Originally Published: January 23, 2014 8 p.m.
Hello Simply Fit readers. I want you to use your imagination for a moment; picture a scientist in a lab, let's call him Frank. Frank is proudly helping to nudge Mother Nature along by removing specific genetic traits from an organism (plant, animal, bacteria, virus, fungus) and then adding those traits to an entirely different organism. Imagine that you are now unknowingly eating that organism. Now imagine that our government has deemed you to be incompetent, and decided that telling you which foods have been genetically altered like this would only confuse you. Actually, you don't have to imagine it because that is exactly what has been happening for years!
I am talking about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs.) You've probably heard of them (or maybe not), or aren't really sure what they are, or like me, you may have thought that GMOs were only in a few select foods. Come to find out, approximately 60 to 70 percent of all processed foods contain GMOs according to WebMD. And only 52 percent of Americans realized that GMO foods are sold in grocery stores, and only 26 percent believed that they have ever eaten GMO foods, according to Food Policy Institute at Rutgers' Cook College.
So why were GMOs created anyway? Those who believe GMOs are beneficial say they were created to help solve world hunger, enhance the nutrient value of certain crops, and/or to help crops become pest/virus and drought resistant, plus there are no overt negative health or environment effects. So what's not to love?
If this were true, why not label foods with GMOs so that you and I can choose if we want to buy a product that's been genetically altered? The companies that designed and even patented GMOs state labeling a food that contains GMOs may mistakenly cause consumers think that there is a difference between food containing GMOs versus non-GMO foods and that, by law, food labels have to only list ingredients, not how the ingredients came to be.
Proponents of GMOs state that there have been many independent studies proving that GMOs are safe, so I decided to look at some of those studies on a website called Biologyfortified.org. They list over 100 studies that supposedly prove GMOs cause no negative health effects and are no different than non GMO foods. I was hard pressed to find a long-term study that proved that GMOs are safe for human consumption. I guess that makes you and I the unknowing and unwilling lab rats.
Let's pretend that GMOs are, in fact, completely harmless when consumed. What about our ecosystem? We are manipulating plants and animals in a way that nature NEVER intended or didn't intend to happen for several thousand years. We are truly playing God by thinking that tinkering with nature "for the greater good" will not have severe consequences.
At this point, I feel like it would be easier if the government labeled non-GMO foods because GMOs seem to be in almost everything! There is, however, a non-profit origination called the Non-GMO Project. This organization offers a "Non-GMO Verified" label to be placed on products that pass their verification process. You may have seen their stamp on select items at your grocery store. According to their website, "The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices." Look for this label if you are concerned about GMO's
Whether you love, hate or couldn't care either way about GMOs, you still have the right to know if your food has been mutated. Right now, we have almost no choice in the matter. I want a choice; mandatory labeling, more testing, and I am deeply disappointed in a system that wants to feed me Soylent Green. (I just dated myself.)
So which food ingredient is most likely to be a GMO? According to Greenamerica.org:
GM since: 1996
How widespread: 94 percent of the US soybean crop was genetically modified in 2011, according to the USDA.
What to watch for: Soybeans show up in many traditional (i.e. not organic) soy products, such as tofu, soy milk, soy sauce, miso, and tempeh, as well as any product containing the emulsifier lecithin (often derived from soybean oil), such as ice cream and candy.
GM since: 1996
How widespread: 90 percent of the US cotton crop was genetically modified in 2011, according to the USDA.
What to watch for: The cotton plant, genetically modified to be pest-resistant, produces not only fibers for fabric, but also cottonseed oil, available on US shelves as a standalone product, and also commonly used as an ingredient in margarine, in salad dressings, and as a frying oil for potato chips and other snacks.
GM since: 1996
How widespread: 88 percent of the US corn crop was genetically modified in 2011, according to the USDA.
What to watch for: GM corn can make its way into hundreds of products: breakfast cereals, corn-flour products (tortillas, chips, etc.), corn oil products (mayonnaise, shortening, etc.), and literally anything sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, which covers sweetened fruit drinks, processed cookies and other snacks, yogurts, soups, condiments, and many other products.
4. CANOLA OIL
GM since: 1996
How widespread: 90 percent of the US canola crop was genetically modified in 2010, according to the New York Times
What to watch for: Any canola oil made in the USA. This popular cooking oil, originally derived from rapeseed oil by breeders in Canada (the name is a contraction for "Canadian oil, low acid") comes from a genetically modified plant that is no longer simply cultivated, but grows wild across the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Canada.
5. U.S. PAPAYA
GM since: 1998
How widespread: 80 percent of the US papaya crop was genetically modified in 2010, according to the New York Times.
What to watch for: All papaya grown in the US. Hawaiian papaya was genetically engineered to withstand the ringspot virus in the late 1990s, with the GM version rapidly taking over the industry. In 2009, the USDA rescinded regulations prohibiting GM papaya on the US mainland; they have since been introduced to Florida plantations.
GM since: In 2005, the USDA deregulated GM alfalfa, though cultivation was later halted in 2007, following lawsuits from the Center for Food Safety and others who demanded a full evaluation of the threats to conventional alfalfa plants, and the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds. Following a new environmental impact study, the USDA in 2011 again deregulated GM alfalfa, which is grown primarily as feed for dairy and sometimes beef cattle.
How widespread: Data on the re-introduction of GM alfalfa in 2011 will be available from the USDA in July. At present, GM alfalfa is used primarily as hay for cattle. The Monsanto Technology Use Agreement for "Roundup Ready" GM alfalfa forbids its use for sprouts.
What to watch for: It's difficult to tell from a meat or dairy product whether it is from cows fed GM alfalfa. Look for organic dairy products and organic or 100 percent grass-fed meat. An even better option is to go vegetarian or vegan.
7. SUGAR BEETS
GM since: 2005
How widespread: 95 percent of the US sugar-beet crop was genetically modified in 2009, according to the USDA. Around half of the sugar produced in the US comes from sugar beets.
What to watch for: If a non-organic bag of sugar or a product containing conventional sugar as an ingredient does not specify "pure cane sugar," the sugar is likely a combination of cane sugar and GM sugar beets.
GM since: 1994
How widespread: Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is a GM synthetic hormone injected into dairy cows to boost milk production. 17 percent of US cows were injected with rBGH in 2007 (most recent figure). Milk from rBGH-treated cows contains elevated levels of Insulin Growth Factor-1, a hormone linked to increased risks for certain cancers.
What to watch for: No label is required for milk from rBGH-treated cows, though many brands of non-treated milk label their containers as such.
Genetically modified since: 1965
How widespread: Aspartame, an artificial sweetener, is derived from GM microorganisms. It is found in over 6,000 products, including diet sodas.
What to watch for: Avoid anything labeled as containing Nutrasweet, Equal, or aspartame
The Huffington Post states that a small amount of Yellow Crookneck Squash and Zucchini also contain GMO's.
Here is more information on GMOs:
The U.S. government states that food containing GMO's are safe and beneficial.
Approximately 64 countries currently have mandatory labeling of food containing GMO's. The United States is not one of them.
The U.S. is the largest producer of genetically modified crops.
According to the Environmental Working Group, using data from a 2011 study, Americans eat an estimated 193 pounds of GMOs annually.
The FDA States that genetically engineered foods are not 'materially' different from non-engineered food and does not need to be labeled.
According to Non GMO Project "Virtually all commercial GMOs are engineered to withstand direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. Despite biotech industry promises, none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit" and "Most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. In more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs."