GMO 411

A genetically modified organism (GMO), also known as a “GM food” or a “bio-engineered food,” refers to when a plant or animal’s DNA is genetically altered in order to produce specific desirable traits.  Below, I offer an overview on GMOs, food sources and their potential side effects.  Additionally, I provide a review about a new GMO shopping guide app (iOS-compatible).

Basic overview

GMOs are created by a process called, Genetic Engineering (GE), also known as Genetic Modification (GM).  During the process, genes from animals and/or plants are inserted into other foods that don’t have a similar genetic code.  The genes can then express themselves in a couple of ways that are advantageous to the farmer.

According to the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), Genetic Modification is used to (1) enhance the ability of the plant to produce its own pesticide (this helps ward off insects) and, (2) to increase herbicide tolerance in crops, which helps farmers fight off weeds (better resistance to stress).

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there are some benefits to using GMOs.  For example, staple foods such as rice and wheat can become more nutritious by inserting genes into those crops.  Genes can also be inserting into cattle to raise their milk yield.(1)  These innovations have helped increase more food from less land.

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) reported that several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food.  Some of these health risks include infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.(2)  Still the U.S. allows products to contain GMOs versus Europe, who has banned GMO use since 1999.

Most common food sources

GM foods in the U.S. are derived from the following crops: soy (93%), cotton (93%), canola (90%), corn (87%), sugar beets (95%), Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%), zucchini and yellow squash (small amount), and tobacco (Quest brand).(3)

Other sources of GMOs are in dairy products from cows injected with rbGH.  It is in our food additives, flavorings and sweeteners (NutraSweet).  Any animal eating a GM feed will contain GMO strands.

Not many products in our marketplace can claim to be entirely free of GMOs, but Silk and other companies, including Whole Foods Market, are looking to make a difference and get as close as possible to being GMO-free.

My thoughts…

Organisms and plants have the DNA that makes them “prepared for anything,” as Barbara Kingsolver says. But we have not allowed our crops to fulfill this potential, what with our splicing of Bacillus thuringensis and contorted corncobs.

We’re used to hearing that the USDA approves rice with human genes, or that developing countries can’t sustain themselves, unless they rely upon biotechnology.  I think organizations are beginning to increase awareness, and I applaud that.  As well, apps like the below are coming out to help consumers make more educated choices.

Shopping guide app

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) is not required to label whether or not a food is free of GMOs.  Nonprofits have picked up the slack and so we see organizations like The Center for Food Safety defending the Non-GMO movement by producing useful information for consumers, including a new grocery store app (link), called True Food Shopping Guide.  It’s a free app that is iOS compatible.

I have not downloaded True Food myself, but have watched the Living Maxwell video about it.  It looks like a game-changing app for consumers.  I really like the idea that we can scan the bar-code of items in the grocery store and find out the ingredients and whether or not they are GMO, certified organic, etc.  The app even gives a telephone number to call and complain about the product if you think it contains too many harmful ingredients.

Helpful Links & Sources

(1) http://www.fao.org/english/newsroom/focus/2003/gmo7.htm

(2) http://www.responsibletechnology.org/take-action/action-tool-kit

(3) http://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-basics

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