What's a GMO? What You Need To Know

A lot of us have heard of GMOs but I think a lot more people have never heard of them and have no idea what they are! GMOs are everywhere in our food now, but are they bad for us? Some say they are the only way to feed the world, others say they're harming our health. Personally, I avoid them. The information circulating about GMOs can sounds pretty scary and confusing so I want to help you be informed. 

If you find it hard to believe that a lot of people have no idea what a GMO is, whatch this bit from Jimmy Kimmel:


GMO is an abbreviation for Genetically Modified Organism.

A GMO is any plant or animal that has had its DNA altered by artificially introducing the DNA of a unrelated living organism into its genetic makeup. This is different from traditional cross-breeding or hybridization where related plants are cross-pollinated or grafted together, like making a pluot by combining a plum and an apricot (both stone fruits). Cross-breeding is a type of genetic modification but GMO does not refer to this.

GMOs are transgenic. The transfer of foreign genes to create GMOs is done so that the organism being altered will display specific traits not naturally inherent in it, like making a plant resistant to herbicides that would otherwise kill it, or making it produce its own insecticide. One of the first GMOs was a tomato that contained fish genes

GMOs are now present in most processed food. The majority of corn, soybean, canola, cotton and sugar beet crops are genetically engineered (GE) to be at least herbicide tolerant. This means they can be sprayed with toxic herbicides like Roundup and they won't die. According to the USDA, as of 2013, 90% of corn, 90% of cotton and 93% of soybeans grown in the US are genetically engineered. Some GE crops are solely herbicide tolerant(HT), some produce their own insecticide (Bt), but most of the acres planted do both ( possess "stacked" GE traits).  "While corn, cotton, and soybeans account for the vast majority of GE acreage in the U.S., other GE crops commercially grown include HT canola, HT sugar beets, HT alfalfa, virus-resistant papaya, and virus-resistant squash," says a USDA article

GMOs are NOT natural and there is no scientific consensus about their safety.


Why I Avoid GMOs and Choose Organic Instead:

While some plants have been genetically engineered to protect crops from viruses that were destroying them, or to increase a plant's nutritional value, the majority of GE crops grown in the US are herbicide tolerant.

These crops have been developed by the same companies that make the herbicides that are used on the HT crops.

Personally, I don't believe that chemical companies responsible for things like Agent OrangedioxinBPA and other toxic chemicals should be making the seeds that grow our food. My body has been through so much already (hasn't yours, too? Because, well... life), I have no interest in exposing it to chemicals that make healthy living, wellness and healing more difficult.

Inserting DNA from an unrelated organism into a plant may have unknown side effects. No long-term studies have been done on humans to determine whether or not GMOs cause health problems but the American Academy of Environmental Medicine wrote in 2009 that, "because GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health and are without benefit, the AAEM believes that it is imperative to adopt the precautionary principle, which is one of the main regulatory tools of the European Union environmental and health policy and serves as a foundation for several international agreements."

Since GMOs  are predominantly designed to withstand applications of chemical herbicides that we know to be toxic, it does not make sense to me to eat them. The main ingredient or "active principle" in Roundup is glyphosate and while the toxicity of pure glyphosate seems to be very low, Roundup is not just glyphosate. A study shows that the final formulation of Roundup that contains other ingredients and adjuvants "was among the most toxic herbicides and insecticides tested."

I choose to eat organic food instead of just "non-GMO certified" because even though a crop is not GE doesn't mean it hasn't been sprayed with the same toxic pesticides used on GMOS and other pesticides that are widely used in conventional agriculture. Many of these pesticides have been named "obesogens" and are linked to causing obesity, many are neurotoxins and some are linked to causing cancer, too! You can read my post on why organic food can save you right here

GMO crops - What, Where and Why:

Sweet corn (also known as table corn), the kind we eat as "corn on the cob," is a new GE crop, first made available for planting in the fall of 2011. It is stacked with both HT and Bt traits.
GE dent corn (or field corn) has been planted and grown since the mid-90s. It is used for livestock feed, high fructose corn syrup, ethanol, corn oil, liquor etc. and is the type of corn used for making cornmeal, cornstarch and corn flour. 

Corn engineered to produce its own insecticide has a bacterial toxin called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, in its cells. Insects can become resistant to this toxin and Bt crops themselves are registered pesticides with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a "plant incorporated protectants". 

Corn engineered to be herbicide tolerant (HT) is most often "Roundup Ready" (RR crops are developed by Monsanto, who also makes Roundup). Corn that is Roundup Ready can be doused in the herbicide, Roundup, to kill offending weeds but the corn itself will survive.

Soy is engineered to be a HT crop. Soybeans are used to produce soy milk, tofu, tamari, soy sauce, edamame, vegetable oil, soy lecithin etc. A Turkish study found GMO soy to negatively affect kidney, liver and testicular tissues in rats. "The results of all the parameters evaluated in our investigation were consistent and confirm that the GM diet fed to rats for 30, 60, or 90 days caused significant histopathological, biochemical, and cytogenetic changes in all examined tissues."

Cotton is engineered to be both Bt and Roundup Ready - this is the source for the majority of cottonseed oil used in cooking, and the cotton used for clothing fabric. 

GE canola was introduced in 1998. The majority of Canadian grown Canola is also GE. It is the source of most canola oil on the market. It is engineered to be HT and transgenic canola has been found to escape cultivated areas and flourish in the wild.

USDA announced deregulation (allowed planting)of GE sugar beets in July, 2012. The beets are genetically engineered to be HT (Roundup Ready). Table or granulated white sugar is made from sugar beets, unless the package states that it is 100% cane sugar.

The Rainbow papaya is engineered to be resistant to the papaya ringspot virus. It is grown in Hawaii.

Yellow crookneck and straightneck (yellow summer squash) and zucchini have been engineered to resist a virus that can destroy these crops. The GE variety was deregulated in 1994.

Engineered to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup  and deregulated in 2011. Alfalfa is used as feed for livestock and this may threaten organic farmers' certification if pollen from GE alfalfa contaminates organic crops with its transgenic DNA.  

Other crops like wheat, rice and potatoes have been genetically modified but are not grown in the U.S. at this time. There have been instances of unapproved GE wheat being found in Oregon and Montana in recent years, however.
You can read about the crops that are seeking USDA approval for deregulation here:
Petitions for Determination of Nonregulated Status
The big crops we hear the most about are called "Roundup Ready," designed and patented by Monsanto to withstand applications of their Roundup herbicide.
Other corporations creating GMOs are Dow, Syngenta, Bayer, Aquabounty and others.


What You Can Do:

The only way to avoid GMOs and toxic pesticides is to buy food that is certified organic.

GMOs are not labeled in the US and Canada, even though 64 other countries have made GMO labeling mandatory. 

Since the percentages of GMO crops grown in the US are so high, you can probably assume that ingredients made from these crops are almost certainly GMO (unless it is certified organic or non-GMO verified).

Livestock is also predominantly fed GMO feed (corn, soybeans and cottonseed), unless the meat is also certified organic, or you know your farmer and their feeding practices. Buying organic is always a smart way to go if you can, or source your meat from someone you know who uses non-GMO feed and keeps their animals on pasture. I buy my beef from a friend in Wyoming who raises cattle on mountain pastures, and we buy our chicken and lamb from a local farm in Temecula, Primal Pastures.


What do you think? Do you worry about the prevalence of GMOs? Did you know what they were before reading this? Do you avoid GMOs? What's your opinion about them?
Let me know in the comments below!


More Reading:

The Center For Environmental Risk Assessment - GMO Crop Database

IRT - Health Risks of GMOs


Articles about GMOs:

Does GMO Corn Really Cause Tumors in Rats? - Mother Jones

Genetically Engineered Salmon May Be A Tough Sell In U.S. - AP

U.S. GMO crops show mix of benefits, concerns - USDA report - Reuters

In a Grain of Golden Rice, A World of Controversy Over GMO Foods - NPR

Monsanto and Cargill Aggressively Pursue GE Soy Feed for Factory Fish-Farming Industry - Eco Watch

Herbicide-Resistant 'Super Weeds' Increasingly Plaguing Farmers - US News

'Superweeds' Linked to Rising Herbicide Use in GM Crops, Study Finds - Science Daily

Nearly Half of All US Farms Now Have Superweeds - Mother Jones 

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