“GMO” is another hot buzzword in the wellness industry. In this article we’ll talk about what it really means and why it matters. If you’re already a big health & wellness buff, then this article is probably not for you. If you’re like the majority of America and you’re just starting to learn about all this, I hope this article can help you out. So, let’s get to it.
This acronym stands for Genetically Modified Organism. According to the Non GMO Project it applies to a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using recombinant DNA (gene splicing) methods, gene modification or transgenic technology. It’s a relatively new science that creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial & viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
There are a few articles out there that claim GMO labeling is unnecessary because we have been doing it for thousands of years. It’s important to clarify that what these articles are touching on is hybridization not genetic modification.
In high school science we learned about Gregor Mendel. He is known as the “father of genetics” and he discovered hereditary traits through hybridizing flowers and plants in his monastery. Through controlled hybridization he discovered that certain traits are dominant while others are recessive. Is any of this ringing a bell?
Hybridization is when two of the same species are crossed and their offspring end up with different traits. Humans capitalized on traits they liked and would continue to hybridize or cross-breed members of the same species to come up with offspring that exhibited the traits they were after. This is how we’ve gotten all the different dog breeds that we have today.
Genetic modification is when organisms are modified on the DNA level with genes from outside their species or a distant relative. The outcomes of genetic modification would never occur in nature because different species cannot cross-breed successfully. In nature, mules are the perfect example of this. Mules are the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse and they are sterile. Because they are sterile and cannot reproduce, they are not a distinct species.
Foods have been genetically modified for various reasons such as herbicide protection, viral protection, to get bigger and to produce more volume of product, etc.
Here are a few examples of gene splicing in conventional foods:
- Corn + DNA from soil bacteria immune to RoundUp herbicide & E.Coli = RoundUp Ready Corn
- Strawberries + fish genes = protection from freezing
- Dairy cows + genetically engineered hormone rBGH/rBST = increased milk production
Dangers of GMOs
The full impact and the dangers of GMOs are only recently coming to light. The true effects will be seen in the generations to come. In the meantime here’s some of the environmental effects that can be seen since the introduction of GMOs:
- They are present in the majority of processed foods in the US (expect organic foods)
- Superweeds and pesticide resistant insects are evolving out of control
- Bees & monarch butterflies are dying in unprecedented rates
- Pesticides are gradually killing soil microorganisms and crops are becoming reliant on fossil fuel fertilizers
GMO foods have been available in the market since the 1990’s, this technology is quite young and long-term negative effects on the population are still unclear. There have been NO long-term studies on the effects of GMOs in the US. Genetically modified foods are affecting us in ways that we cannot fathom. We are all genetically different and we all have different health concerns so while some people may be able to have healthy lives without being affected by GMOs, others are very sensitive and GMOs may be contributing detrimentally to their health.
According to WHO here are some concerns with the health affects of GMOs:
- Allergy – developing allergic reactions to GMO foods
- Gene transer – risk of the spliced genes being incorporated into the bacteria in our microflora
- Outcrossing – through unintentional cross-pollination, the GMO products contaminating and then eliminating the natural Non-GMO plants, so that only the GMO version is left
The Non-GMO Project categorizes GMO foods into 3 levels: High, low and no risk. Take a look at their table to see which foods are high risk.
The US does not currently require GMO foods to be labeled. That makes us the odd man out with 64 other nations requiring GMO labeling on foods. The image below from LabelGMOs.org shows which countries require GMO labeling and which do not.
If you shop at health food stores or in the heath food isle of your local grocery store, I’m sure you’ve seen the label below.
In order to use that label, the product needs to have less than 1% GMO ingredients. That means the product is 99% – 100% GMO free. If you see a product that is labeled organic but without the Non-GMO label, that’s alright too because certified organic products cannot include GMOs.
This article really is the tip of the iceberg in terms of GMO information. If I’ve been able to whet your appetite for more information there’s a great comprehensive ebook all about GMOs available for free: GMO Myths & Truths by EarthOpenSource. I’ll be honest with you, I just discovered this freebie while I was researching this article, so I haven’t been able to read it myself yet but I do want to get around to it in the future.