Don’t think you should be worried about Genetically Modified foods? Think again – they’re everywhere, including in baby formula and multi-vitamins! It’s thought that over 60% of food in US supermarkets is genetically modified, or contains GM ingredients.
These ‘frankenfoods’ are unnatural hybrids which cross one species with another totally different species. Some of these fusions even sound like they came straight out of a Stephen King novel – think strawberries injected with fish genes and goats that can produce spider-web milk stronger than Kevlar and you’re on the right track.
Thankfully, the GM foods on the supermarket shelves aren’t that outrageous … yet. The engineered products we buy are a little more inconspicuous, and look exactly like their conventional counterparts. Unfortunately, their effect on our bodies, and the environment, is totally different.
GMOs vs Mother Nature
Genetically modified foods could potentially have a devastating effect on our environment in a number of ways:
Contaminating Crops & Wild Plants
Pollen from GM crops can easily contaminate nearby crops and wild plants. In North Dakota, genetically modified canola was found growing in the wild – far away from planted crops. The same thing is happening in Mexico with heritage corn crops. And it seems that GM alfalfa has already contaminated non-alfalfa and non-GM alfalfa crops.
Because this type of cross-pollination is typically carried out by insects, it’s practically impossible to stop. And of course, it’s actually impossible to remove contamination once it has occurred.
It’s not yet known what will happen if all our crops are contaminated with chemicals and toxins but, needless to say, it’s a serious concern for human health and wildlife preservation.
GM pesticides are poisoning our water supply. In tests carried out in Catalonia in Spain, over 40% of groundwater samples contained glyphosate, (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide ‘Roundup’). Studies have linked this toxin to at least 15 adverse health effects.
Naturally, having a toxic substance like this in the water supply will have a knock-on environmental effect, the full impact of which is yet to be seen.
Breeding Super Weeds
Just like bacteria adapt to antibiotics, weeds adapt to weed-killer. When that happens we are left with ‘super weeds’. And how do we combat those?
By using different, stronger and more herbicides, which further pollute our environment and water supply.
Eradicating Organic Farming
With wild and non-GM crops cross-fertilizing with genetically engineered strains, and contaminated groundwater, these hybrid-foods are a real threat to organic and sustainable farming methods.
One in three organic farmers have already dealt with contamination on their farm. And these farmers, usually smaller operations, are being unfairly burdened with extra work, longer hours and financial insecurity thanks to the threat of GMOs.
Disturbing our Delicate Eco-System
Pesticides are killing off our precious pollinators, the bees. A world without bees could see over one third of our crop supply disappear, a rise in the cost of food productions and a knock-on effect on the survival of other plant and animal life, not to mention our own.
Of course, it’s not just the bees that GMOs are harming. Butterflies, birds and more are dying from these toxic chemicals. What will happen if we tilt the delicate balance of nature too far?
GMOs & Our Health
What’s really worrying about GMOs is that glyphosate, the same chemical that pollutes our water supply, has been detected in human blood, urine and even breast milk.
Of course, Monsanto, the company responsible for GM foods in the United States will happily tell you that there are no health risks associated with their products. The FDA back up these claims.
However, the pesticides used in genetically engineered crops have been linked with cancers and other serious health risks. A controversial study found that the pesticide Roundup, used in GM crops, causes serious hormone disruption. (The study was retracted due to commercial pressures but then later republished.)
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine also reports that several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food including:
- Immune problems
- Accelerated aging
- Problems regulating insulin
- Changes to major organs and the gastrointestinal system
Pretty scary, isn’t it?
Read on to discover which foods are common GM crops, and their possible implications for our health.
The Most Common GM Crops
Here are some of the most common GM crops for sale in the USA. Keep in mind that these won’t be labeled as genetically engineered, thanks to US labeling legislation (although you should keep an eye out for ‘USDA Certified Organic’ or ‘Non-GMO Project Verified’ labels).
Almost 95% of soy beans are genetically modified – making it pretty difficult to avoid GM soy.
Check labels for: hydrogenated oils, lecithin, emulsifiers, vegetable starch and hydrolyzed plant protein. To be on the safe side, try to cut out processed foods and make your own tastier and healthier versions from scratch!
GM soybeans have been found to be less nutritious than organic soybeans, containing less protein, zinc and fiber; but more saturated fat and omega-6 fatty acids. The GM beans also contain traces of pesticides and have been linked to pancreatic problems.
One of the most commonly grown GM crops around, over 90% of corn is genetically engineered.
Corn is also a very common food additive – have a look at some food labels next time you’re at the grocery store. Its most common (and deadly) form is high-fructose corn syrup, which is added to processed foods like desserts, sodas, salad dressings, tomato ketchup and even bread. You’ll also find GM corn in your food under names like ‘corn starch’ and ‘corn syrup’.
Genetically modified corn is also fed to livestock – the source of meat and dairy. If you believe that ‘you are what you eat’, then this is pretty worrying. Engineered corn has been linked to a ton of different health issues with rats fed on GM corn suffering damage to their kidneys and liver, heart, adrenal glands, spleen and blood cells.
In the USA, 95% of sugar beets are GM, and approximately half of all sugar comes from beets. If you do the math, you’ll see that modified sugar might be a difficult one to avoid for those with a sweet tooth.
Use organic sugar or natural sugar alternatives in home baking instead of buying commercially produced sweet treats.
Canola is a really common ingredient in salad dressings, margarine and shortening.
And, as 90% of US canola crops are genetically engineered, you’ll need to cut out processed foods to be sure you’re avoiding this bio-tech product. Make sure to swap vegetable oils for healthy alternatives like avocado, olive and coconut oils.
Because approximately 20% of all US cows are given growth hormones to increase milk production, it’s best to play it safe and buy organic or ditch the dairy. Home produced, organic goat milk is another good option.
The Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) is used in the US, even though it has been banned in several countries including the EU member states. This hormone has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and the milk produced through use of this toxin is said to be nutritionally inferior.
While GM alfalfa is mainly used to feed animals, unless you’re plant-based you may be left with traces of pesticides in your system.
And, since alfalfa seems to be contaminating organic alfalfa crops, it may not be long until truly organic alfalfa is a thing of the past.
Did you know that cottonseed oil can be found in vegetable oil and margarine? Some of which may come from GM crops. This oil has been linked to allergies, inflammation, poor immunity and bleeding. Avoid it!
This delicious and nutritious summer squash, along with its cousin the yellow squash, are being genetically modified to resist pests and viruses.
Very little data exists on the effects of this particular type of GM crop, most likely because it’s grown in too small a number to warrant much study. But we can assume it has similar health effects to those caused by other engineered crops.
If you’re a fan of Hawaiian papayas in your smoothies, then make sure you’re buying organic. Or at least choose a variety that isn’t usually engineered.
Thankfully GM potatoes aren’t on sale just yet. But the FDA did approve six new non-bruising varieties in March of this year.
Should we be concerned that not even Frito-Lay or McDonald’s will touch them?!
Along with the ‘monster mash’ taters, the FDA also gave the green light to two types of bio-tech apples which won’t go brown.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has called for a more rigorous approval process, as they feel certain GM crops are being rushed onto supermarket shelves without proper testing
At least we won’t have to worry about the side effects of this fruit until it goes on sale in the US in 2017.
What Other GM Foods Are We Eating?
It’s safe to say we’re all coming into contact with GM crops and pesticides somewhere – whether through fresh produce, processed foods, dining out or even our drinking water.
The above list covers many of the GM fresh produce or ingredients on the US market. But with the majority of food for sale containing GM ingredients, it wouldn’t be possible to list all the products that have genetically modified components.
That said, here are a few of the more shocking ones.
This has to be the most scandalous GM containing food on the list. Three of the top infant formula brands in the US use genetically modified ingredients like soy.
It’s worth noting that the harmful effects of GM soy and dairy may be even more pronounced when given to children. After all, their systems are still developing.
Because alcohol doesn’t require ingredients be listed on the product, anything could be lurking in a bottle of your favorite brew (including fish bladders and anti-freeze!).
Big brands like Miller, Corona, Budweiser and Coors Light have all been found to contain genetically modified ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and GM sugar.
To cut out these harmful biotech crops, drink organic beers, brew your own, find a reputable micro-brewery or try some German beers, which abide by strict ‘purity’ laws.
We take synthetic vitamins in order to be healthy and give our body a little boost, right?
Well, unless you’re buying organic you might be better off sticking to whole foods for your vitamin needs.
How to Avoid GMOs when Grocery Shopping
- Look for products that are ‘USDA Certified Organic’ or ‘Non-GMO Project Verified’
- Avoid corn, soy and canola – unless explicitly labeled
- Get to know the other names under which corn and soy are lurking in our foods
- Buy whole foods and make your own products from scratch
- Head to the local Farmers’ Market and speak with the people who produce the food. Even if they aren’t labeled as such, they may well be organic and GMO-free.
- Check out more tips for buying organic and GMO free foods here
Of course, this article just touches on the fascinating and horrifying subject of GMOs and the dangers they present.
If you’re concerned by GMOs make sure to familiarize yourself with the subject, stay on top of legislation and look out for new GM foods being released to the market. Perhaps most importantly, speak with your hard-earned dollars by supporting non-GMO and organic food producers