There has been quite a bit of controversy over the past several years concerning GMO foods: What are the benefits to agriculture and the economy? What are the health risks? Should these foods be labeled? Should they be banned? This is a terribly complex issue that you need to know about because it impacts what you eat on a daily basis.
What are GMO Foods?
You’ve more than likely heard about GMO foods, but what exactly are they? We might expect funky chemicals and unnatural ingredients in our kids’ toxic blue candy or in their neon colored cereals, but not in fruits and vegetables that are plump and juicy from the produce section of the grocery store.
GMO stands for genetically modified organisms that are created in a lab by altering the genetic makeup of a plant or an animal. These foods are produced from organisms that have had changes modified in their DNA through genetic engineering rather than traditional cross breeding. For example, some apple varieties were genetically modified so that they won’t turn brown for an entire two weeks after slicing.
GMO Foods: Good vs. Evil
Why this may sound like Dr. Frankenstein became a crazy farmer, there are some really beneficial reasons why produce, dairy and meat are scientifically altered. The use of GMO crops “has lowered the price of food,” says David Zilberman, a U.C. Berkeley agricultural and environmental economist, in the Scientific American. “It has increased farmer safety by allowing them to use less pesticide. It has raised the output of corn, cotton and soy by 20 to 30 percent, allowing some people to survive who would not have without it. If it were more widely adopted around the world, the price [of food] would go lower, and fewer people would die of hunger.”
While these are all noble causes, the results that are emerging from these agricultural practices are getting more alarming. For example, “corn and soybeans are now resistant to glyphosate, a weed killer better known as Roundup. Roundup is made by Monsanto, which also produces the seeds that enable crops to survive being doused with the herbicide. Since that technology was introduced in 1996, there has been almost a tenfold increase in the use of the herbicide,” explains Consumer Reports. “Significant increases in the use of these herbicides could potentially affect consumers’ health as well, because residue from the chemicals can end up in food crops… a group of 70 scientists, doctors, and other health professionals pointed out that studies in humans have reported associations between exposure to the herbicide and increased risks of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, birth defects, and other reproductive problems. “
Hiding in Plain Sight
One of the scariest aspects of GMO foods is the high likelihood that you consume these products on a daily basis. Natural Society put out a top 10 list of the worst GMO foods available which includes: corn, soybeans (90% are GMO altered), sugar, aspartame, papayas, canola oil, cotton oil, dairy (1 in 5 cows are treated with growth hormones) and zucchini and yellow squash.
One of of the biggest controversies concerning GMO foods is that companies are not required to label their foods as GMO altered. GMO labeling is mandatory in over 60 countries, but the U.S. is not included in this list. Many organizations have risen up to demand that food packages alert consumers if GMO products are part of the ingredient list. Those companies against having mandatory labeling systems believe that it would suggest that GMO foods are unsafe and would decrease profits. However, some big companies are feeling the pressure: PepsiCo sells Stacy’s Simply Naked bagel and pita chips with the Non-GMO Project Verified seal and General Mills has placed the non-GMO symbol on their original Cheerios cereal boxes.
Non-GMO Food Solutions
One way to ensure that you are eating Non-GMO foods is to look for labels on produce or food packaging that say 100% Organic, Certified Organic or USDA Organic. This is usually the easiest way to identify and avoid GMO foods. (However, there are a few loopholes such as if there isn’t a readily available, commercially manufactured organic option for a particular product or ingredient. Soy lecithin and corn starch are two common ingredients that may not be organic and GMO free but are commonly included in organic products.)
Another way to ensure that are you eating clean is to grow your own food and herbs. ROOT provides an organic option with non-GMO seeds and plant food for customers to grow their own fresh herbs and veggies at home. Since these hydroponic growing systems are kept inside your home, they are also pest, pesticide and preservative free. Not only will you taste the difference, but you’ll feel better knowing that you and your family are eating food the way it was meant to be: clean, fresh and uncompromised.