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Posts Tagged ‘GMO’

Apparently no one really knows the answer to that question. And therein lies the rub, if you ask me. When I first read Robyn O’Brien’s book, The Unhealthy Truth — which convincingly argues that eating GM foods can be linked to all kinds of health issues, including cancer and the rise of childhood allergies and autism — I immediately decided that GMOs (genetically modified organisms, including animals, crops, and milk) are the worst example of corporate greed and malevolence in recorded history and vowed never to put another morsel of GM food into my or my family’s mouths. So there, Monsanto.

For those of you who don’t follow the GMO controversy, here’s a little primer on the subject: A genetically modified organism (GMO) is one who’s genes have been altered in a lab using genetic engineering — essentially the DNA molecules from different sources are combined to create a new set of genes, which is then inserted into another organism such as a plant seed or animal. This can be done for a variety of reasons, for instance to create a breed of corn that is resistant to chemical herbicides or higher-yielding wheat crops. The US company Monsanto creates “Roundup-Ready” seeds that are resistant to the chemicals in Roundup herbicide, which allows farmers to grow more corn using more pesticides (and the company even patents these seeds). Today the USDA says that over 81% of all corn and over 88% of all soybeans grown in the US are GM. This is controversial for several reasons, including concerns that GM foods are unsafe and growing them threatens biodiversity and the environment. If you read studies like this one, you’ll get a feel for the arguments against GMOs. GMOs have been banned in 27 countries, including all of Europe, by the way.

But then I read Nina Federoff’s Op-ed in The New York Times extolling the benefits and safety of GM crops while explaining why the world truly needs more, not less, of them — which kinda made me mad but also made me think. What if GMO crops really can eliminate world hunger? What if scientists really could create more nutritious wheat? Hmmm, that’s not so bad, right? Except, it’s not clear that those GMO promises are panning out. And there’s alarmingly little non-biased research and information out there about GMOs. Many non-GMO activists feel that the seed companies like Monsanto thwart efforts to conduct truly independent research. This article explains how the corporations basically have veto power over which tests get conducted and also which data gets reported. It’s pretty icky. And, well, you gotta wonder what they’ve got to hide, right?

Which I guess brings me back to the beginning. I don’t know if eating GMOs will give you cancer, alter your kid’s brain chemistry, or make hair grow on your tongue (like it apparently did to some hamsters in Russia). And neither does anybody else. So, for now I’m sticking with my non-GMO stance. Which goes something like this: Whenever possible and reasonable, avoid foods that have been genetically altered in any way.

In case you’re wondering how to do that, it’s simple:
1. Buy organic. Foods that are certified organic cannot by law (knowingly) contain GM ingredients.
2. Buy local. You’re pretty safe buying from farmer’s markets because most GM crops are grown by large, industrial farms not your local mom-and-pop.
3. Avoid the four top GM crops: corn, soy, canola, and cottonseed. If you do buy these, buy organic. This is one very good reason to avoid processed, packaged foods; if you read the label on a typical box of cookies, you’ll find several corn derivatives and probably soy and canola, too.
4. Look for the Non-GMO Project label. This is not widely used yet, but it’s worth knowing about and supporting. Here’s what it looks like:

So, what we’re left with is…real food. Hey, what a concept.

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When I first saw the headline that the USDA is planning to approve genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa next week, I thought, “Geez, that’s bad. But whatever.” I’m not a huge sprouts gal. But then it hit me, “hey that’s what cows eat” — at least the pastured cows who live on sustainable organic farms and give us organic milk, organic dairy products, and grass-fed beef.

According to an “urgent” email plea, sent out by Gary Hirshberg, “CE-Yo” (cute, huh) of Stonyfield Farm, this is a very important issue to anyone who cares about organic foods. In addition to concerns that GE crops (also called GMOs for genetically modified organisms) lead to pesticide-resistant super-weeds that require the use of more and more toxic chemicals, “the biggest potential problem posed by GE alfalfa is the likely contamination of organic alfalfa, which is used as feed by most organic dairies.”

The decision being made by the FDA is actually not whether to allow GE alfalfa to be grown — apparently that battle has already been lost — but whether to regulate production to ensure (or at least attempt to ensure) that organic alfalfa is protected from mingling with its GE counterpart under a mandate of “coexistence.” While I’m not always a fan of more government regulation, I do think we consumers and eaters deserve to be able to choose to buy organic foods that we know for sure are free of icky GE ingredients.

Here is link to a much more articulate article on the subject.

In case you’re wondering why GMOs are so bad, here’s what the Center for Food Safety, a non-profit public interest advocacy group, has to say on the subject:

Currently, up to 40 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered as is 80 percent of soybeans. It has been estimated that upwards of 60 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves–from soda to soup, crackers to condiments–contain genetically engineered ingredients.

A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer. As for environmental impacts, the use of genetic engineering in agriculture will lead to uncontrolled biological pollution, threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction, and the potential contamination of all non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material.

Well, all-righty-then. So, what to do? If you’re motivated and believe in the system, I suggest contacting your rep in congress and making sure he or she knows that you know and care about placing restrictions on genetically engineered alfalfa and that you support the integrity of organic farming. And if you want to keep GMOs off your family’s menu, here are a few suggestions:

  • Buy organic food. You are voting with your dollars here, and the more of us who vote for organic foods (which by law are free of pesticides and GE ingredients), the stronger the message we send to farmers, food producers, and the government.
  • Eat food. By “food” I mean real, whole foods and not processed ones (“edible food-like substances” as Michael Pollan calls them). You know there are no GE ingredients in a bag of organic apples. Can’t say the same about NutriGrain bars. This is probably the best way to avoid GMOs.
  • Look for non-GMO certification on the label, if possible. This is useful if you’re buying non-organic things (look for “rBST-Free” on Greek yogurt, etc.), but it doesn’t indicate anything about the use of pesticides.

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