What’s a GMO and Why Should I Care?

GMO’s are all the rage, and not in a good way. Do you know what they are? Do you wonder whether or not you should be concerned?

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are plants, animals or microorganisms whose genes (DNA) have been modified.  They have not been modified via traditional crossbreeding.  Instead they have been modified by inserting the genetic code of some other species.  When we think of GMOs, we tend to hear more about them in the context of plant food.  But what does that mean?  And why should you care?

Are they safe?
As this point, GMOs are basically a science experiment.  There is very little independent data on the safety of consuming GMO food.  When I say independent, I mean studies that are not done by the companies or industries making a profit from the subject of the study.  In this respect, we are all guinea pigs.  As with many of the “advances” of the 20th century and beyond, we are learning on the fly and with a great deal of fallout.  The use of pesticides, herbicides and the tens of thousands of chemicals that have been added to our environment are not always required to be tested for safety before being sold, used and consumed.  Simultaneously, we have become a very ill society.

Most GMOs are bred to withstand toxic herbicides (weed killers). This has created super weeds, which require more herbicides.  And as the weeds grow resistant, they require more and stronger toxic chemicals to kill them. These food crops are fed to the animals sold as food to humans, as well as crops sold to humans directly.  GMOs are developed and sold by the same companies that make the toxic weed herbicides.  Organic produce is by definition non-GMO, and does not utilize the toxic herbicides sprayed on GMO food crops.

Therefore, you need to know what a GMO is or is not.  You deserve the right and information to make your own choice about what you put in and on your body.

How do you avoid them?
According to the Non-GMO Project there are several GM crops that are widely available and get processed down into a variety of ingredients, ending up in packaged/processed foods.  So even if you know what the big four GM crops are (corn, soy, canola and sugar beets), you may not know where else they end up as derivatives of these crops.  The following is a list of high-risk products provided by the Non-GMO Project:  

Crops:  alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beet, and zucchini/yellow summer squash.

Animal Derivatives: eggs, gelatin, hides and skins, honey and other apiculture products, meat, and milk.

A list of examples of common derivative ingredients from the Non-GMO website are:

Amino acids, alcohol, aspartame, ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, citric acid, sodium citrate, ethanol, flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), high-fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lactic acid, maltodextrins, molasses, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sucrose, textured vegetable protein (TVP), xanthan gum, vitamins, vinegar, and yeast products.

We need to keep in mind that even if an animal itself isn’t genetically modified (cloning would be considered genetically modified), animal-derived products such as meat, dairy, eggs and honey are at issue due to the prevalence of GMOs in animal feed.

How do you decide what’s right for you?
Food for thought in the words of the leader in GMO food sources, and the body of government tasked with ensuring a safe food supply:

“Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” – Philip Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications (the FDA is the US government’s Food and Drug Administration, responsible for food safety).1

“Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.” – US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).2

What can you do to feel safer?
Until someone is looking out for your health and safety, you must take on the task of doing it yourself.  Your health depends on it.  When shopping, look for the Non-GMO Project symbol for verification that the product is GMO free.  When choosing fresh produce, you can use the produce coding system to determine how the food was grown.  Produce has a numbering system using 4 digits to identify the product.  You will find the number on the sticker attached to the item.  For example, the code for a conventionally grown banana is 4011.  Conventional means it’s not organic and it’s not GMO.  The number 9 placed in front of the 4011 tells you it’s an organic banana.  The number 8 placed in front of any number indicates it is a GMO product.  Unless the product is somehow packaged you will not likely see the Non-GMO product symbol.  The Non-GMO Project symbol is a sign that the product is verified as not containing GMO ingredients. Here is the symbol to look for on packaging:



1. Pollan M. Playing God in the garden. New York Times Magazine. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/25/magazine/ playing-god-in-the-garden.html. Published October 25, 1998.

2. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Statement of policy: Foods derived from new plant varieties. FDA Fed Regist. 1992;57(104):22984.

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