What the Heck are GMOs?
If you haven’t heard the term GMO or Genetically Modified Food – chances are you might this week with social and conventional media covering marches scheduled on May 25th all over North America to protest GMO creator Monsanto. But many people are still confused as to what GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) are. GMOs are plants and animals whos DNA has been altered with bacteria, viruses or other DNA from plants and animals in an attempt to obtain a desired trait or characteristic. They have existed fairly quietly in our environment over the last 20 years but have received lots of attention in North America over the last few years with pockets of U.S. trying to get their governments to include labeling on food that contain GMOs. Currently it is up to consumers in Canada and the U.S. to navigate grocery isles and read ingredients on fresh and packaged food to determine if it contains genetically modified ingredients or grown from genetically altered seeds.
With all of the controversy surrounding GMOs, you might wonder why they originally infiltrated our food system at all. Back in the 70s, a major biotechnology company manufactured a herbicide called Roundup but when it was used on farmer’s crops, both the weeds and the crops suffered. To solve this problem, the biotech company created genetically modified seeds that allowed the crop to survive when the herbicide was sprayed, marketed as a time saver for farmers to reduce or eliminate weeds. Fast forward into the 90s and genetically modified soybeans, corn, cotton, and canola were introduced. When Roundup was used, only the resistant (genetically modified) survived. This has resulted in a huge increase of chemical herbicide being used over the last ten years.
Foods that are labelled ‘organic’ or ‘made from organic ingredients’ cannot contain any GMO ingredients. According to the website Non GMO Project, high risk crops from the U.S. that are grown with GMO seed are:
- 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
Common Ingredients Derived from GMO Risk Crops:
Amino Acids, Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Ethanol, Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrins, Molasses, Monosodium Glutamate, Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), Xanthan Gum, Vitamins, Yeast Products.
Buying only organic food can get expensive but there are other ways to ensure food quality for your family. Get to know your local farmers! Ask questions and find trusted food sources by visiting small farms or Farmer’s Markets. You might also consider planting a garden this summer. I’ve always considered growing a food garden outside of my comfort zone thinking it’s too hard but we have planted over seven items this spring and the kids have loved every step of growing food. Visit local seed specialists that sell heirloom seed packets and enjoy the feeling of pride that comes with growing your own food.
This weekend on May 25th, millions of people will be marching to protest Monsanto’s dominance over the food industry. Hopefully after reading this article, you’ll know why GMO food is such an important topic and why GMO food labeling has so much energy as a grassroots movement in Canada and the U.S.