by Brittany Shutts
Alfalfa in animal feed, super salmon, and non-browning “arctic” apples have all recently joined the list of genetically modified foods to watch out for. Whereas in the EU a great deal of skepticism towards GMOs has resulted in product labeling and bans, the US has little regulation and few long-term studies. Thirteen years of genetically modified foods in US markets have proved that there are more risks than benefits.
A genetically modified organism, or GMO, is created by placing the genes of bacteria, viruses, and animals into plants – and recently salmon – so that they become resistant to herbicides or pests. The most significant GM foods are soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton. It is difficult to avoid GM soy and corn because they appear in so many packaged foods.
The arguments in favor of genetically engineering food are that more crops could be produced with fewer pesticides, but the crop yields have not become significantly larger and pesticide use has increased in the past 13 years since GM crops were introduced. African countries experiencing food shortages are often exploited to defend bioengineered foods.
Since food labels in the US are not required to identify GM ingredients, even many health conscious shoppers are unknowingly consuming them. For instance, ninety-three percent of all soy grown in the US is genetically modified. Elsewhere in the world, GM ingredients are either identified on the label or banned.
One of the reasons that GMOs are being banned in other countries is their effect on human health. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has connected GM foods to problems with fertility, the immune system, premature aging, insulin and cholesterol regulation, digestion, and almost every organ.
Physicians in the organization suggest that many health problems that doctors are currently observing in their patients can be traced to GM foods, but that doctors are not aware that GM foods are connected to these conditions. For example, three varieties of GM corn that have been permitted for human consumption were linked to kidney and liver damage in rats that were fed the corn for 90 days, according to a 2009 study. Effects on the heart, adrenal, spleen, and blood cells were also observed.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that genetic engineering can transfer an allergen from one food known to be allergenic to another. The incidence of soy allergies doubled in the UK when GM soy entered the market, causing problems with digestion and skin conditions.
According to Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Genetic Roulette, cooked GM soy contains more than seven times more trypsin inhibitor (an allergen) than non-GM soy as well as a new allergen that has only appeared in GM soy. It also has larger amounts of herbicide residue, which can trigger allergies.
In a study on the effects of GMOs on humans, the herbicide-resistant genes in soybeans transferred into the intestinal bacteria of some subjects, which could potentially cause GM proteins to be produced even if the subject were to stop consuming GMOs.
The Non-GMO Shopping Guide recommends avoiding GMOs by carefully reading food labels and purchasing organic products. No certified organic product can knowingly contain genetically modified ingredients, but GMO testing is not required for organic certification. Some products display a seal from the Non-GMO Project, indicating that the product has been tested for genetically modified ingredients. Any product that does not have this seal or is not labeled organic may contain GMOs.
Some potential GM ingredients in these foods include corn, soy beans, canola, cottonseed, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, and some zucchini and yellow squash. Many dairy products also contain a GM bovine growth hormone. When purchasing soy, corn, canola, and cottonseed oil, look for “organic” or “non-GMO” on the label or choose olive, sunflower, safflower, or almond oil instead. Many alternative cooking oils can be found in health food stores.
Avoid non-organic cheese and aspartame. Genetically engineered rennet is usually used to make non-organic cheeses. The artificial sweetener aspartame is also created using genetic engineering.
According to Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Genetic Roulette, if at least 5 percent US citizens do not purchase GM foods, it would be enough for companies to take notice and change their products. For more information on avoiding GMOs, go to nongmoshoppingguide.com to download a shopping guide and more tips. The guide can be purchased on iTunes for the iPhone. Updates on GM food can be found at responsibletechnology.org and gmwatch.org.