So what is a GMO? Why do some people say that GMO foods are bad? What is the difference between cross-pollination or hybridization and a GMO? What foods are GMO?
These are questions that I am often asked. So here is the short of it on GMO’s:
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. This includes plants, animals, viruses or bacteria. A Genetically Modified Organism is an organism in which the genetic makeup has been altered through technology. Using molecular genetic engineering techniques, the actual DNA of the organism is modified by adding, removing or re-arranging parts of the DNA in order to create a product that is viral, bacterial, herbicide or insect resistant, to enhance flavor or nutritional value or for generally ‘improving’ the organism for better productivity.
Farmers have been trying to improve crops for hundreds of years by cross pollinating their good crops together. Isn’t that modifying genes? The answer is no. Cross-pollination actually happens regularly in nature between closely related species. Cross-pollination or hybridization is when desirable characteristics of two similar ‘parent’ organisms are combined to form a new ‘child’. The DNA of the new organism or ‘hybrid’ has been bound naturally, not manipulated through technology as in a GM product.
On one hand there are some real benefits to the idea of GMO’s. Such as prolonged shelf life of produce, resistance to crop/animal decimation due to various insects, virus or bacteria, increased yields to help feed more people as well as crops with increased nutritional value to reduce or prevent certain diseases.
On the other hand, however, there are some downsides of GMO’s. The most prevalent issue at hand is that of increased food allergies. It is believed that the current rise in food allergies is at least in part due to the different protein combinations in the DNA of the new genetically modified foods. Another human health safety issue is the possibility of transferring the antibiotic resistant markers used in GMO’s, to people who are exposed to these GMO’s. Nutritional differences in GMO products can also have an effect on human health.
So how do I know if a product is GMO or not? My answer – check the label. According to the P. Byrne, Colorado State University Extension agronomy specialist and professor, soil and crop science, September 2010 issue, the current labeling policy for GMO is as follows:
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently requires labeling of GE foods if the food has a significantly different nutritional property; if a new food includes an allergen that consumers would not expect to be present (e.g., a peanut protein in a soybean product); or if a food contains a toxicant beyond acceptable limits. Early in 2001, the FDA proposed voluntary guidelines for labeling food that does or does not contain GE ingredients”
In other words, only foods with potentially high risk of a food allergen to consumers must be labeled GMO, otherwise GMO foods are voluntarily labeled per individual company. However, By law, the use of genetical engineering is prohibited for products defined as ‘organic’, according to the GMO Compass, January 2007, “Labeling of GMO Products: Freedom of Choice for Consumers”.
So what does this all mean? What foods are genetically modified and what are not?
In the United States about 91% of soybeans are GMO, about 88% of cotton and about 75% of corn. These foods are used in various forms such as oils, sugars and sources of proteins. Other foods that you might find in your grocery store that are GMO are tomatoes, potatoes, peas, meats, eggs, dairy products, sugar beets, squash, fish and Hawaiian papaya, just to name a few. You can find a more comprehensive list of GMO foods at www.nongmoshoppingguide.com along with a downloadable shopping guide to non-GMO foods.
If GMO foods are a concern for you, be sure to buy products labeled “organic” or products labeled as “non-GMO”. You can find many non-GMO items at most local grocery stores such as Kroger, Meijer, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joes, and your local health food store or at www.mywildtree.com/TrishB. Wildtree is an all natural food line with no MSG, no preservatives, no additives, no dyes and no GMO’s. It is the all-natural store that comes to your door.
For further information on Genetically Modified Organisms, see the list of references below or refer to the World Health Organization, MSNBC, New York Times, Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and Technology (PSRAST) , the United States Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration.
For additional information on Food allergies see www.myfoodeducation.com.