Confused about the whole GMO topic? Here are some answers to your burning questions.
What Exactly Is GMO?
GMO stands for "genetically modified organism," and it can refer to a plant, animal, or microorganism that has been genetically changed in a lab through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). Different species are crossed to produce animals and plants not found in nature, so they take on new traits meant to make them grow faster, resist insects and weed killers, and stay fresh longer. Insect-protected cotton and herbicide-tolerant soybeans are two examples.
GMO foods are different than those that are cross-bred. Crossbreeding has been going on for centuries by farmers and by nature, to produce a stronger plant. Plants that are cross-bred are within the same species, or between closely related species. With GMO foods, on the other hand, bioengineers splice specific genes into the DNA of a dissimilar species, disrupting its natural sequence, and creating a new species that has never existed before.
Are GMOs Safe?
About 80 percent of processed foods in the US contain genetically modified ingredients including corn, soy, sugar beets, and canola, so of course people are asking whether GMOs are safe. Aside from nutrients being altered that may make these foods less nutritious, it may also introduce harmful substances, and since little human testing has been done, the long-term health effects of GMOs are unknown. It's worth noting that 64 countries around the world including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union have strict restrictions or bans against GMOs, while the US doesn't even have set rules about labeling them on products. These countries won't even accept imported products from the US such as wheat if they are known to be genetically modified.
Keep reading to learn about Monsanto and how to find foods that are non-GMO.
Who Is Monsanto?
It's hard not to mention GMO without hearing the name Monsanto. This company is a lead producer in genetically modified seeds as well as the herbicide glyphosate, marketed under the Roundup weed-killer brand. It's pretty clever to create seeds (called Roundup Ready) that are resistant to this herbicide they've also created, which makes killing weeds a breeze, and yields better, bigger crops. The Environmental Protection Agency has found exposure to glyphosate to cause congestion of the lungs, increased breathing rate, kidney damage, and reproductive issues. Many farms use Monsanto's products, and that's why so many foods contain GMOs.
You might also find it interesting to know that Monsanto developed Agent Orange way back in the 60s, which we all now know is sadly linked to cancer and birth defects. Monsanto also developed and sold recombinant bovine somatotropin (also known as rBST and rBGH), a synthetic hormone that increases milk production, which many consumers are against for possible health risks (Monsanto has since sold that business in 2008).
Are Organic Foods Non-GMO?
Certified organic foods can't intentionally include GMO ingredients, but unfortunately organic certification does not require GMO testing, so while a food might be labeled "organic," it's not necessarily non-GMO unless specified. There are currently 37 states working on passing bills that require mandatory GMO-labeling, and some states including Connecticut and Maine have already passed them.
How Do I Find Non-GMO Foods?
Until all states make labeling a law, the Non-GMO Project is one company determined to make it easy for consumers to find products made with non-GMO ingredients. Check out this list of brands and products that have been non-GMO certified, or look for the logos below when shopping.
Source: Flickr user sumitrarose