We hear the term GMO tossed around a LOT lately and I wanted to put together a short blog explaining in simple terms what GMO foods are, giving a list of current GMO foods and explaining why I say no to gmo!
What IS a GMO food?
“GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.” †
If that did not improve your understanding, try this definition: A GMO product is a plant or animal that has been created from the DNA of some other species. GMO plants and animals are not found in ‘nature.’
Why should I care if my food is made from GMO plants or animals?
To my knowledge, there exist no long term studies that are conclusive as to the impact of GMO products on our environment, the GMO product itself or the one consuming the GMO product. In other words, there are no long term studies that can tell me it is safe for me to eat GMO corn or for me to eat beef from cows that eat GMO corn.
60 countries around the world have severe restrictions or complete bans on the import and use of GMO products. The United States is not one of those 60 countries. As a matter of fact, the Monsanto Company, a publicly traded American company is the leading producer of the genetically engineered seeds that grow the genetically modified foods.
How does this work in the real world?
Let’s take Monsanto and corn as an example. In addition to being the leading producer of GMO seeds, Monsanto is also the maker of an herbicide commonly known as Roundup®. Anyone who has spent any time on a farm or owning any piece of land (even a potted plant!) knows that weeds can be a big problem. If a farmer is farming corn and has a weed problem, Roundup® is a great solution BUT using Roundup® on the entire field would also kill the corn!
Monsanto has now created GMO corn, a corn created to be able to live even when sprayed with herbicides such as Roundup®. Rather than kill the weeds and protect the corn from the chemical, farmers can now spray the entire field, including the corn with herbicides and other chemicals. The corn is then used in many processed foods, eaten while still on the cob at BBQs or fed to cattle in feed lots (cattle that are then slaughtered for beef).
This of course is just one very simple example.
What are the current kinds GMO foods sold in the US?
High-Risk Crops (in commercial production; ingredients derived from these must be tested every time prior to use in Non-GMO Project Verified products (as of December 2011):
- Alfalfa (first planting 2011)
- Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
- Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop; approximately 988 acres)
- Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Sugar Beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop in 2010)
- Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approx. 25,000 acres)
ALSO high-risk: animal products (milk, meat, eggs, honey, etc.) because of contamination in feed.
Monitored Crops (those for which suspected or known incidents of contamination have occurred, and those crops which have genetically modified relatives in commercial production with which cross-pollination is possible; we test regularly to assess risk, and move to “High-Risk” category for ongoing testing if we see contamination):
- Beta vulgaris (e.g., chard, table beets)
- Brassica napa (e.g., rutabaga, Siberian kale)
- Brassica rapa (e.g., bok choy, mizuna, Chinese cabbage, turnip, rapini, tatsoi)
- Curcubita (acorn squash, delicata squash, patty pan)
In the United States, about 80% of all processed foods contain some kind of GMO product. That is a staggering number when you consider the number of Americans that eat packaged, processed foods on a daily basis.
What does this mean for ME?
In fitness and health circles there are a lot of debates on what kind of ‘diet’ is the best diet. Is it Paleo, Primal, Mediterranean? Should my protein intake me 40% or 30% of my total caloric intake? What about high fat vs. no fat?
When it comes to this topic, I have enjoyed taking a simple (but often not easy) approach:
I choose to avoid GMO foods when at all possible. I don’t have any processed foods in my house. I eat only whole foods or foods made of up single non-GMO ingredients that I can pronounce. Apple, Asparagus,Banana, Sweet Potato, Spinach, the list goes on. I avoid any meat products that are produced from an animal that has been fed GMO feed. I eat pasture raised chickens and grass fed beef from local farmers. I eat wild caught fish because many farm raised fish are now fed GMO corn.
I also accept the fact that GMO foods are abundant and I will unlikely be able to adhere to this standard when I eat in a restaurant. It goes back to a simple 80/20 rule of nutrition. Eat clean 80% of the time and the 20% won’t bring you down.
Healthy just feels better than GMO tastes.
†Definition obtained from the NonGMOProject website.
†† Statistics obtained from the NonGMOProject website.