Genetically Modified Organisms “GMO” and What You Need To Know

Another frequently asked question I get asked is, “What are GMOs?” I talk about them a lot because they’re foods that should be avoided. GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” 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 problem with GMOs are:

  • They cross pollinate with non-GMO plants and through cross pollination, they contaminate organic plants. 
  • Some studies have shown that animals fed a GMO diet suffer from organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. Human studies show how genetically modified (GM) food can leave material behind inside us, possibly causing long-term problems 
  • Numerous health problems increased after GMOs were introduced in 1996. The percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% to 13% in just 9 years; food allergies skyrocketed, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems, and others are on the rise. Although there is not sufficient research to confirm that GMOs are a contributing factor, doctors groups such as the AAEM tell us not to wait before we start protecting ourselves, and especially our children who are most at risk.
  • GMO contamination has also caused economic losses for organic and non-GMO farmers who often struggle to keep their crops pure.
  • Most GMO crops are engineered to be “herbicide tolerant”. Monsanto, sells Roundup Ready crops, designed to survive applications of their Roundup herbicide. Between 1996 and 2008, US farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide on GMOs. Overuse of Roundup results in “superweeds,” resistant to the herbicide. This is causing farmers to use even more toxic herbicides every year. Not only does this create environmental harm, GMO foods contain higher residues of toxic herbicides. Roundup, for example, is linked with sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancer.
  • GMO crops and their herbicides can harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems, and soil organisms. They reduce bio-diversity, pollute water resources, and are unsustainable. GMO crops are eliminating habitats for monarch butterflies, whose populations are down 50% in the US. Roundup herbicide has been shown to cause birth defects in amphibians, embryonic deaths and endocrine disruptions, and organ damage in animals even at very low doses. GMO canola has been found growing wild in North Dakota and California, threatening to pass on its herbicide tolerant genes on to weeds.
  • Whereas sustainable non-GMO agricultural methods used in developing countries have conclusively resulted in yield increases of 79% and higher, GMOs do not, on average, increase yields at all. This was evident in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2009 report Failure to Yield―the definitive study to date on GM crops and yield. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, authored by more than 400 scientists and backed by 58 governments, stated that GM crop yields were “highly variable” and in some cases, “yields declined.” The report noted, “Assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable.” They determined that the current GMOs have nothing to offer the goals of reducing hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods, and facilitating social and environmental sustainability.
  • On the contrary, GMOs divert money and resources that would otherwise be spent on more safe, reliable, and appropriate technologies.

These are just a few concerns. Please research this on your own to learn more. It’s such an extensive subject I can’t cover it all. 

How do I avoid genetically modified foods?

The best thing for your family’s health and for the environment is to avoid GMOs. By not supporting companies that use GMOs, you can show them with your dollars (the most effective way) that you don’t want them in your food supply. 

  • There is an organization called the “NON-GMO Project”, companies that are members proudly display a label on their products so you know they’re GMO-free. 
  • Buy organic products, organic products are not allowed to intentionally put GMO ingredients into the food. If it’s also NON-GMO Project verified, you can be extra sure it’s safe.
  • When buying produce, read stickers. If it starts with a 4, that means it’s conventionally grown (it still has pesticides so wash it really well, but it’s not GMO) or better yet buy produce that has a serial number that starts with a 9 (organic)
  • If no labels say it’s GMO free, then most likely it is. Don’t buy anything that doesn’t say it’s Non-GMO and has these ingredients in it, if they do you’re at a very high risk for buying something with GMOs: Corn, Soybeans, Canola oil, Cottonseed, Sugar Beets, Hawaiian Papaya (most) and a small amount of Zucchini and Yellow Squash. Sugar If a non-organic product made in North American lists “sugar” as an ingredient (and NOT pure cane sugar), then it is almost certainly a combination of sugar from both sugar cane and GM sugar beets. Dairy Products may be from cows injected with GM bovine growth hormone and fed a GMO diet. Look for labels stating No rBGH, rBST, or artificial hormones. Also, avoid non-organic or non-grass fed animals if you’re not vegetarian or vegan. They are fed GMO soy beans and it’s in their meat. 
  • Get the ShopNoGMO app on your phone, it has a guide of safe brands to buy that you can have on hand while at the grocery store. It’s free in the App Store.