Here’s the low down on GMOs, AKA “genetically modified organisms.”
GMOs are a relatively new type of biotechnology that does things like “gene splicing,” where scientists take pieces of DNA from one species and transplant it into the DNA of the same species (or sometimes a completely different species. You know, Spiderman style). This isn’t the same as selective breeding, where you plant the seeds of just the biggest tomatoes to grow all big tomatoes next year. GMOs cannot occur in nature.
And the jury’s still out on how they impact our health and the environment. Because we don’t know what we don’t know, the use of GMOs is a bit like a giant human science experiment.
But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. GMOs are helping us make unprecedented leaps and bounds in world health by, for instance, producing vaccines in genetically modified bananas. Imagine if you could give your kid their immunizations in their morning banana instead of a shot? (yes, please)
And it’s undeniable that GMOs can help increase the world’s food supply. They can offer crop advantages like the ability to grow bigger, taste different, have a higher protein content, grow in drier soils (hello, California), or make them resistant to insects and herbicides.
But left unregulated, you can imagine how things could get sci-fi scary with chickens laying dinosaur-sized eggs and cows producing strawberry-flavored milk (awesome?)
That’s great. But what do they do to the environment?
GMO crops can definitely change the ecosystem in which they grow. Let’s say you give a plant a superpower like better water-drinking ability. All of its ordinary crop neighbors would probably die of thirst during the next drought. And the birds that eat the ordinary crop neighbors might also die (or at least have to settle for a diet change).
But the real answer is we don’t know! And only time will tell.
Are they safe for me to eat?
There are no proven guidelines on which GMOs are safe or not. The research is not there yet, so it’s something that should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the consumer. Hah, whatever that means!
For better or worse, our laws in the U S of A are influenced and shaped by outspoken special interest groups, and there are strong arguments on both sides. The European Union, by contrast, has some of the strictest regulations on the use of GMOs, so they aren’t nearly as common there. The lack of regulation here has fueled a public demand for more transparent labeling, so the consumer an at least decide for themselves.
How to avoid eating GMOs
Unless you’re living like Jane and Tarzan, I guarantee you’ve eaten GMO food. GMO foods are not always labeled. In fact, they almost never are. And that’s the problem, at least from the consumer perspective. Some estimates suggest 80% of foods grown in the US contain GMOs, and to many people, this is concerning. How can you avoid them if you don’t know where they exist?
That’s why non-GMO labeling – which is voluntary – is becoming more common as consumers demand more transparency. Third party organizations like the Non-GMO Project are created so that food companies can go out of their way to follow non-GMO practices, test their products, and show they’ve done so by stamping a trusted verification seal on the packaging.
Just fyi, by definition, organic foods cannot knowingly contain GMOs. But organic food companies aren’t required to test their foods to show that they’re GMO-free. It’s really more of an honors system, and they can lose their certification (which takes FOREVER to get) if they get caught. When in doubt, it’s best to look for a third party verification that does require testing if you’re trying to avoid GMOs.
Me? I don’t really know what to think, and I have plenty of other things to worry about. So I try to buy organic foods when I can, but I’m not losing sleep over this debate. But I might consider moving to Europe if shit starts to get weird.
The 7 most common GMO foods:
- Sugar beets
- Zucchini and yellow squash
Disclaimer: This content originated from an interview with Spry Living. You can read the full article from the interview here.