What does GMO mean?

The acronym “GMO” is seemingly so innocuous. It even rolls off the tongue with a beat. The reality however, is that GMO, which stands for Genetically Modified Organism is one of the most complicated, political, economic and controversial topics today and a potential cause for our national health epidemic.

What Does it Mean to have Genetically Modified Food?

GMO food means food that has been genetically engineered, which is just about as far as we humans can stray from eating food that has been naturally produced by Mother Nature. And because it’s engineered in state-of-the-art labs, it’s a highly complex scientific subject that is difficult for most people to comprehend. And if you take time to research what genetic modification actually involves, you’ll see why it’s akin to science fiction meets Monsanto.

Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe?

For this reason we want to help clarify a few things for you around GMO’s because it is Health Coach Institute’s sole (and soul) mission to create a truly healthy society. The impetus behind today’s post is the fact that right now there is a GMO labeling legislation bill called S.764 waiting at The U.S. House Rules Committee to be voted on by the end of the week that, if passed, acts as a setback for consumers’ Right to Know—the legal principle that people have the right to know what chemicals they are exposed to daily.

Because there has up until now been almost no regulations on GMO food, this bill would be the first to put labeling on GMO foods nationwide. Sounds like a positive move however, it comes with a caveat because not only is the legislation’s language hazy but it is being called a sham and “a non-labeling bill under the guise of a mandatory labeling bill” by a coalition of consumer groups and organic farming organizations.

What this means is that the bill would finally get food producers to label GMO products but in a backhanded way by requiring them to put a digital QR code on the product, which is a barcode that can be scanned by a smart phone—an absurd thing to ask of consumers standing in a grocery store aisle. Plus this makes it easy for corporations to hide GMO’s in their products and somehow makes certain sectors of GMO food producers exempt from labeling their products. Those opposed to the bill argue that it’s deliberately crafted in vague language to stop people knowing what’s in their food and that it falls under the DARK (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act.

Let’s take a look at what this all means. But before we go there, remember that GMO’s—sometimes knows as “Frankenfoods”— also go by other names like GE (genetically engineered), genetically altered, GM (genetically modified) or genetically improved and have taken agribusiness by storm in the last two decades alone. Here goes…

What exactly is GMO food and how do you produce it?

GMO’s are organisms whose genetic makeup or DNA has been altered in such a way that doesn’t occur in nature. GMO’s are the result of lab engineers taking genes from one species and inserting the genes into another to produce transgenic organisms.

Living organisms have natural barriers that prevent other DNA from entering. But genetic engineers discovered ways to force DNA from one organism into another such as using viruses or bacteria to “infect” animal or plant cells with new DNA or electric shocks to create holes in the organism’s sperm to insert the DNA that way or by “shooting” the new DNA into the new cells with special “guns” amongst other methods.

What’s the point of GMO’s?

Genetic engineers produce GMO’s in order to make crops survive the harsh treatment of herbicides, which means that farmers can spray weed killers onto their crops without killing their crops. GMO’s are also engineered to enable plants to produce their own pesticides, which means the farmer no longer has to spray pesticides because the plant itself is too toxic for insects to eat in the first place.

The only “point” of GMO’s is to produce more crops, more sales and more money for agribusiness. Although Monsanto, which claims to be an innovative agricultural company using breeding, crop protection, precision agriculture and biotechnology including GMO’s argues that they are “preserving our natural habitat” by using up less land for crop growing and helping consumers by keeping prices low. Monsanto’s claim to fame is using “plant breeding” and “biotechnology,” which sound progressive, harmless even, until you discover what they really entail.

What makes GMO food so bad for you anyway?

Genes are the blueprint for making proteins in organisms. Because GMO’s are engineered using foreign genes, the existing genes in the organism are altered, which creates new or unknown proteins, and more or less proteins in the organism. We simply don’t yet know how this entirely new combination of proteins will affect our health and DNA.

According to Jeffrey Smith, author of Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods and founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) there are many potential dangers of GMO’s such as toxins, allergens, carcinogens, new diseases, antibiotic resistant diseases and nutritional problems.

IRT’s site lists endless, shocking case studies in which animals are fed GMO’s that result in pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, false pregnancies and increased death rates in these animals. Yet, to date, there are no known human studies involving GMO’s, which means we unfortunately cannot prove the damage they are causing our bodies on a physical, let alone cellular level.

Which foods are most likely to be GMO?

The top crops that are made from GMO seed are: field corn (92%), soybeans (94%), cotton (94%), canola (93%), soy protein, soy lecithin, sugar beets, cornstarch, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup. Other food products to watch out for are any meat, eggs or dairy products made from animals (including farmed fish) that consume GM feed like corn and soy, as well as milk from cows injected with rbGH (a GM hormone), food additives, enzymes, flavorings, sweeteners like aspartame, rennet used to make hard cheese and honey from bees that produce honey from GM sources of pollen.

How can you avoid consuming GMO?

The best way to avoid consuming GMO’s is by eating organic because genetic engineering is prohibited in the production of certified organic foods and ingredients. Look for 100% Organic, Certified Organic or USDA Organic labels on food products.

The 100% Organic label means the entire product has GMO-free ingredients. Certified Organic and USDA Organic mean the product contains at least 95% organic ingredients. The remaining 5% is most likely GMO free.

But it’s important to note that even GMO-free is subject to risks of cross pollination between GMO and non-GMO crops and trace amounts of GMO in animal feed as well as GMO contamination from seeds carried in the wind or by birds that root in organic farm soil. So although contamination is accidental and rare, it’s not entirely ruled out due to the above factors.

Another way to avoid eating GMO’s is to look for the Non-GMO Project label, which is the image in this post. This label certifies that the food’s producer spent money and time obtaining the certification similar to the process required to get certified organic. It’s the most reliable label we have today.

The Non-GMO Project website lists hundreds of product brands with their logos to help consumers easily identify which food products are deemed Non-GMO. The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit dedicated to educating consumers and building awareness around Non-GMO choices. So bottom line is to do your homework and choose wisely. Going GMO-free is not purely a personal decision; it’s taking a political stand for our Right to Know what we eat.

For more in-depth information on the GMO bill read this Vox article: The controversial GMO labeling bill that just passed the Senate, explained.  

To read more about the science behind GMO, visit: Institute for Responsible Technology
To see hundreds of certified Non-GMO products listed, visit: The Non-GMO Project 

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