GMO Foods: What They Are and How You Can Avoid Them

From Non-GMO Month guest blogger Dr. Group, author of the Global Healing Center

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Genetically Modified Foods are crop plants (fruits, vegetables and grains) that have been altered using molecular biology techniques that intentionally enhance certain properties of the plant that are seen as beneficial for the plants proliferation and growth. This includes things like resistance to toxic herbicides, or bettering the crop’s ability to resist rotting during transportation or producing internal pesticides within the plant itself. Geneticists achieve this by isolating genes from one plant and injecting them into new plants.

The Debate

Every day, more research comes out showing the supposed safety of GM technology. This research is often heavily-funded by the very creators and benefactors of GM foods and technologies. In parallel, research emerges showing the apparent dangers of genetically modified foods, although there is little clinical research funded for how these plants may be affecting humans.

It can be very frustrating for you, the consumer, to know what to believe. But I believe that there is an inherent collective knowledge that we share – an instinctive feeling that we are messing with Nature, and that the health consequences could be perilous.

Why You Want to Avoid Genetically Modified Foods

Recent studies have shown that genetically modifying plants (an unnatural process that works against the natural ebb and flow of genetic movement) may be detrimental to human health. Studies are now showing the harmful effects of genetically-modified plants on animals in testing. For example, an early study on GMO crops showed that corn pollen was adversely affecting monarch butterfly caterpillars, causing higher mortality rates in the butterflies that had eaten the GM pollen.

Genetically modified foods have also been shown to create plants that are engineered for herbicide and pesticide tolerance. These plants then cross-bread, and pass on the transfer of genes to other weeds and plants. In this sense, genetically modified crops may be creating what scientists call “superweeds,” which are prone to take over crop lands (promoting food shortage on a global scale). This interbreeding also effects the bees and birds that pollenate the plant.

One potential solution that GMO manufacturers are offering is the creation of “plants that are sterile,” or do not produce pollen. Essentially, plants that are stripped of their creative, fruiting essence. Doesn’t it concern anyone that we are taking out the very creative life of a plant? Not to mention, that these removed essences may offer us, the human consumers, the much-needed life and energy we are all lacking? Moreover, it is surprising to note that while new medicines released into the marketplace undergo stringent testing and approvals, GMO foods (which is designed in a laboratory just like drugs), undergoes very little regulation from the FDA.

It is possible that inserting new genes into plants can create new allergic reactions in humans, particularly those that are already susceptible to allergens. A proposal to incorporate a gene from Brazil nuts into soybeans was abandoned because of the fear of causing unexpected allergic reactions. What is more, these altered forms of DNA do not always completely metabolize in the digestive tract. Gut bacteria are then susceptible to consuming these GM genes and plasmids, making us even more susceptible to disease through antibiotic resistance.

Oftentimes proponents of genetically modified foods site human global food needs as a reason why we need GMO crops. While little academic research supports this statement, leaders from over 20 African states have actually published a statement stating that genetically modified foods do not aid farmers in their 21st century food production needs. These African countries, which includes some of the world’s most poverty-stricken regions, believe that GMO’s actually “destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural systems and undermine our capacity to feed ourselves.” In a plea from the Prince of Wales, he urges us to think of how to better use the billions of dollars spent on researching GMO techniques, to improving the methods of local agriculture that support biodiversity. (7)

The Unknown Health Effects

Another main concern on the issue of genetically modified foods is that we cannot know the long-term health effects of these plants in our bodies. Sadly, actual studies on GM food toxicity are few and far between. In fact, while many opinions exists, there are few clinical studies on how these foods are effecting human health and digestion.

Introducing foreign genes into the natural web of creation may have long-term harmful impacts on human health. One study out of the University of Aberdeen looked into how the digestive system of rats reacts to genetically modified potatoes. The study observed harmful effects on the intestines of those rats who had a diet of genetically modified potatoes, as compared to rats that ate natural potatoes. To be more specific, rats eating the genetically modified plants had alterations in the gut tissue. This raises questions of the unknown effects that these foods may be having on human digestive health. And, if we look at the overall state of digestion in the Western world, it stands to reason that there are issues at hand.

7 Suggestions For Avoiding Genetically Modified Foods

1. Eat Organic

Organic foods cannot contain GM genes, and although cross-contamination can sometimes occur, this is your best bet for avoidance. Try visiting your local farmer’s market for the freshest produce. Ask if the food is organic or genetically modified. Find out who sells organic foods, and visit them often.

2. Eat Less Dairy and Meat

Dairy and meat products are notoriously high in genetically modified ingredients, especially given that livestock eat so much GM corn and other crops. Alternatively, do some research on the food you eat, before you buy the first thing you find at the grocery store.

3. Avoid Certain High-GM Foods

Eating all organic foods can sometimes be hard. Understandably so. If you cannot always eat organic, at least avoid food products that contain the highest amounts of genetically modified ingredients, such as soy, canola and corn. Zucchini and squash are also highly modified.

4. Avoid Processed Foods

Processed foods contain high amounts of additives, flavors and preserving agents. Not only do they contain a bare minumum amount of nutrients, but genetically modified bacteria and fungi are often used to create these additive agents.

5. Use a Non-GMO or Organic Cooking Oil

If you are cooking with non-organic soy, corn, canola, or cottonseed oil, you are dipping into the highest geneticaly modified oils in the U.S. Try using an alternative cooking oil, such as extra virgin olive oil.

6. The Black List

As a general rule, there are some foods, unless clearly marked as organic, that are notorious for being full of genetic modifications. Below is a list of these foods.

  • Tofu
  • Cereal
  • Margarine
  • Mayonnaise
  • Salad Dressings
  • Baking Powder
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Peanut Butter
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Tamari
  • Corn Meal
  • Corn Syrup
  • Soy Flour
  • Soy Protein
  • Soy Cheese
  • Soy Sauce
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Fructose
  • Dextrose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Lactic Acid
  • Veggie Burgers
  • Enriched Flour
  • Enriched Pasta
  • Protein Powders
  • Textured Vegetable Protein
  • Most Meat Substitutes
  • Instant Infant Formula
  • Ice cream & Frozen Yogurt
  • Hamburger & Hot Dog Buns
  • Citric Acid From Corn
  • Chocolate

7. Do Not Consume Aspartame

This pseudo-food is an outcome of genetic engineering. While there is some debate about the overall health dangers of aspartame, it is best to avoid this toxic substance at every opportunity.

Sources
Techniques of Plant Biotechnology from the National Center for Biotechnology Education HYPERLINK “http://www.ncbe.reading.ac.uk/NCBE/GMFOOD/techniques” http://www.ncbe.reading.ac.uk/NCBE/GMFOOD/techniques.
Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae (Nature, Vol 399, No 6733, p 214, May 20, 1999).
20 QUESTIONS ON GENETICALLY MODIFIED (GM) FOODS. HYPERLINK “http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/” http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/
Questions about Genetically Modified Organisms: An article by The Prince of Wales ( HYPERLINK “http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/speeches/agriculture_01061999.html” http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/speeches/agriculture_01061999.html) and Seeds of Disaster: An article by The Prince of Wales ( HYPERLINK “http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/speeches/agriculture_08061998.html” http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/speeches/agriculture_08061998.html)
New tools for chloroplast genetic engineering (Nature Biotechnology, Vol 17, No 9, pp 855-856, Sep 1999)
Tandem constructs: preventing the rise of superweeds (Trends in Biotechnology, Vol 17, No 9, pp 361-366, Sep 1999)
Questions About Genetically Modified Organisms. An article by The Prince of Wales. The Daily Mail, 1st June, 1999. HYPERLINK “http://www.ratical.org/co-globalize/GMO.html” http://www.ratical.org/co-globalize/GMO.html
(Aug. 1998 ) HYPERLINK “http://www.psrast.org/afrscimo.htm” African Scientists Condemn Monsanto Latest Tactics and Call for European Support. HYPERLINK “http://www.psrast.org/afrscimo.htm” http://www.psrast.org/afrscimo.htm
Identification of a Brazil-nut allergen in transgenic soybeans (New England Journal of Medicine, Vol 334, No 11, pp 688-692, 1996).
Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine (Lancet, Vol 354, No 9187, pp 1353-1354, Oct 1999)
Schubbert, R., Lettmann, C. and Doerfler, W. (1994) Ingested foreign (phage M13) DNA survives transiently in the gastrointestinal tract and enters the blood stream of mice. Molecules, Genes and Genetics 242, 495-504.
Schubbert, R. Hohlweg, U., Renz, D. and Doerfler, W. (1998) On the fate of orally ingested foreign DNA in mice: chromosomal association and placental transmission in the fetus. Molecules, Genes and Genetics 259, 569-576.