Most of us have heard the dire news about high fructose corn syrup (HCFS) and trans fats. We have altered our shopping habits accordingly, reading labels to avoid these harmful ingredients. How about genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? Are you as vigilant about avoiding them? It is not as easy as you may think since our government regulations and standards make it nearly impossible as there are no labeling requirements in the U.S.
GMOs were first grown in the United States in 1996. They work by inserting an additional protein into the genetic code of the original seed. This allows the crops to withstand repeated bouts of pesticide without destroying the crop. In such a short amount of time, GMOs have become a ubiquitous part of our food supply, found in nearly 75% of processed foods lining the supermarket shelves. How has it infiltrated such a large portion of our food supply? A large majority of our farmland the past few decades has transitioned to grow three major crops: corn, soy, and canola. The same agrochemical businesses that created GMOs also sell the seeds that grow these crops. For example, 92 percent of all soy grown worldwide is genetically modified, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you think you do not consume any of these soybeans because you avoid edamame, tofu, and soymilk- think again! Soybean oil, soy protein isolate, soy lecithin, etc, are common ingredients in processed foods. Even products you think of as healthy contain these harmful ingredients, such as protein bars, dark chocolate, and multigrain crackers. Since these crops are also fed to our animals, even meat is not free of them.
All of Europe, England, Australia, Japan and Russia require food containing GMOs to be labeled accordingly. In response to consumer outcries in these countries, large companies such as Kraft, Walmart, and Coca Cola have redesigned their products to either remove GMOs from them or label them appropriately. Consumers can then make their own decisions about whether to include these new substances into their family’s diet or now. For a myriad of political reasons, we are not given that choice in this country. Instead, you must be extremely pro-active if you would like to minimize GMOs in your diet.
So what’s the big deal with GMOs and why should you avoid them? Most of the objection about GMOs is that they are an uncontrolled human experiment. Only one study has been conducted on humans rather than animals. The results showed that parts of the altered gene in GMO soy had been transferred into the DNA of the bacteria in the digestive system (U.S. National Academy of Sciences 2004). Results from animal studies are even less promising. Until U.S. consumers get more vocal about GMOs, what can you do?
Tips for minimizing GMOs in your diet:
- Stick to organic food as much as possible; even fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables can be coated in a corn-based wax to make them look prettier and withstand long travel distances
- Look for corn, soy, and canola listed in the ingredient list; assume they are genetically modified
- Start small. What do you or your family consumer a lot of? Cereal? Crackers? Milk? Look for a non-GMO alternative of your favorite brand by shopping organic.
- Most importantly, speak up! Does your grocery store have slim pickings when it comes to organics? Make a request for specific products you would like to see. Does your store already offer plenty of options? Let them know you appreciate the selection. Do it for your children and your children’s children!