GMOs IN YOUR FOOD: THE FACTS YOU NEED TO KNOW
It’s easy to get confused by arguments from both sides of the proverbial fence. We hope our basic, 5-point primer on GM foods helps you become a more informed consumer:
GE OR GMO: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
“Genetically Engineered” (GE) and GMO are used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Confusion arises because the USDA defines a GMO as an organism produced through any type of genetic modification.
Genetically engineering food is different from the way plant breeders make selections for plant traits between two cultivars. When a plant breeder (organic or conventional) selects a trait like disease resistance found in one plant and uses that trait to enhance another plant, that creates a hybrid. In this case, the plant breeder has encouraged the same kind of selections that might occur in nature. Breeders also monitor the plants for effects on specific characteristics including quality, nutrient density, and productivity. This is the true application of the term “genetically modifying organisms”.
A GE crop is one in which a single gene or combinations of genes from one organism are artificially forced into the DNA of another organism (a crop). Essentially, the natural boundary between two species is broken in order to create a new life form (i.e., foods) with more desirable traits.
For example, to get cold-weather hardy tomatoes, you can splice the DNA from salmon, which has those genetic features and transfer it into the tomato. This yields a larger crop when the weather is less than favorable. The problem? Tomatoes would never naturally contain those fishy genes.
But far more than fish genes are being spliced into crops. According to Jeffrey Smith, President of the Institute for Responsible Technology,” GM plants, such as soybean, corn, cottonseed, and canola, have had foreign genes, such as bacteria and viruses forced into their DNA. These have never been in the human food supply.”
Therein lies the problem with food that has been genetically modified outside of nature’s boundaries: The genetics of a plant, not only affect its color, taste, yield and nutrient quality, they likely affect the way that food goes to work in the human body.
In the interest of larger crop yields, profits for big biotech companies, and claims that GM foods will ‘feed the world,’ we have no proof that these foods are safe and no data to indicate the short or long-term effects on human health. And, people are still starving around the world.
“Even if the transgene itself is not dangerous or toxic, it could upset complex biochemical networks and create new bioactive compounds or change the concentrations of those normally present. In addition, the properties in proteins may change in a new chemical environment because they may fold in new ways. Further, the potential toxic or carcinogenic effects could have substantial latency periods.”
– The Need for Greater Regulation and Control of Genetic Engineering: A Statement by Scientists Concerned About Trends in the New Biotechnology (1995)
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH CONCERNS OF GMO FOOD?
GM foods do not undergo regulated testing in the United States. Much of what we know comes from independent scientists conducting animal studies (and the so-called unbiased studies from big biotech). However, scientists and politicians in other countries believe the threat to health is real-GE/GM crop cultivation is now banned by 38 countries worldwide (28 in Europe).
Medical professionals claim there are health effects potentially linked to eating these foods. In her article for the Chicago Tribune, Dr. Martha R. Herbert, a pediatric neurologist wrote: “Today the vast majority of foods in supermarkets contain genetically modified substances whose effects on our health are unknown. As a medical doctor, I can assure you that no one in the medical profession would attempt to perform experiments on human subjects without their consent… Yet manufacturers of genetically altered foods are exposing us to one of the largest uncontrolled experiments in modern history.”
POTENTIAL HEALTH EFFECTS:
- Introduction of new allergens into crops could result in increased rates of allergies and allergy-related health conditions.
- Bacteria in our guts could pick up antibiotic-resistant genes found in many GM foods that have been spliced with antibiotics.
- Animal studies indicate GM foods may cause toxic effects on the liver, kidneys, pancreas or reproductive system.
- Animal studies show that DNA in food can travel into organs throughout the body, even into the fetus.
- The risks to children and fetuses may be greater because their digestive and neurological systems are not fully developed.
- New hybrid food and proteins may not be digestible by the human body
WHY ARE FOOD GENETICS BEING MANIPULATED?
There are two primary traits that have been added to crops: herbicide tolerance, which lets the farmer spray weed-killer directly on the crop without killing it, and the ability of the plant to produce its own pesticide. These outcomes have no proven health benefit to humans. There is, however, economic benefit for biotech companies such as Monsanto, which develops (and owns the patent to) the weed-killer that farmers use on crops and we use in gardens (e.g., Roundup aka glyphosate). The company has been accused of everything from hiding research on the real health effects of glyphosate used on crops around the world to knowingly producing products that threaten biodiversity and cause cancer.
To date, six bio-tech giants are actively lobbying against the U.S. public’s demand for GMO labeling on foods. And yet, legislators continue to protect citizens as demonstrated by California’s recent decision requiring Monsanto to label Roundup as carcinogenic.
Resources for learning more about GMOs, Monsanto, and health implications are listed below.
- Six Easy Ways to Avoid GMO Foods in Your Shopping Bag.
- GMO FAQ. (also has non-GMO shopping tips, education, training resources)
- Harvest of Fear. PBS/Nova/Frontline Special Report.
- New GMO Studies Demonstrate Genetic Non-Equivalence [of foods]. United Kingdom Institute for Science in Society.
- Poison Plants. Scientific American Online.
- Pandora’s Pantry. Mother Jones Online.
- Genetically Modified Foods 20 Years On: Still No Labeling and Minimal Safety Testing.
- Herbert, Martha. “Feasting on the Unknown: Being Exposed To One Of The Largest Uncontrolled Experiments In History.” Chicago Tribune (Sep 3, 2000).
- Institute of Functional Medicine online. “Genetically Modified Foods 20 Years On: Still No Labeling and Minimal Safety Testing.”
- Third World Network, Penang, Malaysia (1995) p.18. Quoted in “Why the Genetic Engineering of Our Food Offends Principles of Most Religions.” In reference to the quote form A Statement by Scientists Concerned About Trends in the New Biotechnology, As cited at PBS.org “Should we Grow GM Crops?”
- SustainablePulse. “GM Crops Now Banned in 38 Countries Worldwide.” Accessed on Feb 8, 2016.
- InstituteforResponsibleTechnology.org. “Health Risks of GMO Foods.” Accessed on Feb 7, 2016.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT. . .
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf
WHEREVER YOU SHOP: SAY NO TO GMO FOODS!
When in doubt, Go organic. The USDA National Organic Standards prohibit the use of GMOs. Look for the USDA Organic Seal on labels for produce as well as meat, dairy, eggs and fish.
Look for the non-GMO Project logo. This third-party verification means the food has been tested for GMOs. Look for the colorful butterfly and plant logo on the label.
Avoid “at-risk” ingredients. The five most prevalent GMO crops are corn, canola, soy, cottonseed and sugar beets. These are also typically added to packaged foods as corn syrup, oil, sugar, flavoring agents, thickeners and other ingredients. Choose organic or non-GMO verified.
THE MOST COMMON “GENETICALLY-TINKERED-WITH” CROPS ARE:
- Corn (especially sweet corn)
- Hawaiian papaya
- Yellow summer squash
- Edamame (soy)
- Sugar – unless you are buying pure cane sugar, expect a GM variety of beet sugar.
- Artificial sweeteners are likely derived from GM sources.
Go Bulk. Dry grains, beans, nuts and seeds are typically non-GMO (exceptions listed above).
- SustainablePulse. “GM Crops Now Banned in 38 Countries Worldwide.” Date Accessed: Feb 1, 2015.
- Non-GMO Shopping Guide. “Tips For Avoiding GMO’s.” Date Accessed: Feb 1, 2015.
- Non-GMO Product Verification & Information. Date Accessed: Feb 1, 2015.
- Food Matters. “6 Easy Ways to Avoid GMO Products.” Date Accessed: Feb 1, 2015.
- Organic Consumers Association. “An Interview with Jeffrey Smith on GM Food Safety.” Date Accessed: Feb 1, 2015.
RECIPE: KITCHARI, AN AYURVEDIC HEALING STEW
In Ayurvedic Medicine, kitchari is regarded for strengthening agni or ‘digestive fire,’ supporting metabolism, and cleansing the liver. When agni is strong, the body is better able to assimilate food, excrete waste and protect against imbalances that can lead to health problems.
- 1 cup white organic basmati rice
- 1/2-1 cup yellow split mung beans
- 6 cups water (approx. amount may vary based on vegetables added)
- 2 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) or coconut oil
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds or powder
- 1/2 tbsp mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tbsp ground turmeric
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
- 1 pinch asafoetida (hing)* optional
- 3 leaves of swiss chard (spinach or kale)
- 1 1/2 cups assorted vegetables of your choice (carrots, sweet potato, squash, beets)
- Sea salt, to taste
- Garnish with cilantro, basil or dill
- 1-2 tbsp lime juice, per serving
Carefully pick over mung beans to remove any stones. Rinse rice and beans several times and set aside. In a large pot, warm coconut oil over medium heat. Once oil has warmed, add whole spices (fennel, cumin and mustard seeds) until they begin to pop. Add powdered spices and cook until aromatic. Stir well, being very careful not to burn them. Add rice and beans and combine well. When rice and beans begin sticking to sides of the pot, add ginger, salt and water. Cover and bring to boil. Decrease heat to simmer and allow to cook for approximately 20 min. While the rice and beans are cooking, chop the vegetables and garnish. Set aside. When rice and beans are cooked, add vegetables and mix well. Add more water if necessary (depending on how many vegetables you added you may need more liquid). Cover and allow vegetables to cook completely (10-20 minutes). Serve hot in bowls. Add lime juice and garnish to taste.
AMLA, INDIAN GOOSEBERRY (Emblica officinalis)
In Ayurvedic Medicine, both dried and fresh Gooseberry fruits are used alone or in combination with other plants to support health and treat a variety of medical conditions. Some of the many health benefits or effects include:
- Fortifies the liver and helps flush toxins from the body
- Balances stomach acid
- Helps regulate blood sugar
- Reduces inflammation
- Healing ulcers
- Supports heart health
- Manages fever, coughs, bronchitis or asthma
Gooseberry is of interest to researchers and health practitioners for its role in managing diabetes, prevention and treatment of certain cancers and heart disease, and its protective effect on brain health. In fact, several researchers revealed that various extracts and herbal formulations of Amla have potential therapeutic benefits and the results are similar to standard drugs. It’s important to consult with your health practitioner to determine the right amount of an Amla supplement.
Look for Indian Gooseberry in international grocery stores and enjoy the fruit as part of a healthy diet.
Want to dive deeper into Amla? Check out this article on What Are the Benefits of Amla Juice? by our friends at Health Ambition.
- Nutrition Data & You. “Gooseberries Nutrition Facts.”
- Food Facts at Mercola.com “What Are Gooseberries Good For?”
- Dasaroju, S. & Gottumukkala, KM. “Current Trends in the Research of Emblica officinalis (Amla): A Pharmacological Perspective.” Int. J. Pharm. Sci. Rev. Res. (Jan – Feb 2014) 24(2), no.25, 150-159 . Accessed on January 31, 2015.
- Da Silva Pinto, M. et al., “Evaluation of red currants (ribes rubrum l.), black currants (ribes nigrum l.), red and green gooseberries (ribes uva-crispa) for potential management of type 2 diabetes and hypertension using in vitro models.” Jl Food Bioch (June 2010) 34:3, 639-660. First published online March 2010. DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-4514.2009.00290.x
- Baliga, MS & Dsouza, JJ. “Amla (Emblica officinalis Gaertn), A Wonder Berry in the Treatment and Prevention of Cancer.” Euro Jl. Cancer Prev. (2011 May) 20(3), 225-39. doi: 10.1097/CEJ.0b013e32834473f4.
GREATER CELANDINE (Chelidonium majus)
Recent debate about the liver-protective versus potential toxic effects of Chelidonium majus has renewed the medical community’s interest in this plant. Interactions have been found when Chelidonium is taken with Tylenol or Erythromycin or other drugs that stress the liver.
- LiverTox.nih.gov “Greater Celandine (Chelidonium Majus) Drug Record.” Accessed on February 3, 2016.
- HomeopathyCenter.org. “Chelidonium majus.” Accessed on February 3, 2016.
- Biswas, SJ & Khuda-Bukhsh, AR. “Effect of a Homeopathic Drug, Chelidonium, in Amelioration of P-DAB Induced Hepatocarcinogenesis in Mice.” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine (April 2002) 2:4. Accessed via PMC. Web. Feb. 3, 2016. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-2-4.
- Gilca, M., Gaman, L., et al., “Chelidonium majus, an Integrative Review: Traditional Knowledge versus Modern Findings.” Res in Complementary Med. (2010), 17:5. Accessed Feb 3, 2016. PubMed ID 20980763.
- University of Michigan Health Library Online. “Great Celandine.” Accessed on Feb. 3, 2016.
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT FROM AYURVEDIC MEDICINE?
The three constitutional types, or doshas, reflect your physical, emotional, and psychological make-up. Usually, one or two types will dominate in a person’s constitution.
Pitta energy is linked to fire and controls digestion and metabolism. Pitta types are known for their intense personality, sharp intelligence and wit.
Vata energy is connected with air and space and is associated with bodily movement including circulation, breathing, and heartbeat. Vata types are upbeat, highly alert, flexible and creative thinkers.
Kapha energy is linked to earth and water and controls growth, immunity and strength. Kapha types are often solid in build, calm and tolerant.
An Ayurvedic doctor assesses for imbalances through the understanding of the elements and doshas, and a physical examination, which includes observing the condition of the pulse, abdomen, skin, nails, eyes and tongue.
Practitioners aim to teach people how to attain optimal health through a meaningful understanding of themselves and their dosha and by strengthening body, mind, and spirit through dosha specific health practices, foods, herbs, and other natural remedies.
- University of Maryland Complementary & Alt Medicine Guide online. “Ayurveda.” Accessed on Feb 2, 2016.
- University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality & Healing. “What Happens in a Visit to an Ayurvedic Practitioner?” Accessed on Feb 2, 2016.
- Garivaltis, H. “What is Ayurveda?” Kripalu.com. Accessed on Feb 2, 2016.
- Yoga International.com “What Dosha am I?” Recommendations on using Dosha quizzes. Article and links to videos. Accessed on Feb 2, 2016.
- NaturesFormulary website. Online Dosha Test. Accessed on Feb 2, 2016.
- National Center for Ayurvedic Medicine. Practitioner Search.
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