We’re getting smarter about what we’re eating. Many people are opting to ditch processed food and switch to a natural diet. Organic and local produce is experiencing a huge surge in popularity. But, if you haven’t yet switched to an organic approach to eating, what are you getting when you buy food, even fresh food, from your grocery store? Much of the produce we are feeding to our families is genetically modified.
Baby formula, processed meats and veggie meat substitutes, honey, rice, corn and tomato products, and virtually all processed foods, which contain soy, are produced by genetically altering the makeup of the ingredients.
As reported by the USDA in 2010, 90 percent of North America’s soy crops are genetically engineered. It would be impossible to list everything in the grocery store that contains genetically modified organisms (GMO) because labeling isn’t required. According to estimates, however, as many as 30,000 products in our pantries are genetically modified.
What does genetically modified mean?
Since the beginning of farming, crops have been cross-bred and altered to help with growing hearty, disease resistant plants with superior taste. Modern food producers have taken things a step further by actually implanting genes into a plant’s DNA by using a scientific procedure.
While old-fashioned cross breeding allowed strains of the same type of plant to share characteristics, genetically modified foods can actually share genes between species. For example, genes from cold tolerant fish have been implanted in strawberries to develop frost tolerance.
Basically, by genetically altering food, companies are able to grow bigger, and more disease-, pest- and weather-resistant crops in a more affordable way.
In the mid-1990s, as much as two thirds of our foods suddenly contained GMOs, and since then, there have not been any unbiased studies done to determine whether they are safe for human consumption.
The FDA does not have authority to demand that companies seek safety approval through testing for genetically modified crops. The only testing that has been done has been voluntary, by the genetically modified organism producers, like the powerhouse industry leader, Monsanto.
Monsanto crops include corn, soy, sugar beets and cotton. Their products can be found in many brand name processed foods, in the cotton in our clothing and connected heavily to the meat industry. Sixty percent of all GM corn goes to feed American beef cattle.
Monsanto also produces the controversial bovine growth hormone rBGH that is present in milk and dairy products. Montsano and other genetically modified food producers have made it exceedingly difficult for people in the United States to live a GMO free existence.
So, what’s the big deal with GMOs?
When it comes to our health, we simply don’t know for sure. The procedure is new and not very well researched. Plus, GMO crops are mixed in with non-GMO crops and nothing is labeled, so we can’t be sure of what we’ve been eating over the past 20 years, making it impossible to document the true impact on our health.
While testing on humans hasn’t been done, and the specific effects of ingesting genetically modified food has been muddled, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, a collective of physicians interested in environmental impacts on human health, advises a ban on GMOs.
The organization states that, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption,” and that “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects.” The effects of GMO consumption as reported by the AAEM include infertility, immune impairment, accelerated aging, insulin regulation problems, and damage to the liver, kidney, and gastrointestinal tract.
Genetically modified food production also causes concerns for the health of the environment. GM food requires the excessive use of pesticides, since the crops are being bred for size and prolific production rather than pest fighting ability. GMOs contaminate existing strains of plants and pass on modified traits to wild grown crops. They are making our ecosystem less genetically diverse, thus rendering our plantlife susceptible to disease and rot.
What can we do to reduce our consumption of genetically modified products?
Buy organic, especially when products are made from soy, corn, cotton or canola. Up to 91 percent of these crops are genetically altered. Also, take special care to buy local or organic meat and dairy.
Avoid processed foods, especially foods that contain High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Eat less meat. GMOs feed our beef cattle, keeping the demand high.
Use a shopping guide when you go to the grocery store to be sure that you’re buying brands that conform to the non-GMO standard.