It’s estimated that 60 percent to 70 percent of processed foods available today in U.S. grocery stores contain some genetically engineered material. The majority of the livestock that Americans consume, with a few exceptions, have been raised on genetically engineered grains.
Genetically engineered or genetically modified foods are those altered at the molecular level in ways that do not occur naturally. This means that these plants and animals have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs. These techniques use DNA molecules from different sources, sometimes different species, combining them into one molecule to create a new set of genes. For example, flounder genes may be mixed into tomatoes so the produce becomes resistant to cold temperatures.
Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, is known for developing engineered crops such as corn and soybeans. Monsanto is making a move into the consumer market with genetically modified sweet corn. Traits in the new corn make it resistant to both Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and to insects. After 20 years of commercialization and billions spent in public research financing, these crops have yet to deliver on promises of increased yield, drought tolerance, better nutrient-use efficiency or reduced need for pesticides.
Several studies have affirmed that genetically engineered crops have the potential to introduce new toxins or allergens into our food and environment. Unlike the strict safety evaluations required for approval of new drugs, herbs, and natural health practices, there are no mandatory human clinical trials for genetically engineered crops. There are no tests for carcinogens or harm to fetuses, no long-term testing for health risks to animals or humans, and only limited testing for allergies.
Scientists recently found the insecticide from genetically engineered corn in our bloodstreams and in the bodies of pregnant women. These herbicides are known to cause reproductive problems, birth defects, and increased risk of cancer.
In Oregon, legislation is pending (HB 2175 and 2532) that would require the labeling of genetically modified foods sold in the state.
When grocery shopping, it is always best to look at what is in our food. Here are some tips for keeping genetically modified food out of our refrigerators and pantries.
1. Become familiar with the food that is modified the most. This includes soybeans, corn, dairy, and sugar.
2. Buy food labeled 100 percent organic. The U.S. government doesn’t allow manufacturers to label anything 100 percent if it isn’t the real deal.
3. Recognize fruit and vegetable label numbers. A four-digit number means the food is conventionally produced. A five-digit number beginning with eight means genetically modified. A five-digit number beginning with nine means it is organic.
4. Purchase beef that is 100 percent grass fed. This means that the animals were allowed to be pasture-fed throughout their lives (no genetically modified corn).
5. Seek products that are specifically labeled as non-GM or GMO-free.
6. Shop locally. There are plenty of farmers markets that sell 100 percent organically grown produce.
7. Buy whole foods. This means buying the actual fruits or vegetables you want to eat, not something boxed or processed.
8. Grow your own food. This is a great and easy way to know exactly where your food is coming from.
We should all have a choice about whether we want to participate in an experiment with our bodies and our environment. We have a right to know what’s in our food.
Tammera Karr provides holistic nutrition counseling and education programs to residents of Douglas County. She received her Ph.D. from Clayton College of Natural Health, formerly in Birmingham, Ala., is nationally board certified and holds board positions with national and local organizations.