thought your DNA was static (it didn’t change), but we now understand that it can be greatly affected by environmental factors, as well as by what we eat.

Why are GMO foods considered detrimental to your health?

Research and the effects of GMO products on health is where the meat of the controversy lies. There is now a large amount of evidence that toxins in certain GMO foods may trigger inflammatory responses, food allergies, and cause infertility. An example is tomatoes that are spliced with a fish gene in order to make the tomato frost-resistant. The result is people with fish allergies could have a reaction to the tomato or even die.

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Recent animal studies showed genetically modified foods caused the following detrimental health consequences:

  • Lung damage
  • Immune response
  • Lower birth rates
  • Higher mortality rates of offspring
  • Inability to reproduce

In addition, researchers linked glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer) to Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS), a serious plant disease, in many fields around the world. Numerous studies have shown that glyphosate contributes not only to the huge increase in SDS, but also to the outbreak of some 40 different plant and crop diseases. Glyphosate weakens plants and promotes disease in a number of ways, including the following:

  • Acting as a chelator of vital nutrients, depriving plants of the nutrients necessary for healthy plant function
  • Destroying beneficial soil organisms that suppress disease-causing organisms and help plants absorb nutrients
  • Interfering with photosynthesis, reducing water use efficiency, shortening root systems and causing plants to release sugars, which changes soil pH
  • Stunting and weakening plant growth

Do GMO crops have any benefits?

Supporters of GMO food believe that this technology makes it possible to produce enough food for everyone to have enough to eat. This is accomplished mainly by making sturdier and more pest-resistant crops. Agriculture biotech companies also promised drought-resistant and high yielding, genetically engineered seed, but that has yet to come to fruition.

Unfortunately, the agriculture biotech companies who create these products almost always write or back up all the positive research surrounding the benefits of GM crops. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house!

We have already mentioned the possible health problems associated with GM crops and products, but GM products also cause environmental problems. Instead of creating crops resistant to weeds, which is one of the biggest benefit claims made by the agriculture biotech industry, the opposite is created; a new breed of super weeds that is immune to the herbicides used for weed control. Instead of using less herbicide, farmers now use more and more herbicide to battle these super weeds. Not only does this cause the foods we eat to contain higher levels of these chemicals, but those chemicals also seep into the soil and ground water.

Studies also find that instead of producing more crops using GM seeds, farmers’ production is actually going down, especially when compared to farmers using poly-culture and sustainable farming techniques. Not only are the GM farmers doing far more harm to the earth than their small sustainable farmer brethren, but they also have lower output and higher cost to raise their crops and animals.

Are your favorite foods contaminated with GMOs?

In 2011 the Cornucopia Institute tested several “natural” labeled products, and the results were startling! They found numerous “natural” products, such as the ones listed below, contained high levels of GE ingredients, sometimes as high as 100%:

Kashi® GoLean®,

Mother’s® Bumpers®,

Nutritious

Living® Hi-Lo®,

General Mills Kix®

For non-organic, “natural” products making “non-GMO” claims, results showed that these claims can not always be trusted.

Barbara’s Bakery® Puffins® and Whole Foods’ 365® Corn Flakes, which are both enrolled in the Non-GMO Project, contained more than 50% GE corn.

This is why I always tell people to remove cereals and breakfast bars from their diet; they are also filled with sugar, chemicals, and processed white flour. I explore this topic in much more detail in my books and writings.

How to Avoid GMO Products

As we can see, product labels can be very misleading and confusing when it comes to choosing GMO-free items. So what to do? The easiest way to avoid GM products is to purchase items with the 100% USDA Organic sticker on the label. Federal law requires that organic food products be produced, promoting ecological sustainability, without the toxic inputs and genetically engineered ingredients common in the conventional food system. One of the best ways to get GM-free fruits and vegetables is to belong to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group or buy your food from a local farmer or Farmer’s Market. Of course you have to do your research when buying from a local farmer or Farmer’s Market to make sure they follow the proper organic practices you are looking for.

Remember vitamins and supplements can also contain GM ingredients, so you will have to pay attention in this area if you use these products. 

Hopefully you will now have some better tools to recognize GM foods and products. Always pay attention to the labels, as they are confusing for a reason: to make it harder for you to decipher a good product from bad product. Better yet get to know your local farmer or grow your own food, as that way you are guaranteed to get the best quality food possible.

Sources:

Baginski, Caren. “1 Million Americans tell FDA to label genetically engineered food.” Newhope360. 27 March 2012. Web. 29 March 2012.

Cornucopia Institute. “Cereal Crimes: How “Natural” Claims Deceive Consumers and Undermine the Organic Label – A Look Down the Cereal and Granola Aisle.” Cornucopia Institute Report (October 2011).

Food and Water Watch. “Genetically Engineered Food: An Overview.” Foodandwaterwatch. 29 SEPT 2011. Web. 29 March 2011.

Mercola, Joseph. “Take Heed – Nearly Every Processed Food You Eat is Contaminated with the Material.” Mercola. 29 NOV 2011. Web. 29 MARCH 2012.

Mercola, Joseph. “This Food Knowingly Causes Cancer in Rats – Are You Eating it?” Mercola. 5 OCT 2011. Web. 29 MARCH 2012.

Ronald, Pamela. “Genetically Engineered Crops – What, How and Why.” Scientificamerican. 11 AUG 2011. Web. 29 MARCH 2012.

About Gary Collins, MS

Profile photo of Gary Collins, MS
Gary Collins’ background is very unique and brings a much-needed perspective to today’s fields of both health and nutrition. He holds an AS degree in Exercise Science, BS in Criminal Justice and a MS in Forensic Science. After an exciting career in military intelligence Collins worked for the U.S. State Department, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a Special Agent. His career took him around the world and gave him a unique perspective on not only how the United States, but the world is affected by our food, drug and healthcare policies. Gary is the creator of the Primal Power Method www.primalpowermethod.com, which is where he sells his educational books on the Primal and Paleo lifestyle and related health products.

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5 comments

  1. Even if the GM food itself is harmless, people often don’t realize the real danger: most GM crops are modified in order to be covered in chemicals designed to kill things. And then we eat it

  2. not a complaint per say.. but your header image implies if it ain’t organic it is gmo which isn’t true.

    Also interesting choice of tomatoes, since there are no commercially available GMO tomatoes.

    • Hey Nick,

      Oh when it comes to pictures they do say a 1,000 words, sometimes all at once and differently for everyone. In our food system today we get fruits and vegetables from all over the world, so you truly never know what you are getting that is why I’m a big fan from only buying from a farmer you trust and this is what I always teach. It is better for you, the farmer and the local economy.

      You are correct no GMO tomatoes are grown commercially in the US at this moment. That is where it truly gets tricky. What are the odds we are getting GMO products, to include tomatoes imported from countries like China that are not labeled as such? I would say very high. Just because we are not ourselves growing them doesn’t mean we are not getting on the import side without our knowledge.

      I think that picture more represent what went wrong when they did try to bring a GMO tomato to market that slowed down the ripening process, but soon turned to mush and in studies killed animals when fed to them.

  3. Gary, we are on the same page. Not trying to argue semantics.. was just pointing out that the photo sort of funnels people into the Organic or GMO paradigm. I call this “grocery store addiction”

    If we didn’t have your article to back it up I would think it is was promoting the same old tired buy organic food for lots of money at the grocery store argument.

    As you pointed out you really do have to take an active roll in figuring out where this stuff is sourced from and organic food doesn’t get a free pass. Just lift the lid on organic food and you can find some scary stuff like Horizon Organic Milk made by Dean Co. which is one of the worst run dairies in the nation.

    Know your farmer know your food.

    • Heck no, didn’t take it as such Nick, you were dead on with your analysis. If anything you brought to light just how tricky it is in today’s grocery stores. I’m very fortunate the store I go to just so happens to carry mostly the organic fruits and vegetables from a local farm that I know well, which I have belonged to their CSA in the past. But that is not the rule for most, and I truly understand your concerns about USDA Organic products, there are a lot of loopholes in how those labeled products are grown.

      We are a different breed on sites like this, but I think people are starting to get the message. We just need to do our best to educate and come together as a community, as that is the only real way change will occur.

      Keep up the good fight!

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