There are plenty of reasons to avoid eating genetically modified (GM) foods. In fact, after reading just 10 pages or listening to an hour-long lecture about their health dangers, most people are ready to change their diet on the spot.
If genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not yet on your radar screen, go to www. GeneticRoulette.com for a full presentation. Here is a teaser of what you’ll find:
- The only human feeding study on GMOs ever conducted showed that genes “jumped” from GM soy into the DNA of human intestinal bacteria and continued to function. That means that long after you stop eating GM soy, you may still have GM proteins produced continuously inside of you. (What if the pesticide-producing “Bt” gene found in GM corn chips were also to jump? It might transform our intestinal flora into living pesticide factories—possibly for the long term.)
- Most offspring of mother rats fed GM soy died within three weeks (compared to a 10 percent death rate in the non-GM soy group). Similarly, when a lab switched to rat feed with GM soy, most of the offspring at the facility died within two weeks.
- Studies with mice also show reproductive problems. Mice fed GM soy had altered sperm cells and the DNA of their embryos acted differently.
- Hundreds of farm workers complain of allergic reactions when touching GM cotton.
- After sheep grazed on GM cotton plants after harvest, about one in four died; about 10,000 deaths in one region in India.
- Farmers on three continents say their livestock became sterile, sick or died, after eating GM corn varieties.
Could such unsafe food get past our Food and Drug Administration? It probably wouldn’t have, if the decision were in the hands of the scientists. Memos made public from a lawsuit reveal that the consensus among FDA scientists in the early 1990s was that GMOs were inherently unsafe and could lead to toxins, allergens, new diseases and nutritional problems. They urged their superiors to require long-term safety studies before any GM foods were allowed on the market. But the political appointee in charge of FDA policy was the former attorney of the biotech giant Monsanto and later the company’s vice president. The scientists’ warnings were ignored and today the FDA does not require a single safety study on GM foods.
The FDA is also the agency that decides whether or not GM foods need to be labeled. But the White House told the FDA to promote the biotech industry, so they nixed labels. Thus, our government ignores the desire of nine out of ten Americans who want the labels, to support the financial interests of five biotech seed companies. We’re on our own.
How to Make Safer Non-GM Choices
There are four major GM crops: soy, corn, cotton, and canola. The majority of acreage for each of these crops is genetically engineered. Herbicide-tolerant varieties of each have their DNA inserted with bacterial genes that allow the crops to survive otherwise deadly doses of herbicides. This gives farmers more flexibility in controlling weeds and gives the GM seed company lots more profit. When farmers buy GM seeds, they sign a contract to buy only that seed producer’s brand of herbicide. Herbicide tolerant crops comprise about 80 percent of all GM plants.
The other popular trait is found in corn and cotton varieties that are engineered to produce a pesticide in every cell. Their DNA contains a gene from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt, which produces a natural insect-killing poison called Bt-toxin.
In addition to these two major types of GM crops, there are also disease-resistant GM zucchini, crook neck squash and Hawaiian papaya, but these comprise well under 1 percent of GMO acreage. But if sugar beet growers have their way, they will add GM sugar to our diets starting in late 2008.
Here are four tips for avoiding GM products.
Buy organic. Organic standards do not allow the use of GM inputs.
There are three types of organic labels:
- “100% organic” means all ingredients are organic
- “Organic” means that at least 95% of the ingredients are organic. The other 5%, however, still have to be non-GMO
- “Made with organic (ingredient name, such as soy)” This label means that at least 70 percent of the ingredients are organic, but the remaining 30 percent still have to be non-GMO.
If the term organic is only in the list of ingredients and not found anywhere else on the package, then there is no required overall percentage for organic ingredients in the product, and any non-organic ingredient may be GMO.
Look for “Non-GMO” Labels. Companies may voluntarily label products as Non-GMO. Some labels state “Non-GMO” while others spell out “Made without genetically modified ingredients.” Some products limit their claim to only one particular “at-risk” ingredient such as soy lecithin, listing it as “Non-GMO.”
Avoid at-risk ingredients. The seven GM crops—soy, corn, cottonseed, canola, Hawaiian papaya, and a small amount of zucchini and yellow crook neck squash—look just like their non-GMO counterparts. You can’t see a difference by looking at them. (Novel products such as seedless water-melons, pear/apple combos and tangelos are products of natural breeding and are not genetically engineered.)
Most GM ingredients eaten by US consumers are in the form of products made from corn and soybeans, used in processed foods. Perhaps 90 percent of all non-organic processed foods contain at least some small contribution from soy or corn, or perhaps some cooking oil from cottonseed or canola. Go to www.responsibletechnology.org for a long list of derivatives. Shopping with that in your hand will help you navigate around the genetically modified organisms (GMOs). See the sidebar on page 72 for a small list.
Use Non-GMO Shopping Guides. The True Food Guide offers non-GMO brand choices at www.truefoodnow.org. The guide has also been reproduced as an insert in the back of the book, Your Right to Know by Andrew Kimbrell. The book is available at www.seedsofdeception.com.
Our Campaign for Healthier Eating in America will put out a more up-to-date series of free guides, beginning in the summer of 2008. Check www.responsibletechnology.org.
Other GMOs to Look Out For
- GMO sweetener aspartame. Aspartame is created in part by GM microorganisms. It is also referred to as NutraSweet and Equal and is found in over 6000 products, including soft drinks, gum, candy, desserts and mixes, yogurt, tabletop sweeteners, and some pharmaceuticals such as vitamins and sugar-free cough drops.
- Animal products: Meat, dairy products, farmed fish and eggs are usually from animals fed GM feed. To avoid them, buy “organic,” wild caught, or from “100 percent grass-fed” animals. Avoid dairy products from cows injected with GM bovine growth hormone (called rbGH, or rbST). See www. responsibletechnology.org for brand listings.
- Honey and bee pollen may have been gathered from GM plants. In fact, a small percentage of the alfalfa in the US is GM, but plantings were stopped by a court order in 2007.
- There are many additives, enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents that are used in food and which are produced by GM bacteria, yeast or fungi. To avoid them, either buy organic or stick to non-processed foods.
Avoiding GMOs in Restuarants
Go to restaurants that cook meals from scratch and don’t use packaged processed mixes and sauces that likely have GM ingredients. For those that cook from scratch, most at-risk ingredients are visible like corn chips and tortillas, tofu, soy sauce, and sweet corn.
The big exception is vegetable oil, which is probably from soy, corn, cottonseed or canola. If the restaurant uses one of these, ask whether they can cook your meal in some other oil like olive oil, or in butter, or without oil at all. And let them know why, so they can learn about GMOs too.
GMO-Defensive Shopping List
- Chocolates use soy lecithin
- Breads use soy flour
- Shakes use soy protein concentrate
- Formulas use soy milk
- Vegetable oils use soy oil
- Avoid high fructose corn syrup in sodas, cereals, cookies, candy, salad dressings, spaghetti sauces, and 1000 other products!
- Sauces and baked goods use cornstarch, dextrose and maltodextrin
- Vegetable oils use corn oil
- Breads use corn flour
- Fried and baked products use canola oil
Cotton and Cotton Seed Oil (83%)*
- Chips and fried snacks use cottonseed oil
* Percentage of crop grown as GM, in the US or, for canola, in Canada.
Fortunately, there is no GM popcorn on the market, nor is there blue or yellow GM corn at this time.
WARNING! GM sugar from sugar beets may be planted in 2008, and in foods before year’s end.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2008.