What’s the Big Deal About GMOs?
Posted by Genevieve Boyer
There has been a lot of talk in the last few years about genetically modified organisms in our food, so what’s the big deal? Avoiding GMO foods is actually a really important part of keeping yourself and your loved ones healthy, and here is why, in a nutshell.
What Exactly Are GMO Foods?
GMO foods have been altered, not through careful breeding, but through injection of foreign genes into the cells of various plant species. There are two basic types of genetically modified foods: some plants have been genetically modified to be resistant the herbicide Roundup, and others have been genetically modified to produce their own pesticide.
Roundup Ready Crops
Roundup ready crops can include soy, corn, canola, cotton, sugarbeets and alfalfa. These crops can be sprayed with as much Roundup as a farmer needs to kill weeds without killing the crops. But there are two major concerns with this type of GMO produce. Firstly, of course, they have been sprayed with much more Roundup than non-GMO crops, and so are contaminated with much higher levels of glyphosate, the active ingredient, which has been linked in independent studies to, among other things, Parkinson’s disease, infertility and many forms of cancer. Secondly, glyphosate kills weeds by binding to important nutrients in the plant, essentially starving the plant to death. So as a consequence, Roundup ready crops are typically much lower in nutrients than their non-GMO counterparts. To add insult to injury, it has also been suggested that when we eat foods sprayed with this herbicide, the glyphosate may bind to nutrients in our system as well, actually making much needed nutrients unavailable to our bodies.
One example of this type of crop is Bt-corn: corn which has been injected with genes from the Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria, so that every cell in the corn plant produces a pesticide that kills insects. The way this Bt-toxin kills insects is by deteriorating the insects’ stomachs. A 2012 research study showed that the Bt-toxin had an effect in humans as well, by breaking open pores in human cells, which has led to the concern that Bt-corn may cause the gut membrane in humans to become overly permeable, leading to leaky gut syndrome and the associated allergic and inflammatory responses. One scary statistic comes from a Canadian study, which found that 93% of women tested had Bt-toxin in their blood, and the toxin was found in 80% of unborn fetuses as well.
General Concerns About GMO Foods
According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, recognized negative impacts of GMO foods on our health include “infertility; immune system dysregulation; accelerated aging; dysregulated genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling and protein formation; and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system.” Studies have also linked GMO foods to many forms of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, autism, birth defects, and the list goes on.
So What Can You Do?
So what can you do to keep yourself and your family safe from these unhealthy foods? Not all foods contain GMOs since only certain crops have been genetically engineered. Nonetheless, in the US, over 80% of processed foods contain GMOs, and the number is likely similar in Canada. The labelling of foods containing genetically engineered organisms is voluntary, not mandatory, in Canada, so the best way to feel relatively safe that you are purchasing a product that is non-GMO is to eat food that is certified organic or to purchase foods labelled Non-GMO Project Verified.
So which ingredients carry the potential of coming from GMO sources? The ingredients that are most likely GMO if not stated otherwise are listed here:
And if you are an iPhone user, there is also a free iPhone app called ShopNoGMO, or you can visit nongmoshoppingguide.com to see a complete list of Non-GMO products.
And if you want to find out more, Genetic Roulette, a documentary by Jeffery Smith, is a great source of information, and another documentary, GMO OMG, a film by Jeremy Seifert, will be available on DVD or iTunes on July 22, 2014.
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