October is traditionally a month of harvest. This month, crops are brought in from fields and gardens, and we give thanks for another season of bounty. October is also National Non-GMO Month – a perfect time to reflect on the nation’s food supply.
National Non-GMO Month is a celebration of transparency in agriculture and food system that supports our environmental well-being. It protects the genes of food-bearing plants for future generations. It’s a month to be thankful for the farmers, brands, and retailers that provide non-GMO and organic options for our store shelves.
What is GMO?
GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.” It’s a plant or animal that has undergone genetic engineering techniques to tweak some of its original characteristics. These products have inner workings that are genetically-engineered and manipulated with the DNA of other plants, animals, bacteria, or viruses.
The key steps involved in genetic engineering include identifying a trait of interest, isolating that trait, inserting it into the organism, then propagating that organism. Usually, plants are genetically modified to make it resistant to drought or a particular herbicide. Some are modified to contain built-in pesticides. Some have edited genes to remove unwanted traits; for instance, there are GMO apples and potatoes that are resistant to browning when sliced.
GMOs have benefits for the farmer – it helps produce more yield with more desirable qualities, which means less waste. It’s also a solution to support the high demand for food. And to be honest, having produce and animals with undesirable traits removed can be pretty cool.
But there are things to be wary of about GMOs. Though studies have proven their safety for the past 20 years, we are still unsure about its long-term effects for the next decades. Here are some reasons why we must be wary about GMOs:
1. It has a negative effect on soil health.
Most GMO plants produced in the US today allow resistance to a specific herbicide – Monsanto’s glyphosate weedkiller known as Roundup. These GMO seeds of corn, soy, and beets have been genetically modified to grow even when the herbicide is applied to them. While Monsanto’s Roundup is not tested as toxic to humans and other mammals, the longer it’s used, the worse its effects on soil health and long-term plant fruitfulness. Also, these GMOs may not allow the necessary nutrients to be absorbed by animals that consume them. It’s linked to the recent die-off of bees.
2. It has questionable efficacy.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has studied Monsanto’s drought-tolerant corn and issued a report that the GM product failed to conserve water and is only slightly more drought-tolerant than traditionally-bred counterparts. This report questions the biotech firm’s dedication to developing crops that conserve water, as it becomes a growing concern in agriculture.
3. It may be toxic for the body.
When genetically modified foods were introduced in the US a few decades ago, people reported toxic effects caused by GMOs, creating an atmosphere of fear and avoidance towards GMOs. To back up these claims, the Institute of Responsible Technology reported that rats who were fed a diet of GMO potato had every organ in the body adversely affected after just ten days of feeding. They concluded that the process of making GMOs make food toxic.
However, human observational studies don’t replicate these effects, even over multiple generations. Studies that monitored GMOs’ toxicity on humans found no significant differences in the buildup of toxicity in the body. It may appear that GMOs as a class are no harmful than traditionally grown food sources, but the technology is still young, and there are still a lot of things yet to be discovered. For those people who want to be safe, it’s recommended that they stick to organic, traditionally-grown food.
Where can you find GMOs?
In the US, nearly 80 percent of foods in supermarkets contain ingredients that come from genetically engineered crops. More than 80% of the country’s packaged and processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients, and about 90% of corn, cotton, and canola is genetically modified. If you think you don’t eat these things, GM corn becomes corn oil or high fructose corn syrup. GM cotton and canola show up in your food as canola oil and cottonseed oil. These vegetable oils and sweeteners are used across the food supply.
Processed foods often contain hidden GM ingredients unless the product is organic or labeled as non-GMO. Here are some ingredients that may be made from GM crops or GM micro-organisms:
- Baking powder
- Caramel color
- Canola oil
- Citric acid
- Condensed milk
- Corn products (flour, meal, masa, oil, sugar, syrup, etc.)
- High fructose corn syrup
- Hydrogenated starch
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Malt products (malt, malt extract, malt syrup)
- Milk powder
- Modified starch
- Monosodium glutamate
- Oleic acid
- Soy products (flour isolates, lecithin, milk, protein, oil, sauce, etc.)
- Sugar (unless made from cane)
- Stearic acid
- Teriyaki marinade
- Vegetable fat
- Whey powder
- Xanthan gum
GM-free food authority: Non-GMO Project
There are two voluntary labels to look for when avoiding GMO: certified organic and Non-GMO Project Verified. The Non-GMO Project is an independent third party verifier of GM-free foods in the United States. You have seen its butterfly logo on a green check, designating that the product is verified as non-GM. The organization ensures non-GMO claims, backing them up by best practices and testing throughout the supply chain.
Products that carry the Non-GMO Project Verified seal are meticulously verified and tested to provide customers with clearly labeled non-GMO choices.