There is growing public awareness of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but a lot of confusion about what GMOs are, what foods they are in, and what evidence exists about GMO risks to health, sustainability, and biodiversity. This guide introduces issues and resources regarding genetically modified foods and the right to accurate food labeling.
1. What is the difference between traditional plant breeding and GMO/GE crops?
2. Which foods are GMO as of November 2015?
3. Can GMOs be labeled organic?
4. Do GMOs lessen or increase the use of pesticides and herbicides?
5. Can I wash the pesticides and herbicides off my food?
6. What is the purpose of GMOs?
7. Who are the corporate players developing GMO seeds?
8. Are there health risks to GMOs?
9. How can I avoid GMOs?
10. Why are activists working to label GMOs instead of working to ban them?
11. What can I do?
What is the difference between traditional plant breeding and GMO/GE crops?
Farmers have traditionally propagated improved food crops and created new varieties that offer some type of commercial desirability through selective breeding and cross breeding. Think seedless oranges and improved wine grapes. Regardless of the method, purpose, or effects of these natural methods, the resulting plant is a combination of related organisms from the same biological kingdom.
GMOs (genetically modified organisms), also called GE (genetically engineered) crops, that are the focus of the current seed debates are created in a biotech lab by altering the fundamental DNA of the seed. They do not combine DNA of related plants, they combine DNA of different biological kingdoms – something impossible in nature – by combining a plant with a bacteria. The resultant seed is registered as a pesticide.
These GMO “pestiseeds” either incorporate a pesticide into the plant so that a “pest” that ingests it is killed, and/or alter the plant so that it can be sprayed with herbicides/pesticides without dying.
The biotech company, the seed company, and the chemical company are all part of the same corporation.
The farmer must now buy both the patented seed and the specific chemical the crop is protected against from the same corporation (e.g. Roundup Ready® soybean and Roundup® herbicide from Monsanto®). The patent also means farmers can no longer save seeds for the next growing season as they have done since the beginning of agriculture.
Poison corporations looking for profits in our food system is not a sensible alliance.
You can learn about the history and culture of seeds and the history of seed patents here: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/303/seeds/about-save-our-seeds
Which foods are GMO as of November 2015?
GMO approved crops common in the US food supply include corn, soybeans, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya, summer squash, zucchini, flax, canola (aka rapeseed). Approved and coming soon: rice, beet, plum, arctic apple, innate potato. There was GMO wheat but it was removed from the market and is back in development. Most produce is still non-GMO, but the current drive is for the produce department, too. More details at http://time.com/3840073/gmo-food-charts/
The most prevalent GMO foods in the United States include over 90% corn (includes high fructose corn syrup HFCS), soybean products (sorry vegetarians and vegans, but that means tofu), and canola (most oils), most alfalfa fed to cattle (sorry meat and dairy eaters, but that means beef and dairy), and over half of granulated sugar.
In fact, a substantial portion (>80%) of processed food in US grocery stores has GMO ingredients.
Can GMOs be labeled organic?
Products containing GMOs do not meet organic certification requirements. This page describes the three different organic certifications and why you want to buy 100% Certified Organic to completely avoid GMOs. http://gmo-awareness.com/2011/05/05/is-organic-always-gmo-free/
Do GMOs lessen or increase the use of pesticides and herbicides?
GMOs cause the use of increasingly more pesticides and herbicides.
Most GMO seeds in the United States are both “Roundup Ready®” and treated with neonicotinoid pesticides.
“Roundup Ready®” means the crop can be saturated with the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup®’s active ingredient labeled a “probable carcinogen” by WHO), but the crop does not die. Only plants, bugs, and other animals that can resist this chemical onslaught survive and reproduce, which has caused an explosion of Roundup®-resistant superbugs and superweeds. In turn, this has accelerated a “need” for an exponential increase in the use of pesticides/herbicides on GMO crops.
Independent, scientific studies confirm this alarming increase of toxic chemical use in GMO agriculture. By 2011 farms using Roundup Ready® seeds were using 24 percent more herbicide than non-GMO farms planting the same crops, and by 2015 glyphosate use had increased 15 times since the introduction of GMOs in the late 90s. It is projected that 30 times the amount of the herbicide 2,4-D applied in 2000 will be used by 2019.
Neonicotinoids (also known as “neonics”) are absorbed through the plant’s vascular system and expressed in every part of the plant itself including the pollen and nectar. These pesticides are the primary culprit in the alarming decline of our pollinators along with earthworms, amphibians, fish, and birds. It is essential for the survival of all wildlife for neonics to be banned worldwide. Only willful ignorance can refuse to acknowledge the fact that all life forms are interconnected and that the entire cycle of life on earth is threatened by poisons which kill smaller life forms.
This study details evidence of increased pesticide use on GMO crops and problems with data that minimize the issue.
This article has comprehensive links in its resource list to studies on health effects of pesticides.
Can I wash the pesticides and herbicides off my food?
No, a surface washing cannot remove these chemicals which are either part of the plant or have been repeatedly absorbed by the plant as it grew. It is still a good idea, however, to wash off surface residue and dirt.
What is the purpose of GMOs?
The commercial drive to GMOs is about profit: selling more chemicals and ownership of seeds.
Despite the original promise from chemical companies that GMOs would decrease the need for pesticides, the opposite has become reality (see above section on pesticides). Nor have GMO crops increased yields as predicted. Organic farming grows as much or more food than industrial farming while regenerating the soil for future generations and supporting biodiversity.
Food is a critical part of what makes us human. It is our right to know what we are feeding ourselves and our families. It is our responsibility to protect our commonwealth ownership of the food system.
Who are the corporate players developing GMO seeds?
Toxic chemical companies famous for products including DDT, Agent Orange, and PCBs want to own our food system.
The “Big 6” pesticide + biotech (GMOs) + seed corporations who control those industries worldwide are:
Monsanto 10% (USA)
Dow Agrosciences 9% (USA)
Bayer 17% (Germany)
Sygenta 16% (Switzerland)
Dupont 5% (USA)
BASF 9% (Germany)
The other four with substantial market share are:
Makteshim Agan 4% (Israel)
Nufarm 4% (Australia)
Sumitomo Chemical 4% (Japan)
Arysta Lifescience 2% (Japan)
Are there health risks to GMOs?
GMOs were put on the market based on minimal testing provided by the corporations who developed the GMOs, not by neutral, controlled studies from outside scientists tracking effects over time. The testing is being done in real time on the human population with a “whoops” factor that cannot be reversed. Studies from neutral labs showing mild to alarming health effects are being released at an ever increasing rate.
The argument is made that a GMO seed alone is harmless, without the logical extension that GMO seeds contain toxins and/or allow copious application of toxins to be absorbed by a plant that will be eaten. Commonsense informs us that poisons that kill insects, frogs, birds, and plants are not health-building, they are … poison!
Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup®) was declared a “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2015. One of the studies co-authors, Professor Christopher Portier, has stated that, “Glyphosate is definitely genotoxic. There is no doubt in my mind.” “Genotoxic” means it damages DNA, and there is no safe level for exposure.
How can I avoid GMOs?
The best way to avoid GMOs is to buy food certified as 100% organic. The Non-GMO Project also provides a non-GMO certification. You can download their regularly updated spreadsheet of Non-GMO products here: http://www.nongmoproject.org/find-non-gmo/search-participating-products/
About 85% of the food in a US grocery store contains GMOs, so it takes aware shopping. Avoid the middle of the grocery store – it’s primarily processed food made with GMO corn, soy, sugar, and oils. Read the labels. Avoid the short list of produce above that is currently GMO, buy organic dairy (toxins are metabolized in fat and excreted in milk, so this is important!), and if you are a meat-eater, choose organic, pastured meat. Use 100% olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, or safflower oil.
It can be hard to switch away from processed foods, but there are ways to cook whole foods quickly and deliciously. Be nice to yourself as you learn new ways to cook simple foods with ingredients you might have found in your grandmother’s kitchen. If you can’t pronounce it, you don’t want to eat it. Also, real food goes bad. Don’t buy too much at the store at one time to retain nutrition and minimize waste.
Look for farmers’ markets in your area, they can be an economical source of local, organic food. There is a growing movement to grow your own food using open-pollinated, heirloom variety plants. You can also purchase a community-supported agriculture (CSA) portion from a local organic farmer. These shares are cost-effective and a fresh choice for you and your family.
Why are activists working to label GMOs instead of working to ban them?
Around the world, once GMOs are labeled, people stop buying them. That is why there are millions of supporters working to get mandatory GMO labeling in the United States, and the chemical companies are spending millions of dollars and using their substantial political influence to defeat mandatory GMO labeling.
Over 90% of the US population want mandatory, national labels on GMO food so we have the basic human right that citizens in >64 other countries are granted – to know what is in our food. Banning GMOs in the US is currently a political non-starter, but labeling is a reachable, common-sense human right that can achieve our ultimate goal.
What can I do?
This is a fight for who will own the food system. The corporations have very deep pockets, but, together, consumers have even more financial clout. Follow the advice in this guide and buy non-GMO foods. Use your food purchasing power to keep our food system transparent, healthy, sustainable, and fair.
Author, photographer: Visual Directory of Plant-Based Food: 625 Fruits, Vegetables, Herbs & Grains
Preserve earth’s legacy 10 thousand generations and beyond.