Understanding GMOs


 issue_18 final draft-5“Non-GMO” and “GMO-free” labels popped up all over food products in the past few years. However, many people do not understand what the label means.

GMO stands for genetically modified organisms, which are crops that have been genetically altered to add new qualities, such as the ability to resist herbicide, a substance that’s toxic to plants, and plant diseases. This resistance allows farmers to harvest more crops.

Although GMOs have been around for almost 20 years, this method of farming has only recently received attention as more people recognize the negative health impacts related to genetically modified foods.

One of the more controversial aspects of the GMO issue is food labeling. No certification process exists to verify whether foods are free of GMOs. In fact, America is one of the only countries without provisions in place for GMO labeling. Close to 30 countries enforce GMO labeling, with some even banning specific GMO crops.

The FDA has been reluctant to allow GMO-related labeling because labels may be misleading to consumers, as there is no significant scientific evidence to support increased health risks.

According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine’s website, however, several animal studies revealed GMOs caused “organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility.”

From the few human studies that have been conducted, evidence suggests genetically modified foods leave material behind inside us, which could cause long-term issues. In addition, the AAEM points out that “numerous health problems increased after GMOs were introduced in 1996.”

Another debate about GMOs is whether they are best used as or food or fuel. Supporters claim that increases in production of crops will help curb rising food prices. In addition, these crops could be used to make biofuel, which helps America wean off its dependence on foreign oil. But critics of GMOs argue that investing in this type of engineering will invariably increase food prices.

In addition, one well-known downside of GMOs is that they have no sense of boundary when they’re planted. Wind and water can easily carry genetically modified seeds into other areas of farmland and contaminate crops without farmers realizing.

The discussion surrounding GMOs is important because the majority of our basic crops are genetically modified. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over 90 percent of soybeans and sugar beets, and 85 percent of corn crops were genetically modified in 2010. These may only seem like simple crops, but they are in large amounts of other foods, especially processed products.

For example, corn byproducts like corn starch, high fructose corn syrup and malt, are in almost everything. The next time you pick up a bag of chips, read the ingredients and count all the corn-related chemicals. You will be surprised.

Unfortunately, the only remedy for staying away from GMO-filled foods is a change in eating. This change is really simple, although a little pricey sometimes. As the U.S. National Organic Program forbids the use of GMO practices, eating as organic as possible is the only way to stay away from GMOs. Look for the “GMO-free” label on the products you buy and, as hard as it may be for some of you, try to avoid eating highly-processed foods.