What is GMO and why is it in my food?
*adapted from "5 surprising genetically modified foods" by Maggie Caldwell posted on MotherJones.com
GMO - genetically modified organism, sounds scary, huh? These are plants or animals that have undergone a process wherein scientists alter their genes with the DNA from different species of living organisms, bacteria, or viruses to get desired traits such as resistance to disease or tolerance of pesticides. Still scary!
GMO's are present in 60-70% of food on U.S. supermarket shelves. Most processed foods contain GMO's. One major exception is fresh fruits and vegetables.
Below are the top 5 most used GMO products.
1. Papayas - 77% of crops grown in Hawaii are genetically engineered (GE.)
2. Milk - RGBH(recombinant bovinve growth hormone) is a GE variation on a naturally occurring hormone injected into dairy cows to increase milk production. It is banned for human consumption in the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Many milk brands that are RGBH-free label their milk as such, but as much as 40% of our dairy products, including ice cream and cheese, contains the hormone.
3. Corn on the cob - while 90% of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified, most of that crop is used for animal feed or ethenol and much of the rest ends up in processed foods. Sweet corn, what humans eat, was GMO free until last year when Monsanto rolled out its first GE harvest of sweet corn. While consumers successfully petitioned Whole Foods and Trader Joe's to not carry the variety, Walmart has begun stocking the shelves with it, without any label.
4. Squash and zucchini - the majority of squashes on the market are not geneticaly engineered, but 25,000 acres of crookneck, straightneck, and zucchinis have been bioengineered to be virus resistant.
5. All Natural foods - Be wary of this label if you're trying to avoid GE foods. Right now there is no strict definition of what constitutes a natural food. This could be changing soon as federal court judges recently requested the Food and Drug Administration to determine whether the term can be used to describe foods containing GMO's. This will help resolve pending class action suits against General Mills, Campbell Soup Co, and the tortilla manufacturer Gruma Corp.
Currently, no meat, fish, or egg products are genetically engineered, though a company called Aqua Bounty has an application in with the FDA to approve its GE salmon.
There are currently 64 countries around the world that require GMO food labeling, the United States is not one of them.
The jury is still out on whether GMO foods are safe for human consumption. The biggest factor can be summed up in one word: pesticides. Hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides are dropped on our food crops annually.
The 6 biggest producers of genetically engineered seeds- Monsanto, Syngento, Dow Agrosciences, BASF, Bayer, and Pioneer (DuPont) - are also the biggest producers of chemical herbicides and insecticides. The "roundup ready" crops are engineered to be immune to herbicides so farmers can destroy weeds without killing their cash crops. But the process has spawned "roundup" resistant weeds, leading farmers to apply greater and greater doses of the chemical or even resort to more toxic methods to battle the superweeds.
The only way to know for sure that your foods are GMO free is to grow them yourself from heirloom seeds. When you have to purchase produce from the supermarket, look for "USDA ORGANIC" stickers and ALWAYS read the nutritional information and the list of ingredients.