GMOs: What They Are And How To Avoid Them
Sep 19th, 2012 | By Esther | Category: Agri-Giants and GMOs, Food, Top Headline | Print This Article
You may have seen in the news that the state of California will soon be voting as to whether or not to have GMOs labeled in their state in the near future. You may also have seen that Monsanto has recently dropped $4.2 trillion in an effort to stop a possible GMO labeling law.
You might wonder: What the heck is a GMO anyway, and why should I care?
What Are GMOs?
GMOs are genetically modified organisms. The act of creating GMOs is called genetic engineering. They come about when, in a laboratory, pieces of DNA are taken from one species and forced into another species in order to produce a desired effect. This effect may or may not be the end result; there may be other unplanned genetic changes. The end results of genetic engineering can influence and have an effect on the environment and on those who use and consume the resulting products.
The GMO process differs greatly from hybridizing plants. Plant hybrids are only crossed with plants of the same species, species that would cross naturally in nature if grown together and cross-pollinated. GMOs can be different species, such as a fish and a tomato, forced together. These things would not happen in nature, even if grown side-by-side. They are not natural, though they might appear to be. Additionally, GMOs can also be created in a lab to cross similar species in a way that would not happen nearly so quickly in nature, as is the case with our modern-day wheat.
Seed companies that produce GMOs include Monsanto, Seminis, and Syngenta, and they provide the seeds to farmers to grow largely for the purposes of feeding livestock. Most conventionally raised livestock (cows, pigs, poultry) consume a largely GMO diet.
GMOs also feed people directly in the form of corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, tobacco, alfalfa, and other foods. Some of these foods, particularly corn and soy, are made into products and derivatives that go into a vast majority of the foods and products we use each and every day.
There is little to prevent these GMO crops from crossing with native species, forever changing them. There is no moderation, unless you make yourself aware of the issues, know what things to avoid, and make a concerted effort to avoid them.
Types Of GMOs In Our Food Supply
Here are the most prevalent types of GMOs present in our food supply today. Crops can be either one or the other type, or both combined. Decide for yourself whether or not you want to put them into your body and in the growing bodies of your children.
RoundUp Ready is not the only GMO of this type, but it is the most widely recognized. RoundUp Ready crops have a gene that allows them to be sprayed with the commercial herbicide RoundUp and not be harmed. Agriculturalists have found that repeated applications of RoundUp on croplands have led to the development of “super weeds,” which require even more herbicide applications, perpetuating a never-ending cycle that is, in the end, toxic to our environment. This leaves the food from these crops with more herbicide content than conventionally grown non-GMO crops. In addition, the inactive ingredient in RoundUp, glyphosate, has been shown to have great potential to cause ill health effects, especially in unborn babies, children, and those with a compromised immune system.
Some crops that have RoundUp Ready genes are corn, soy, and sugar beets.
Bt plants have a gene taken from the bacteria bacillus thuringiensis that causes the plant to produce a protein that kills caterpillar larvae when they consume the plants. Though there is evidence that these crops harm insects and other living things even after the crop is taken, the companies still claim that food from these plants will not harm humans.
The jury is still out, as GMO companies will not allow, or severely limit the parameters of, long-term studies and what can be reported. In the meantime, the public is acting as the guinea pig—er, caterpillar.
Bt cotton has long been grown across the world. The GMO sweet corn that has made the news this summer is a Bt variety, although other Bt corn varieties exist and are widely grown.
How To Avoid GMOs
If you have decided it might be in your best interest to try to avoid GMOs, you must first determine how far you want to go in avoiding and how much you can afford to avoid. To what extent can you manage? Just the main things in your diet, or do you even want to take out the tiny derivatives made from GMOs? Considering these things will help determine which method of avoidance you choose for yourself and your family.
1. Buy Organic
At the present time, the easiest, no-brainer way of avoiding GMOs is to buy only 100 percent organic food. Organic foods legally cannot contain GMOs, though Monsanto has been fighting to label GMO products as “natural” and allow a certain percentage into organics and still be labeled organic. So far though, Monsanto has not been able to do this, but keep your eyes and ears open, as this can change in the future.
2. Know Your GMOs
Educate yourself as to what foods are GMOs. Current food sources of GMOs include corn, soy, canola/rapeseed, cotton and cottonseed, sugar beets, milk and other dairy products from cows injected with the GMO hormones rBGH/rBST, papayas, some summer squash, and farm-raised salmon. Be aware that these foods are in the food system beyond their recognizable forms, especially corn and soy, which are made into hundreds, if not thousands, of derivatives that are used in, depending on your source, up to 85 percent of foods on the market and in many (most) medicines. The list of ingredients you can’t pronounce and aren’t sure what they are is bound to have at least one corn or soy derivative or has been grown on one of those derivatives. One source that was helpful to me in identifying corn derivatives is from a site called CornAllergens. The list is not complete and can change at any time, but it gives you an idea as to how far-reaching the GMO issue really is.
You might argue that surely not all corn and soy and sugar beets are GMO. You would be right. But the fact is that both conventional non-GMO and GMO food products are brought to the same processing facilities, stored together in storage, and run on the same lines. There is no way to know what is only conventionally grown food and what is GMO, with the exception of organic foods. Organic foods must be handled separately.
3. Grow Your Own Food Or Know Your Food Source
There is a lot to be said about knowing where your food comes from. Too often, when we purchase our foods from the supermarket, we have no idea what went into our foods. You can call the company and ask them about their methods and what goes into their food, but these things change, often without warning.
If you educate yourself and find it frustrating to find the foods you want, one option is to grow it yourself and the other is to develop a relationship with those who provide the food for you. Whichever route you choose, both give you more control over your food. You get to decide what goes into your garden and onto your produce or what your livestock eat. And if for some reason you cannot do it yourself, you may support someone who is able to grow without using GMOs, whether it is organically or more conventionally with careful use of chemicals.
4. Apps/Assistance Tools To Use When Shopping Or Eating Out
If you are online or have an electronic device, there are many apps and sites that offer assistance tools to help you avoid purchasing GMOs. Check out your particular app options and see what it has to offer. Some of them offer product lists by brand, some grocery stores list non-GMO selections, and other tools serve to remind you of what basics to avoid or educate you on the latest news regarding GMOs. Pick what works for you.
5. Educate Yourself.
Keep up with the latest happenings pertaining to GMOs and make yourself aware. This might mean doing an Internet search from time to time to see what has been in the news recently. It might mean signing up for an email newsletter subscription to a website such as www.geneticroulette.com that keeps up with the latest GMO news. If you are into social media, there are plenty of options you can opt into and receive more information than you might desire.
The main thing is to keep this issue in mind, as things can change fast and you might find haven’t been avoiding quite as much as you had wanted to. Are GMO foods on your plate and in your home? Do some research of your own and discover the other types of GMOs and where they might be hiding. Know your food; it is what sustains your body. And if you feel led, join the fight against GMOs!
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