Posts tagged toxins
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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5 Reasons Why Organic Food Could Save You! (Part 1)
I love food. I always have. Ever since I was tiny, I could always be counted on to have a healthy appetite and maybe that's why I grew to have my 6-foot-1-inch frame! I grew up eating a fair bit of organic food thanks to my parents having at least some awareness of its importance, but I never really knew why eating "organic" food really mattered. I tried my best to eat well but didn't think twice about chowing down on fast food now and then - especially when I had to regain the 30 pounds I lost in the hospital while I was bedridden and fed through a feeding tube! It's only in recent years that I've learned why organic food and organic farming is so critically important if we want to stay healthy.

Produce, meats (except fish) and processed (packaged) foods can be labeled as organic but for this post, I'm focusing on produce (plants) alone because organic meat is a whole other subject that I'll tackle in another post and processed food just isn't real food, organic or not. Organic candy is not healthy!

Modern agriculture's technology has allowed us to grow food in volumes that were impossible in the days of small family farms, but bigger is not necessarily better. We've distanced ourselves from where our food comes from and convenience foods have trumped knowing how to cook. There is a push happening to take us back to knowing where our food comes from but it's not an easy change to make when our food system works very hard to keep us in the dark, and we're constantly bombarded with messaging that junky convenience foods are better, easier and preferable.

They're not!

Fresh organic produce from my local grocery store. 

Fresh organic produce from my local grocery store. 

"Organic" is a term regulated in the United States by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and in Canada by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. In order for food to bear the organic label, it must meet specific criteria. According to the USDA, , "Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used."

Sound good? Here are 5 reasons why you can love it even more!

• Buying organic can save you money!
An organic strawberry

An organic strawberry

Seriously! I know people think "organic food is so expensive!" but if you buy fresh or frozen whole fruits and veggies and you buy fresh produce in season, it packs a nutritional punch so you don't need to eat as much. Junk food offers almost no nutritional value so we eat tons of it and are often still hungry when it's all gone. We feel like crap and we just spent a bunch of money of seemingly "cheap" food, and for what? Buying in bulk saves cash and if you can't eat or use it all before it spoils, did you know you can blanch (plunge it in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then ice water to stop it from cooking) and freeze your own veggies? I haven't tried freezing my own fruit yet. We freeze our vegetables when we have more peas and beans than we can eat from our garden! If you have a local farmers market, food direct from the farmer can be a lot cheaper than the grocery store and many farmers now offer CSA programs where you get a bulk box of produce or meats fresh every week or month.
Don't you feel better knowing it doesn't have anything toxic sprayed on it?

Don't you feel better knowing it doesn't have anything toxic sprayed on it?

Buying organic food can save you from exposure to toxic pesticides that could harm your health!

A recent study confirmed that if you eat organic food, you will reduce your exposure to pesticides! A pesticide called 1,3-D used on conventionally grown strawberries, for example, is believed to cause cancer.
Most pesticides are not selective and can be toxic to nontarget species including humans, and many of these cause neurotoxicity. Major pesticides (insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) are actually more toxic to human cells than the declared active principle (AP). For example:
"Ethoxylated adjuvants found in glyphosate-based herbicides were up to 10.000 times more toxic than the so-called active AP glyphosate and are better candidates for secondary side effects. This may explain in vivo long-term toxicity from 0.1ppb of the formulation and other toxicities that were not explained by a consideration of glyphosate alone. These adjuvants also have serious consequences to the health of humans and rats in acute exposures"
Not every produce item NEEDS to be organic though and you can see the "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" on the EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
• Organic foods can provide more nutrition than their conventionally grown counterparts, saving your health and your wallet
Studies showed that organic tomatoes have higher levels of polyphenols and flavonoids (both antioxidants), and not only tomatoes - a study by Newcastle University shows higher antioxidants in organic food across the board. Organic milk has been shown to have higher levels of Omega-3s, a beneficial fatty acid, because cows producing organic milk must be grazed on pasture for at least 4 months out of the year, whereas cows on conventional dairy farms typically eat grains like corn year-round which does not raise Omega-3 levels in the milk. More nutrition equals more bang for your buck!
• Organic foods can save the health of your kids
Developing children are far more sensitive to the toxic effects of pesticides than adults. Infants' still-developing kidneys and liver cannot remove pesticides from the body as well as an adult, and babies and children may be exposed to higher levels of pesticides because they breathe faster, are closer to the ground and tend to frequently stick their hands in their mouth.
• Organic farming supports wildlife habitats for the bees, birds and butterflies we love to see, saving the pollinators of our food
Organic food matters.

Organic food matters.

Since it's been in the news a lot lately, you're probably aware of bee colony collapse and the decline of birds and butterflies. Monarch butterflies have been hit hard by increasing herbicide use wiping out the milkweed they need to breed. Milkweed is the ONLY plant a Monarch's larvae will eat. Bees' numbers are declining rapidly and although the bee deaths' cause hasn't been definitively named, many signs point to pesticides for having "sub-lethal effects" on bee colonies. Birds are being affected, too, with a certain class of pesticides called neonicotinoids (that has also taken a lot of blame for killing bees), being blamed for the decline of 14 species of birds.
Organic farming, on the other hand, supports the habitats of these little fliers, and other wildlife. Scientists from Oxford University say organic farms support 34% more plant, insect and animal species than conventional farms! 

For my fellow Canadians, Canada's organic regulations are not clearly stated for consumers like those in the US, and it required some digging. Thankfully, the CBC did a bit of that in 2011but instead of clearly stating what organic means in Canada, the regulations are buried in this document. The procedure of organic certification states, "A certification body shall certify an agricultural product as organic if it determines, after verification, that...the substances used in the production and processing of the agricultural product are those set out in, and used in the manner described in, CAN/CGSB 32.311"

CAN/CGSB 32.311 is a list of permitted substances in organic food production. Reading quickly through the list, it doesn't look like Canada permits anything crazy or much different from what's allowed in the US but man, talk about creating some major legalese that is not immediately clear to consumers! Basically what they're saying is, certified organic in Canada means that the food has been produced using ONLY the substances on their "permitted" list. So to know what that really means, you'd have to go read the whole thing, and then check it periodically to see if it has changed.

So way to go, Canada. Way to make the law dense and impossible for consumers to quickly understand.

Real food is so pretty.

Real food is so pretty.

In the US, the use of the term "natural" on food only means something on meat and poultry packaging. The USDA states that "natural" meat and poultry means, "A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”)."

But for other foods, the term is not regulated by the USDA or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the FDA says only, "FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances."

The term is equally ambiguous in Canada.

Do you have questions about organic food? Natural versus organic? Do you think organic is worth it or a waste of money? I'd love to know what you think! Leave your comments and questions below! 

And if you like the photos, I added some to my photography site.

xoxo Maggie

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