What you should know about GMO foods?
What do we know about GMO foods? Not a lot. GMO entered our food supply in the mid-1990s as an effort to bring more food to the world marketplace and increase crop yields. Increasing yields meant improving crop protection through increasing a plant's resistance to disease or its tolerance to herbicides by altering its genetic makeup. While there is much debate around the world regarding the effectiveness of this approach and the possible health risks to humans and animals who consume GMO foods, the following should shed some light on the subject and help you to better address GMO foods that may be in your diet.
What is GMO?According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a GMO is an organism in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The nomenclature "GMO" stands for "Genetically Modified Organism," and was established to distinguish these new plants from conventionally grown plants. Also known as genetic engineering, selected individual genes are removed from one organism, such as a bacterium, virus, insect or animal, and recombined into the DNA of the plant to be altered. By transferring directly into a plant's genetic structure, the arrangement of the basic protein template of the cell and expression of its DNA are changed to include some of the cross-species' genetic material. For example, the bacterium known as Bt (for Bacillus thuringiensis) expresses a protein that is toxic to insects. When Bt genes are transferred into the DNA of corn, the corn produces its own pesticide. When insects bite into the Bt corn, the poison explodes in their stomachs and kills them, allowing the corn crop to thrive, theoretically.
Many Common Foods and Ingredients Are GMOIn the fifteen years since genetically engineered plant foods have been issued on the mass market, many of the most common crops, foods and food ingredients have been genetically altered. According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, most common are soy (91%), cotton (71%), canola (88%), corn (85 %), sugar beets (90%), and Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%). Foods that include these ingredients include vegetable oils, corn syrup, cornmeal, tofu, tamari, and soy protein supplements to state a few. Corn, soy and sugar beet products are especially common in processed foods. Dairy products that are made with milk from cows injected with the genetically altered growth hormone rbGH also contain GMO.
Debate Surrounding GMOGenetic engineering of plant foods seemed like a good idea in the late 1980s/early 90s, and was quickly green lighted by the Food and Drug Administration, foregoing much of the usual lengthy testing required for new food products. According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, the Food and Drug Administration claimed in 1992 that they had no information showing that genetically modified foods were substantially different from conventionally grown foods. The debate surrounding GMO has only intensified since then. Proponents, like Monsanto and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who have invested millions in the development of GMO foods, defend GMO as the only way to solve the world food shortage crisis and support developing countries' agriculture economies. Opponents, like the Institute for Responsible Technology and others, cite adverse health effects, damage to the environment, and the compromising of conventional and organic agriculture. In Europe the debate is even more heated.
Scientific Studies Are Few, But Raise ConcernsIn 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) stated, "Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified food." While no clinical trials have been conducted on humans, concerns are rising about the possible short and long term negative effects GMO can have on human health and the environment. While limited, international research studies have cited incidences of tumors, digestive organ failure, compromised immune systems, sterility and the inability to reproduce in laboratory animals fed a GMO diet. A few such findings reported by The Organic and Non-GMO Report are as follows:
- In the late 1990s, a study on genetically modified potatoes for the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland found that the potatoes damaged rats' gut, other organs, and immune systems.
- In 2006, the Russian National Academy of Sciences found that more than half the babies from mother rats fed GMO soy died within three weeks. Another Russian study found that hamsters fed GMO soy had lost their ability to reproduce by the third generation.
- A 2011 report published in Environmental Sciences Europe reviewed 19 studies of mammals fed commercialized GMO soybeans and maize and found signs of liver and kidney damage.
- A 2011 study published in Reproductive Toxicology by Canadian scientists found Bt toxin circulating in the blood of pregnant and non-pregnant women who had consumed a typical Canadian diet that included foods containing ingredients from GMO soybeans and corn. None of the women had any direct contact with GMO crops or pesticides. The study casts doubt on claims made by biotechnology companies that the Bt toxin poses no danger to human health because it breaks down in the human gut.
Empirical Observations Suggest Allergic Reactions to GMOAccording to the Institute for Responsible Technology, the Center for Disease Control reported in March 2001 that food-related illnesses had doubled since 1994 – about the time when American's began eating GMO food. Allergies to soy increased 50% in the United Kingdom soon after GM soy was introduced. A study of GMO and wild soybeans, published in the 2005 issue of Allergy and Asthma Proceedings, found with skin prick allergy tests that some people react to GMO soy, but not wild natural soy. Additional observations include the decimation of monarch butterflies who feed on fields of GMO crops, the increase in pesticide-resistant pests, and cross contamination of GMO genes into conventionally or organically grown crops. Farmers note that when given a choice livestock prefer conventional feed and avoid GMO feed.
GMO Impact on Human HealthGMO presents a unique challenge to the human physiology by entering the system as unrecognized protein. The extreme allergic responses that some people have noted indicate that the human system doesn't know how to handle the foreign organism. Everyone is different, however, and some may tolerate GMO better than others. Life is a balancing act of stimulus, and the human body is configured to address and respond to each stimuli with our best health intended. In the absence of scientific studies on humans, observing how our co-creatures - insects and animals - respond to genetically altered plants may provide us with a better grasp of the cumulative impact of GMO on human health. One impact of GMO on human health observed repeatedly is the disturbance of gut function. Occurrences of GIRD, extreme bloating, flatulence, a sense of discomfort during or after eating a meal, and unexplained fat deposits are noted more and more frequently. This may be an occurrence of the phenomenon known in nutrition in which the body stores incomplete for potential use later. In instances of starvation, the stored food would be broken down and used as energy.
Ways to Identify and Avoid GMOAs GMO food has become a large part of the American diet, it is more and more difficult to discern what is GMO and what is not. One identifier of GMO is its ability to remain fresh for weeks at a time showing few signs of decay or degeneration. While there is a debate in the U.S. regarding the labeling of GMO foods, there are steps that you can take to modify your intake of GMO. Recommendations by The Organic and Non-GMO Report include:
- Avoid processed foods containing ingredients from corn, soy, canola, sugar beets and cotton
- Look for Non-GMO Project verified products
- Eat organic - however, GMO foods can also be grown organically
- Buy locally grown non-GMO foods
- Grow your own food using seeds and plants that are not genetically modified
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Recommend sources for more information and updates about GMO foods:The Institute for Responsible Technology The Organic and Non-GMO Report