How To Eat Food

A guide to buying, cooking and eating real food.

What the heck is a GMO and why should I care? January 15, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — howtoeatfood @ 3:26 pm
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A GMO is a genetically modified organism.  You may sometimes hear “genetically engineered” or just “genetically modified (GM)” . . . same thing.  Basically it means that a plant, animal or some other organism’s DNA has been altered in some way – DNA from different sources have been combined to create some sort of new “frankenfood” as I like to call it.  For example, a strawberry could be altered with DNA that makes the strawberry more insect resistant or corn could be altered with DNA that helps make the plants more frost resistant.

We’re lead to believe that this is to help make food taste better, more nutritious, feed the world or something.  I tend to believe there is a dark and sinister reason behind it, but that’s for each of you to question, research and decide on your own right?  That being said, I’ll get into my thoughts on the subject in more detail one of these days but for now let’s focus on what a GMO is and how and why you should avoid GMOs.

I already explained what “GMO” means so let’s talk about how and why to avoid them.

How would you know if you’re eating foods that contain GM ingredients?  Well, you might not.  The U.S. government doesn’t require that companies include information on packaging about whether or not their products include GM ingredients.  They have some voluntary guidelines, but like I said, don’t require it to be done.  A good rule of thumb though . . . if you are eating processed foods you are probably consuming food containing GM ingredients.

There are 4 big GM crops – corn, soybean, canola and cotton.  Processed foods contains lots of ingredients from these types of crops.  The Non GMO Project says “It is currently estimated that in the U.S., 61% of corn, 89% of soybeans, 83% of cotton, and 75% of canola grown are genetically modified; GMO varieties of squash and Hawaiian papaya are also grown commercially. As a result, it is estimated that GMOs are now present in more than 70% of products in the average U.S. grocery store.”

Here’s a short list of common ingredients from those 4 big GM crops to look for when you’re shopping and wanting to reduce or eliminate GM ingredients from your diet:

CORN –  corn flour, corn oil, corn meal, corn starch, corn gluten and corn syrup.  Sweeteners such as fructose, dextrose and glucose.

SOY – soybean oil, soy flour, soy protein, soy lecithin, soy isolate and soy isoflavones

CANOLA – canola oil

COTTON – cottonseed oil

If you are a label reader you’re probably trying to figure out how the heck to avoid GM ingredients (if you aren’t I bet you are now!).  Right now the best way to avoid GM ingredients in processed food is to GO ORGANIC.  Under U.S. law organic foods CANNOT contain ingredients derived from GM crops. Yes, organic is more expensive.  Some of the reasons for this are because organic farmers don’t use herbicides which means they weed their crops by hand and with conventional agriculture your crop yields are lower (in some cases by as much as 40%).

Does this mean that unless it’s organic it’s GM?  Not necessarily.  There are some companies . . . very few . . . that don’t produce organic food but still make sure their products don’t contain GM ingredients.  You have to read labels and maybe even do some research about your favorite snacks.  It’s worth the time and effort.

What about fresh fruits and vegetables or meats and eggs?  How do you know if they are GM?  Since apples, cucumbers, chicken and eggs don’t typically come with a nutrition label attached you’re safest bet is to once again GO ORGANIC.  Otherwise you just aren’t going to know for sure.  The chicken could have been fed GM corn therefore both the chicken and the eggs are GM.  The corn or potatoes, well you get it . . . they could be from a GM crop.  I can’t say it enough, GO ORGANIC!

Now for the why you should avoid GMOs.  Your health.

The Organic Consumers Association reported that “Although genetically modified (GM) corn is banned in most of the world, it has been approved as “safe” for human consumption in the U.S. for 12 years and is now likely unknowingly consumed, in one form or another, by more than 90% of Americans on a regular basis. But a recent series of peer-reviewed studies were published in 2008 confirming previous studies indicating potentially severe health and environmental problems associated with the biotech crops. Recent alarming scientific research includes:

1) A new long term study by the Austrian government confirms previous findings that consumption of GM corn, for as little as 20 weeks, can damage the reproductive system, lower fertility rates and increase illness and death rates in offspring.  Learn More.

2) Researchers in Mexico reported in December that some popular varieties of GM corn negatively affect the learning response of bees. Scientists say this may be an indicator of the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, a recent catastrophic and mysterious die-off of as much as 30% of the world’s honey bee population in the past couple of years.  Learn More.

3) In Italy, scientists published a study that put the biotech industry in a public relations tailspin. In the study, laboratory tests showed a direct connection between consumption of GM corn and a damaged immune system.  Learn More.

SAVE YOUR HEALTH! “Avoid non-organic products that contain the most common genetically engineered ingredients: corn (corn syrup, corn meal, corn oil, etc.), fructose, dextrose, glucose, modified food starch, ingredients including the word “soy” (soy flour, soy lecithin, etc.), vegetable oil, vegetable protein, canola oil (also called rapeseed oil), cottonseed oil, and sugar from sugar beets.”*

The “True Food Network” has a supermarket pocket shoppers guide that you can print and take with you to the grocery store.  It’s a great resource.  The guide lists foods by category and tells you which brands are known to contain GM ingredients and which do not.  The “True Food Network” website has a wealth of information about GMOs as well as other topics and is a great place to start your own research.


* Source:  Organic Consumers Association

5 Responses to “What the heck is a GMO and why should I care?”

  1. Brent Says:

    Great info! Thanks for your hard work!

  2. eriewire Says:

    We need a “policy framework” to erase GE production in our communities.
    Does CFS or OCA have an existing policy? Or, do we need to create one on our own?

  3. howtoeatfood Says:

    OCA seems to have the framework but needs support.

  4. Phyllis Says:

    Please let me know how I can download the list to take to the store. No one seems to know. Thanks! Please email me as above.

  5. howtoeatfood Says:

    Hi Phyllis!

    I emailed you a PDF copy of the shopping guide. I hope you get it OK. Please let me know if you don’t and I will mail a copy to you.


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