I’m back to the blog and today I’m talking about GMOs or genetically modified foods! I think there is a lot of confusion out there about GMOs – what are they, are they good or bad, and what foods are genetically modified? So today I’ll try to shed some light on this topic, give some answers and allow you to make the best decision for you and your family.
What is a GMO?
A GMO is simply a genetically modified organism. This means it is any plant, animal, or other organism
that has had its genes altered by some technological mechanism. It’s very likely that you’ve consumed GMO foods before. Produce including sweet corn, zucchini, yellow squash and papaya have genetically modified versions sold in the US. Many commodity crops are grown from GMO seed including corn, soybeans, canola, and sugar beets. These crops are also processed into other ingredients, like corn starch, corn syrup and canola oil which are used in many packaged foods.
So what I’m saying here is that it’s likely we’ve all eaten GMO foods and didn’t even know it. Anyone see a problem with this? It seems like people should at least know what foods have been genetically altered, so they can make an informed choice about whether or not they want to purchase and eat them. This is something many Americans have fought for. California tried to pass a proposition to mandate labeling of GMO-containing foods, but was denied in 2012. Today, about half the US states have passed mandates on labeling GMOs, each with unique specifications. For example, in Connecticut, it is mandatory to label GMO use on baby food and infant formula.
In 2016, President Barack Obama signed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure standard, requiring manufacturers to label certain bioengineered products. Sounds great right? Well unfortunately the label can just be a simple QR code or phone number–it doesn’t have to be explicitly stated on the product. Oh goody….
Why should we care about GMOs?
Well, we don’t really know if genetically modified products are safe for us. Much of the research on new GMO products in the US is conducted by the companies or industries that are producing the product. This is a clear conflict of interest and should encourage us to ask questions. In a review of studies performed on genetically modified crops, 100% (41 papers total) of the studies that had a conflict of interest concluded favorably of GMO safety. However, out of the 53 papers that were published without a conflict of interest, only around 74% found these GM crops to be safe, and the remaining 26% found the crops to be problematic or had neutral conclusions. This leaves some room for doubt in the minds of us consumers.
One thing that has been very controversial is the use of Bt toxin in GMO crops. Bt stands for Bacillus Thuringiensis which is a natural bacteria that has been used to control pests for many years. Scientists wanted to incorporate the bug fighting abilities of this bacteria into the crops themselves by moving certain genes from the bacteria into the DNA of corn and cotton. To put it simply, Bt toxin kills pests by rupturing the cells of their gut and there is concern about whether or not this same process could happen in humans. In my opinion, the jury is still out and we don’t have any final determinations on this.
In 2019, the FDA cleared the commercial sale of a genetically modified salmon by the company Aquadvantage. This salmon contains genes from two different species that allow it to grow at a faster rate than conventional salmon. Many consumers, scientists, and even members of Congress opposed the FDA’s decision, stating that the data used to prove the safety of this fish was inadequate. The FDA relied heavily on data provided by the AquaBounty company that developed the fish and its sponsors. Sounds a little fishy to me, pun intended! So, how can we be sure that the data isn’t biased? Unfortunately, we can’t.
If I’m giving my honest opinion, I don’t feel confident about the safety of genetically modified foods and I would prefer not to purchase/eat them. So if you feel the same, the next question is…
How can we avoid GMOs?
In the United States, any produce or food product labeled with the USDA organic seal is GMO-free. Additionally, two companies, the Non-GMO Project and Natural Food Certifiers, have strict regulations for verifying a product as “non-GMO” and have recognizable seals.
Look for these labels on food packaging:
Additionally, when picking out produce with stickers on it, the “PLU Code,” or four-digit code can let you know if your produce is organic. If the 4 digit code begins with 4, it is conventionally grown. If the code is 5 digits and begins with a “9,” in front of the four digits, then the produce is organic. You may have heard that a 5 digit code beginning with an “8” means that the produce is genetically modified. Unfortunately, this is not true.
I’ll finish off here by saying as with most of my blogs, my main goal and purpose is to provide you with helpful information so you can make the best choices for your and your family. Every family has different concerns and priorities, a different financial situation, different challenges, time constraints and stresses. If you are concerned about GMOs in your food, I want you to know how you can avoid them. And if GMOs aren’t a concern, that’s fine too! GMOs aren’t proven to be toxic, but there are unanswered questions about them so as more research comes out, I’ll be sure to keep you posted. I always encourage asking questions, understanding food labels and making informed choices and I want to make that task easier for you with the topics I cover in my blog! So if you have any questions, don’t be afraid to reach out on my website or on Instagram! I love hearing from you all. Until next time, I wish you all the best!