I’d never really heard much about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) until we changed to our more wholesome diet. We first found out about GMOs when we were looking more closely at the organic label. More specifically, when we were identifying why something may be classified as “organic” or not. In the United States, if a food product has the organic label, it is not a GMO and does not contain any genetically modified ingredients (among other requirements). After finding this out, we concluded (brilliantly) that anything not labeled “organic” may be genetically modified or contain genetically modified ingredients.
Unlike other countries, the United States does not require labeling of food that is genetically modified and/or contains genetically modified ingredients. Corn and soybeans are the two largest GMO crops in the U.S. When we think about how many products on our grocery store shelves contain corn or soybeans (or products made with these two crops), the impact that GMOs could have on our society becomes quite obvious.
It is important to know that not all corn and soybeans (and their products) are genetically modified. Most are, but not all. Due to cross-pollination of crops, it is easy for fields that contain non-GMO crops to become GMO crops. For instance, all it takes is a few seeds from a truck toting GMO corn to fly into the field of non-GMO corn to contaminate the non-GMO corn. So, what once was non-GMO corn, now is GMO corn. GMO seeds are also patented. So a farmer whose crop has been contaminated by no fault of his or her own can be sued by the seed developer for patent infringement. This has numerous consequences, the most troubling of which is more and more farmers are switching to GMO seeds to avoid the risk of their non-GMO crop being accidentally contaminated, which could result in hefty fines and legal fees. This, of course, means that there is an increasing lack of diversity among seeds since most farmers feel pressured, one way or another, into using the GMO crops.
What does it mean to be genetically modified? Crops are modified for a variety of reasons. They can be modified to be more resistant to cold weather or to grow larger. Some crops are modified so they can be sprayed with large amounts of pesticides and not be killed- only the weeds around the crops are killed, not the actual crop, as in the case of Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready Soybean. The most common way of altering the genetic make up of a seed involves adding whatever gene a company desires to a virus or bacteria and then infecting the seed with that virus and/or bacteria. The desired gene cannot simply just be added to the seed, it does not work. Infecting a seed with viruses and/or bacteria (such as E. Coli) that can be altered to carry the desired gene works because the virus and/or bacteria can successfully invade and alter the genetic make-up of a seed. Other methods of altering the genetic make-up of a seed include using a gene gun, which fires particles of gold and the desired gene into the seed and/or using electricity to create holes in the seed’s cell walls so the desired gene can then be added to the seed. None of these methods have been subject to any long-term testing by independent parties. Yes, you read that correctly. GMOs have not been tested over long periods of time and most of the testing done on GMO crops is not done by independent testers. Instead, it is most often done by the company who developed and is trying to sell the seed.
Genetic modification is only allowed in agriculture and biotechnology in the United States for the time being. Right now, the FDA is examining GM salmon and this salmon may be the first GM animal to grace our grocery store shelves. As with GMOs in agriculture, it would only be a matter of time before the wild salmon population is contaminated by GM salmon. Both animals and seeds reproduce, which makes GMOs in these two areas difficult, if not impossible, to control.
We avoid genetically modified products as much as we can. One of the primary reasons why we buy organic is to avoid GMOs. After all, who knows what types of health effects these may have, especially with long-term consumption. As we’ve mentioned before, we avoid processed foods- most of them contain high fructose CORN syrup and other ingredients made with corn and/or soybeans. Finally, we’ve written letters to our government representatives requesting they not allow GM salmon into the marketplace and requesting genetically modified foods be labeled as such. After all, how are we to make informed decisions about what we eat, if we aren’t given the information to make well-informed choices?
*This post is shared on Real Food Wednesday