What are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)?

corn for gmo blog

As a health food store we have many customers concerned about the debate over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). We hope this informative blog will help answer some of your questions and assist you in making food choices you feel are safe and healthy.

GMOs are genetically engineered organisms with DNA structures that have been changed by adding genes from another living organism. Crops can be genetically modified to resist insects, herbicides and disease or to contain extra nutrients, vaccines or genes that affect the appearance of the crop, for example this soy that can resist very toxic herbicides or the potential of this apple that will never brown. Animals can be genetically modified to produce lower-fat meat, resist diseases, or even create less waste. With resilience abilities and shorter growing periods, GMOs in foods allow them to be grown in larger quantities.

Genetic modification began with scientific discoveries in the early 1950s through the 1970s right around the time of the baby boom. Due to the rapid population growth the US was experiencing there was a need for more food. Thus the Green Revolution was born, a time when herbicides, pesticides and GMOs were created to kill weeds and pests and insure heightened food production for the masses.

Monsanto, the world’s leading producer of genetically engineered seeds, owns patents to almost all GMOs which therefore can’t be used by farmers who have not purchased them from Monsanto. These patents have caused a number of lawsuits against farmers whose fields have been contaminated by Monsanto’s seeds through seed drift. The first lawsuit was brought against a farmer in the mid-90’s. Since then, 144 farmers have had lawsuits brought against them for alleged violations of their patented seeds. Monsanto has brought charges against more than 700 additional farmers who have settled out of court rather than face Monsanto’s aggressive actions. Many of these farmers did not intend on growing or saving seeds that contain Monsanto’s patented genes, instead seeds or pollen from genetically engineered crops drifted into and contaminated their fields. If Monsanto’s seed technology is found on a farmer’s land without contract they can be found liable for patent infringement and if organic, face risk of losing their certification.

Because genetic engineering is a fairly new process the long-term consequences have not yet been discovered and likely won’t be identified for years. Many consumers believe that GMOs are a rare occurrence in our food system but they are actually quite common in the United States. Any non-organic product that contains corn or soy (see list of all GMO crops here) most likely contains GMOs, and with no labeling required, most people are eating genetically engineered foods without knowing it. Close to 90% of consumers believe it is their right to know how the food they purchase is produced, including whether it’s genetically modified. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s current policy doesn’t require that genetically engineered foods be labeled. In fact, the United States is one of the only developed nations that does not require labeling of genetically engineered foods.

There is a small grassroots effort called the ‘Non-GMO Project’ committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. The Non-GMO Project is the first to offer ‘GMO Labeling’ on products. Some stores allow the project’s verification seal on shelves with non-GMO products indicating the product passed the project’s verification process. These tags are helpful for consumers but “GMO free” and similar claims are not legally or scientifically justifiable due to limitations on testing.  In addition, the risk of contamination to seeds, crops, ingredients and products is too high to reliably claim that a product is “GMO free.”

Because GMOs are a new technology there’s no way of knowing the consequence they hold. The best way to avoid GMOs is to eat organically grown food. When a product is organic it is non-GMO because organic crops can’t be grown with GMO seed.  Another solution is traceability—the ability to know where your food comes from. If you know your farmer and know how your food is being produced you are more likely to know if it contains GMOs. At Healthy Living we know this debate raises questions for many of our customers and hope that we’ve answered some here. We have been committed to providing organic, local and wholesome foods and products to our customers for over 26 years now, and hope we can assist you in making safe, healthy food choices.

For further reading see links below:

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09371.html

http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/science/engineered-foods-allowed-on.html

http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/campaign/genetically-engineered-food/crops/

http://www.nongmoproject.org/

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/25/science/dispute-over-labeling-of-genetically-modified-food.html?_r=1&ref=geneticallymodifiedfood

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/g/genetically_modified_food/index.html