What Does Non-GMO Mean?
GMO means Genetically Modified Organism, which is a novel organism created by scientists when they genetically engineer plants and animals. There are many cited health and environmental risks with genetically modified (GM) foods. As a result of these risks, there is a growing movement of concerned people from around the world, who are demanding non-genetically modified (non-GMO) foods.
What are genetically modified foods?
In genetic modification or genetic engineering (GE), scientists remove one or more genes from the DNA of another organism, such as a bacterium, virus, or animal, and “recombine” them into the DNA of the plant or animal that they want to alter. By adding these new genes, genetic engineers hope the plant will express the traits associated with the new genes. The first GMO food to be approved and grown for human consumption was the Flavr-Savr tomato where scientists inserted the DNA from a cold-water fish into a tomato plant in hopes of making the plant resistant to rotting and softening. In another example, genetic engineers transferred genes from a bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt into the DNA of corn. Bt genes express a protein that kills insects, and transferring the genes allows the corn to produce its own pesticide. It appears that genetically engineered salmon will be the first animal (fish) to be approved for human consumption.
Genetic modification/engineering is a potentially dangerous technology
One of the main problems with genetic engineering is that the process of inserting genes into the DNA of a food plant is random; scientists have no idea where the genes go. This can disrupt the functioning of other genes and create novel proteins that have never been in the food supply and could create toxins and allergens in foods.
Genetic modification is a radical technology
Supporters of genetic modification say that the technology is simply an extension of traditional plant breeding. The reality is that genetic engineering is radically different. Traditional plant breeders work with plants of the same or related species to create new plant varieties. Genetic engineers break down nature’s genetic barriers by allowing transfers of genes from bacteria, viruses, and even animals—with unforeseen consequences.
Genetic modification is based on an obsolete scientific theory
Genetic modification is based on a theory called the Central Dogma, which asserts that one gene will express one protein. However, scientists working with the United States National Human Genome Research Institute discovered that this wasn’t true, that genes operate in a complex network in ways that are not fully understood. This finding undermines the entire basis for genetic engineering.
What genetically modified crops are currently grown?
The majority of corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugar beets grown in the United States are GM. Fifty percent of papaya grown in Hawaii is GM. Small amounts of yellow “crook neck” and zucchini squash are also GM.
As many as 15% of cows in the US are injected with a genetically modified bovine growth hormone called rBGH (rBST). rBGH is banned in many countries due to negative health impacts on cows.
Health hazards of GM foods
Rats born to mothers fed GM soy were smaller and had higher mortality than control group rats.
Below are several documented findings showing health dangers from GM foods.
• Tryptophan tragedy
A genetically engineered form of an L-tryptophan food supplement was responsible for the deaths of thirty-seven people and disabling of several thousand more in 1989.
• GMO potatoes harm rats
In the late 1990s, Arpad Pusztai, Ph.D., a molecular biologist, conducted a study on genetically modified potatoes for the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland. Pusztai conducted feeding experiments on rats and found that the potatoes damaged the animals’ gut, other organs, and immune systems.
• GMO corn causes liver and kidney damage in rats
A study conducted by French scientists and published in Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology found symptoms of poisoning and liver and kidney damage in rats fed a GM corn. GM soy increased mortality in rats, reduced fertility in hamsters. A 2006 study conducted by Irina Ermikova of the Russian National Academy of Sciences found that more than half the babies from mother rats fed GM soy died within three weeks. In another Russian study scientists found that hamsters fed GM soy had lost their ability to reproduce by the third generation. The hamster pups also suffered slower growth and high mortality
Environmental hazards of GMO foods
• GMO corn harms aquatic insects
A 2007 published study by Indiana University environmental science professor found that GM corn produced increased mortality and reduced growth in caddisflies, aquatic insects that are a food resource for higher organisms like fish and amphibians.
• GMO corn threatens native corn in Mexico
In a 2001 paper published in Nature magazine, University of California at Berkeley researchers Ignacio Chapela and David Quist described how genes from GM corn contaminated native corn varieties in Oaxaca, Mexico. The finding was particularly disturbing because contamination was found thousands of miles from plantings of GM corn and because it threatened the center of biological diversity for corn.
• GMO soy creating “superweeds”
The widespread use of glyphosate herbicide used with herbicide tolerant GM corn, soybeans, canola, and cotton has led to the creation of herbicide resistant weeds infesting millions of acres of farmland throughout the United States.
• GMO crops increase pesticide use
Genetically modified crops increased the use of herbicides by 383 million pounds in the United States from 1996 to 2008, according to a report by the Organic Center.
How to avoid GM foods
• Eat Organic
GMOs are not permitted in certified organic agriculture or food products. For this reason, buying organic food is one of the easiest and best ways to insure against the risks of genetic engineering in our food supply. Simply put, GMO substances are not allowed in organic production. Always look for products with the Canada Organic symbol, your best bet for non-GMO.
• Look for Non-GMO Project verified products
These food products have gone through a rigorous verification program to minimize the risk of GMO contamination, giving you the best assurance they are non-GMO.
• Avoid processed foods made from conventional corn, soybeans, canola
Unless the food product is organic or non-GMO verified, processed items that list ingredients derived from corn, soybeans or canola almost certainly are genetically engineered. As well, over half the sugar used in food products comes from GM sugar beets.
• Buy locally grown foods
There is nothing better than locally produced fresh fruits and vegetables. Ask the person at your local store or farmers’ market how a particular product was grown or made. Be an aggressive consumer. Buying local supports farmers and keeps food dollars in the community. Another option is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, where you pay a membership fee to a local farmer and receive fresh organic produce throughout the growing season.
• Grow your own
Gardening is a great hobby, nourishing to the body, mind, and soil. You can also participate in urban agriculture projects that are sprouting nationwide. Remember to use seeds that are non-GMO and have not been chemically treated.
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