GMOs are not widely understood by most consumers, but when polled by the Pew Research Center, 49% of Americans believe that foods with genetically modified ingredients are worse for their health. So, what exactly are GMOs, and are they dangerous? The short answer is maybe, but should you avoid them? Absolutely.
GMO, stands for Genetically-Modified Organism. According to the WHO, or World Health Organization, it’s a plant, animal, or microorganisms “in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. The technology is often called ‘modern biotechnology’ or ‘gene technology’, sometimes also ‘recombinant DNA technology’ or ‘genetic engineering.”
The Why & When:
Scientists first started experimenting with GMOs to increase the commercial success of crops. The first GMO was produced in 1983 in the form of an antibiotic-resistant tobacco plant, and the first GMO hit the markets in 1994. GMOs are modified for a number of reasons—for lengthening shelf-life, building antibiotic and virus resistance, and herbicide tolerance. In fact, today, according to the Non-GMO Project, engineering for herbicide tolerance makes up “more than 80% of all genetically modified crops grown worldwide.”
Where They’re Used:
The biggest commercial crops—like corn, soy, canola, and the sugar beet—produced in the U.S. are the ones where you find the most genetic modification. The implications of that? Most processed and packaged foods contain those ingredients, so unless your product is certified as GMO-free, it’s quite likely that it contains them.
Why To Avoid Them:
The reasons to avoid GMOs far surpass health concerns. At the moment, perhaps because GMOs have only been on the market for just over 25 years, officially there is “no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs” (Non-GMO Project).
- Toxic Herbicides
- Given that 80% of GMOs are developed to increase herbicide tolerance, the use of Round-Up® has “increased by fifteenfold”
- (and Round-Up® has been deemed likely carcinogenic by the WHO). In addition, the long-term environmental impact of these herbicide-tolerant crops and the increased use of herbicides have provoked a response from Nature, with the emergence of resistant “super-weeds.”
- Small Farmers
- GMOs are considered proprietary and patented property, so the large corporations who own them have the power to sue farmers whose fields test positive for their GMO. This has led to small farmers with adjacent fields being sued or run out of business because of simple pollen drift from the GMO-containing field next to theirs.
- Environmental Implications
- Many of us are familiar with the environmental risks (and sometimes devastations) that an invasive species can reek on an unadapted environment. With completely new organisms being introduced into the environment in the form of GMOs, we have no ecological, biological, or genetic basis by which to understand how far reaching the impacts could be.
How To Avoid Them:
Sixty-four countries around the world currently require full-disclosure for the use of GMOs. Unfortunately, neither the U.S. nor Canada are on that list. But those of us in North America have some excellent organizations that do independent, trusted certification.
Here’s What to Buy:
- 1. USDA Certified Organic
To earn an organic certification, you cannot use any GMOs.
- 2. Non-GMO Project Verified
This organization is the largest and most trusted GMO-free certifier in North America.
- 3. Natural Food Certifiers
Although they began their company as a certifier for Kosher foods in 1997, they are recent participants in GMO certification, launching their “GMO Guard” seal in 2013.
- 4. Oregon Tilth Certification
Oregon Tilth began as an idea in 1974 for improving agricultural and sustainability practices. Today, they serve as a trusted organization that rigorously assesses produce and livestock for organic certification.
(And if it’s organic, it’s GMO-free!)
Part of our most important commitment to our customers is our diligence in continuing research and education about the products we stock. We feel very strongly about avoiding GMOs and encourage our customers to do the same. For an in-depth, trustworthy read on GMOs, we recommend reading, GMO Myths and Truths.
And for an additional source of information on GMOs, we recommend SynBioWatch at www.synbiowatch.org.
Pew Research Center Study: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/11/19/americans-are-narrowly-divided-over-health-effects-of-genetically-modified-foods/
What is a GMO: Non GMO-Project