Our modern day society is ridden with food controversy. Gone are the days where we can simply pick up an apple in the grocery store for purchase without having to consider if it is organic or not. There are so many labels and so many questions to ask as a result of our fast-paced world driven by supply and demand, and ultimately, profit. There’s been a lot of buzz regarding genetically modified foods (GMOs, or genetically engineered foods), in the media lately, and it’s no wonder why. While there are movements in support of using mankind and science to better our food supply, there is a huge concern over the toll this is taking on everyone’s health. In case you’re confused as to why people are against GMOs, we’re here to answer some questions, and help you make food decisions that promote purity in what you eat and how you live.
What Are GMOs?
Genetically engineered (GE) foods or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are foods—both plant and meat—that have added genes from other species that ultimately alter their overall DNA. These species are often used to preserve the foods, and prevent pests and insects from spoiling them. They also work to breed viral, pesticide and antibiotic resistance. The foreign genes can come from a variety of sources like bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Some of the most common GE crops in the U.S. include: soy, cotton, corn, canola, sugar, beets, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini, yellow squash and alfalfa.
Related: 5 Scary Ingredients In Your Food
So What’s The Problem?
The FDA doesn’t currently test whether GMOs are safe, nor do they require companies to provide information as to whether they are safe for consumption before they are marketed to the masses. Jason Dietz, who is a policy analyst at FDA explains that: “It’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to insure that the product is safe.”
The agrichemical companies provide their own studies on GMOs to the FDA voluntarily, to which the FDA has said: “After the studies are completed, a summary of the data and information on the safety and nutritional assessment are provided to the FDA for review.” But there is a big concern as where things fall off due to this lack of regulation that seems merely a suggestion.
The FDA only sees subjective data and conclusions from these companies, who are doing their own research since they are not required to submit data. And many companies have failed to comply with the FDA requesting additional data than what they have provided.
But because the FDA has made it abundantly clear that they have no basis for determining whether GMOs are different than naturally-grown foods, labeling bills have been proposed in dozens of states in order to fight for the requirement to put a label on GMO products to allow the consumer to make a conscious decision as to whether or not they want to support these companies and eat these foods or not.
In response to the lack of federal oversight, labeling movements have turned into bills, and the fight has seen both its ups and its downs. Back in 2014, Vermont became the first state to pass a law that requires the labeling of GMOs. This law is set to take effect this year on July 1st. Maine and Connecticut passed legislation requiring labels on GMO foods as well, but in order for the laws to take effect, nearby states are required to pass a similar legislation. Currently, no other additional states have adopted laws like Vermont’s. Globally, 64 countries require GMO labeling.
Why Should You Care?
The debate on how GMOs impact your health is ongoing, with scientific studies supporting both sides. However, the fear of potential harm without our knowledge is one of the greatest concerns many advocates in favor of labeling have. They beg the question: if there is no harm in these foods, why can’t the biotech and food industries be transparent in how our food is being grown and made?
There is simply not enough evidence to prove that GMOs are safe, and there is no evidence that proves their effects in the long-term. We are left with a multitude of concerns as a result, including their potential threats to our livelihood as well as the environment. This is why the Non-GMO Project, founded in 2008, provides consumers a way to know what they’re putting in their bodies. Their mission is “to preserve and build sources of non-GMO products, educate consumers, and provide verified non-GMO choices.”
With no proof that there are any added health benefits or increased nutritional value, and a ton of unanswered questions, including whether or not GMOs trigger allergies, increase toxicity, impact the development of our nervous system, hurt immunity or have a detrimental impact on the environment and agriculture, it’s safe to say we should avoid GMOs altogether.
How Can You Support Non-GMO?
Simply put, settle on organic. These foods are not allowed to contain GMOs. Make sure to look for the USDA Organic Seal and Non-GMO labels. You’ll also want to make sure you pick fresh over processed foods to lower your risk of ingesting toxins. If you’d like to abide by a guide to help you pick the right choices, you can use the Center for Food Safety’s shopping guide to help you avoid buying and consuming GE foods. Want to take even more action? Sign a petition to urge the FDA that Americans have a right to know what’s in their food.
What’s The Buzz?
Whether it’s food corporations trying to avoid the backlash of supporting GMO by the growing number of concerned consumers, or their genuine desire to support the non-GMO movement, more and more companies are announcing that they will no longer support giving people products with genetically engineered ingredients.
Large food companies, including Hershey’s, are dumping GMO sweeteners for non-GMO, organic options, and replacing sugar from genetically modified sugar beets with non-GMO cane sugar. PepsiCo recently announced it would introduce an organic Gatorade this year, which will require organic sweetener, as opposed to the high fructose corn syrup made from GM corn in their conventional Gatorade.
Back in January, Campbells Soup became the first major food company to disclose the presence of GMOs like corn, soy and sugar beets in its products back in January. And other companies soon followed, including General Mills, who announced in March that it will begin labeling its products that contain genetically modified ingredients, while also no longer putting GMOs in their original Cheerios.
“Our principal ingredient has always been whole grain oats – and there are no GMO oats. We use a small amount of corn starch in cooking, and just one gram of sugar per serving for taste. But our corn starch comes from non-GMO corn, and we use only non-GMO pure cane sugar.”
Whole Foods has also announced that by 2018, all of their products across stores in the U.S. and Canada must disclose if they contain genetically modified organisms. Target is also heavily promoting their Simply Balanced line of non-GMO foods to support this movement and break away from GMOs and providing consumers with foods they can trust.
Who Are The Advocates To Follow?
It can feel like a lot of work to know where and how to do your research to remain in-the-know of what’s happening in the movement to protect people against GMOs, but there are some very special groups and people that have become advocates in the fight for mandatory GMO labeling and the general desire to know which foods are non-GMO. Here are a few to follow:
- Robyn O’Brien, referred to as “Food’s Erin Brockovich,” by the New York Times, provides detailed research to the masses on the impact that the global food system is having on the health of our children. Check out her website for more info: www.robynobrien.com
- Vani Hari, better known as “The Food Babe,” publishes valuable material on GMOs to keep readers informed of any changes they may need to know to steer clear of consuming genetically engineered foods. Check out some of her articles on the subject here: www.foodbabe.com/search/gmos
- The GMO Awareness Team does a great job of keeping readers aware of important news on the subject as well. They provide valuable information so you can get the facts, avoid GMOs and create awareness. Check out their website: www.gmoawareness.org
- Dr. Joseph Mercola of the popular natural health website Mercola.com, exposes harsh truths and incredible insight on the topic of GMOs. He also launched a rally against genetic engineering this year, pushing for donations to the Organic Consumers Association whose goal is to increase organic market share and achieve “global moratorium on genetically engineered foods and crops.” Check out his detailed analysis on the subject of GMOs on his website: www.gmo.mercola.com
*Update: As of August 1, 2016 President Obama signed a bill into law requiring anything containing GMOs to be labeled.