Much confusion exists about whether or not genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe. The companies who make genetically modified organisms insist the foods grown from GMO seeds are perfectly safe and that we cannot feed our growing population without the use of GMOs, while public health experts insist GMOs are dangerous and are harming the health of humans, animals and the environment. In my work with families with young children, I find many mothers are confused and feel a bit whipsawed by all the conflicting information. My aim in this article is to introduce you to significant research on GMOs and to provide additional educational resources. This information will hopefully inspire you to learn more.
What are GMOs?
Genetically engineered (GE) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the same thing. They are plants or animals whose genetic code has “snips” of genetic code from other plants, animals, insects, bacteria or viruses inserted into it. Because different species do not “mate” in nature, inserting genetic code from one species into another’s requires harsh chemicals and radiation. Most people don’t realize that many genetically modified foods contain genetic snips from insects, bacteria and viruses – not genetic snips from other plant species.
GMOs have existed in foods sold in US groceries since the 1990s. You probably eat them every day but may not be aware of it. The Grocery Manufacturers Association states 75 to 80 percent of processed food in the US contains genetically modified ingredients. Many people eat GMOs in every bite of food throughout the day but are completely unaware of what they are eating. The FDA currently does not require foods containing GMOs to be labeled, even though GMOs are banned, tightly restricted or require labeling in more than 66 other countries worldwide.
It is important to note that genetic modification is not the same as hybridization. Hybridization involves combining two related plants to create a plant with desired traits. No genetic modification is involved. Hybridization often occurs spontaneously in nature; genetic modification can only occur in a laboratory setting.
Why Were GMOs Created?
The first genetically modified crop sold in US markets was the FlavrSavr tomato which was genetically modified to decompose slower. This allowed it to be shipped and stored for longer periods of time without rotting. More recently, the most common genetically modified crops were modified to resist RoundUp herbicide. The intent was to allow crops to be unaffected when heavily sprayed with RoundUp. Initially, this resulted in lower use of herbicides, higher yields and lower fuel costs for farmers. Unfortunately, these gains were short-lived. Weeds soon adapted and became resistant to RoundUp, resulting in lower yields, high fuel costs and significantly higher usage of herbicide on crops. US farmers are now noticing much lower yields in their GMO crops, which is causing many to consider abandoning genetically modified crops in favor of traditional crops.
What Evidence Exists To Prove GMOs are Dangerous?
In the years preceding the introduction of genetically modified seeds into our food system, FDA scientists tasked with studying seeds repeatedly warned that genetic manipulation could create unpredictable, irreversible side effects including increased levels of food allergies, toxic overload, nutritional depletion and new diseases. We have seen every one of their warnings come true, yet their insistence that long-term safety studies were needed were ignored. In the year 2000, 828 scientists from 84 countries sent a letter to various UN committees and the US Congress. Their letter warned of the dangers of GMOs on human health and environmental biodiversity and asked the organizations to ban or strictly limit the use of GMOs. Their letter was ignored.
According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, “The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) doesn’t think [GMOs are safe]. The Academy reported that ‘Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,’ including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. The AAEM asked physicians to advise patients to avoid GM foods.” Between 1997 (a year after GMOs were introduced to the US market) and 2007, the incidence of food allergies in the US rose 20%, and allergic reactions requiring hospitalization rose 500% in the UK. Since 2007, the rates of food allergies have escalated even more. During those same years, the incidence of digestive disorders and diabetes also skyrocketed. Although it is difficult to say GMOs are directly responsible for these increases, new studies suggest they are.
I recently spoke at a large event and asked how many people there suffered from food allergies or had children with food allergies. Over 90% of the people in attendance raised their hands. This concerns me. The connection between the rise in food allergies and the introduction of genetically modified foods cannot be ignored.
It is important to note the most rapidly rising allergens – soy and corn – are also the most prevalent GMO crops. Newer studies are proving the connection between GMOs and food allergies, but much more study is needed. Recent studies also found a connection between GMOs and cancer, kidney disease, liver damage, infertility and other harmful health effects.
We’re Safe. . . Those Foods are Tested, Right?
Wrong. The companies who produce genetically modified seeds do their own safety testing on the seeds, but no long term testing has been done on how the foods grown from genetically modified seeds affect human health. Additionally, the testing done usually focuses on soil and plant health, not on human health. No safety research is required from external neutral sources. Most of the biotech companies selling genetically modified seeds require purchasers to sign an agreement stating they will not use the seeds for scientific study. The New York Times reported on this phenomenon in 2009, stating that scientists were blaming biotech companies for preventing research on genetically modified seeds. The question must be asked: If GMOs are as safe as the biotech companies claim, why are these companies so unwilling to allow further research? If GMOs are so wonderful, why do they not want them labeled?
What You Can Do
Here are my top five recommendations for how to reduce your family’s consumption of genetically modified foods:
1. Educate yourself
Use the links shown below to learn as much as you can about GMOs and then dedicate yourself to educating others.
2. Eat a whole-food diet.
Eliminating processed foods from your diet will dramatically reduce exposure to GMOs and other chemicals. You may be surprised to find your family’s health improves as a result.
3. Stop buying foods with GMO ingredients.
Your dollars are votes. If you refuse to purchase products containing GMO ingredients, companies will be forced to stop selling them. Use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide (https://www.nongmoshoppingguide.com/download.html) as a reference. Avoiding GMOs should include buying grass-fed meat, since most animals raised for slaughter in the US are fed GMO crops.
4. Let your legislators know their GMO voting record will influence your decision to vote for them.
5. When you see a notification about a petition to demand labeling or restrict GMO usage, sign it.
Online petitions are having increasing success in influencing legislation.
I recommend the following resources for additional education:
- Non-GMO Shopping Guide – https://www.nongmoshoppingguide.com/download.html
- Institute for Responsible Technology: https://www.responsibletechnology.org/ – THE expert resource for scientific information on the dangers of GMOs
- Non-GMO Project: https://www.nongmoproject.org/ – Verifies products do not contain GMOs
- Genetic Roulette – The Gamble of Our Lives: Powerful educational movie
- Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating– Great book providing an overview of the situation.
Dr. Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Physician dedicated to helping people improve their health and eliminate illness using natural, integrative methods. She has over 25 years of experience helping men, women and children improve their health using a holistic, client-centered approach. Her goal is to identify and address the cause of health challenges instead of merely patching the symptoms. She sees clients in Indianapolis but also conducts consultations via telephone and teleconference. Please visit her website, Good Works Wellness Research (https://goodworkswellness.com) to learn more about her philosophies and her practice. Join her on her Facebook page: https://facebook.com/goodworkswellness and Twitter: @IndyHealer. Dr. Pamela speaks nationwide on a wide variety of health topics and welcomes speaking invitations.
What have you done to increase your knowledge about genetically modified foods? Do you believe they are a health threat?