Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are the result of manipulating the genetic structure of a living thing in order to create desirable traits. This can be done by breeding, engineering or mutagenics. Most genetically modified foods are developed and marketed to be pest, disease or herbicide resistant; to have better taste, nutrition and quality; to increase profit for growers; to increase food yield; and to combat world hunger.
GMOs are in nearly 70 per cent of all products found in a conventional grocery store with 80 per cent of all corn and 92 per cent of all soybeans grown in the United States being genetically modified. Even organic foods can contain up to 5 per cent genetically modified content.
A History of GMOs
While you’re hearing about it a lot in the news and in social circles lately, it is definitely not a new concept. In fact, basic food biotechnology has been performed for thousands of years. Classic biotechnology has its roots as far back as 4000 BC when dairy farming developed in the Middle East and Egyptians used yeasts to bake leavened bread and to make wine. Then came the techniques for fermenting, brewing and cheese-making followed by sauerkraut and yogurt. The first experimental hybrid corn was developed in 1879.
In 1993 Monsanto Co. was given approval to use rBGH/rBST to increase milk production. It wasn’t until 1994 that the first genetically engineered whole food hit the U.S. market. It was a tomato. Since 1994, 85 genetically modified foods have been approved for sale in Canada. This includes crops grown in Canada and foods that have been imported from other countries. Only four genetically modified crops are grown in Canada – canola, soybean, corn and sugar beet.
The approved GMOs in the U.S. include corn, soy, cotton, canola, rice, alfalfa, beet, flax, potato, tomato, chicory, papaya, squash and plum. Most people are aware of the basic GMO crops, but many are unaware that conventional papaya, squash and plums that we buy at our grocery stores may very well be genetically modified.
While wheat is not technically “genetically modified” modern wheat has been hybridized, backcrossed, and hybridized with non-wheat plants. These techniques are difficult to control and unpredictable, making them worse than genetic modification. The wheat of today is nothing like the wheat of the past, and higher in gluten than native wheat.
One of the so-called “benefits” of GMO foods is that they can be grown in less than optimal soil. Great for the growers, not so great for you and me. Sub par soil conditions typically result in less vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in those foods.
Why Should We Avoid GMOs?
Consumption of genetically modified foods has been linked to a number of health risks in various animal studies, including increased antibiotic resistance, infertility, immune system compromise, accelerated aging, and alterations in liver, kidney, spleen and gut function. There’s also a concern for people with allergies, as organisms could be modified with the genes of a food someone is allergic to. In this study, all the features of celiac disease can be explained by the known properties of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide, RoundUp. Celiac disease is a growing problem, with an estimated five per cent of North Americans and Europeans suffering from it. Celiac disease is associated with a number of nutritional deficiencies as well as reproductive issues, an increased risk of thyroid disease, kidney failure and cancer. There is also an increased risk of infertility and birth defects in children born to celiac mothers. The same study shows glyphosate is associated with an overgrowth of pathogens along with an inflammatory bowel disease in animal models. The pathogens induced the breakdown of the tight junctions in cells lining the gut, leading to leaky gut syndrome.
My daughter was just diagnosed a couple months ago with celiac disease (my son tested also but his result was negative). I have been off gluten for a few years now due to the fact that I have Hashimoto’s disease. I assumed that I was gluten intolerant (as most who have an autoimmune condition are); however, since my daughter’s diagnosis, I am now certain that I too am celiac.
How To Avoid GMOs
The PLU code found on the sticker of fruits and vegetables is a great tool to determine if what you are eating is a GMO or not. Labels beginning with 9 are organic and labels beginning with 4 or 3 are conventional, while labels beginning with 8 indicate genetically modified. When it comes to packaged food, it’s next to impossible to figure out if a food contains GMOs or not, unless it’s labelled “GMO-free”. This is because in Canada (along with many other countries), genetically modified foods do not have to be labelled. In some countries and areas like the European Union, GMO foods are not allowed to be imported.
Genetically modified corn can make its way into just about any product on the shelf these days from cereal, to yogurt, to canned soup and anything made with high fructose corn syrup. The possibilities are practically endless! Unless you know where every single ingredient in a food comes from and how it was grown, you would have no idea if the food you are eating contains or doesn’t contain GMOs. Your best bet is to only purchase food items with the GMO-free label. Better yet, the less food you consume in a package, the less you have to worry about where it comes from. Most likely, the cheap fillers (corn, canola, soy and their by-products) are genetically modified. Coincidentally, they’re also not the healthiest options, anyway. By switching from corn or canola based oils (and avoiding products containing them) to healthier fats such as avocado oil, olive oil or coconut oil you are not only avoiding GMOs but also giving your body better nutrients and a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
Worried about GMOs you likely have already eaten? Adding more cruciferous vegetables to your diet is a great way to regulate inflammatory responses. The health benefits, very low glycemic index and low calorie count make this group of vegetables incredibly nutrient-dense, high-net gain and alkaline-forming.