This is a Special to the GNH Blog written by Lisa Halliwell, GNH Blogger/ Community Journalist and local dietitian.
Today I’m switching up my usual food conversation and focusing on a huge change that is occurring in the way we conventionally grow foods. Since the beginning of the agricultural revolution humans have only been able to manipulate plants by selectively picking and breeding the best crops. This is a slow process but eventually farmers can produce the crops that they desire. However, there has recently been a revolution in the way plants can be adapted and “improved” at an increasing speed. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a hot topic these days and there seems to be a lot of contention between both sides of this issue. On the one side, pro-GMO groups claim that GMOs are the answer to world hunger. However, the flip side argues that there may be long-term health and environmental impacts by growing and consuming GMO-containing crops. So when the facts are laid on the table, is the hesitation justified?
Let’s start off by defining genetically modified organisms. GMOs are plants or animals whose genetic material has been artificially altered. The original goal for creating GMOs was to solve hunger issues around the world by creating insect-resistant crops in order to increase yields and decrease cost. Additionally, GMOs have the capacity to address nutritional deficiencies in developing countries. For example: what if we could produce draught-resistant crops that would allow production of life-saving foods in developing countries? Or what if we could grow produce that would resist bruising or delay ripening until it reached its destination on the other side of the world? Sounds great, doesn’t it? But what’s the catch? The fact is that GMOs have not been around long enough to complete long-term studies and thus, we don’t know the long-term consequences of growing and eating GMO products.
In 1994 the FDA approved the first GMO crop, Flavr Savr Tomato. Since then GMOs have made their way into many products. In fact, 90% or more of soy, corn, sugar beets, and rapeseed are made from GMOs in the United States and Canada. What you might not realize is that avoiding these crops is very difficult if you purchase processed and ready-made products. These products contain ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin, and soy isolate, which are ultimately made from these modified crops. In fact, most animal feed contains GMOs, so if you’re purchasing poultry and meat that doesn’t specify how the animals were raised, then in theory you’re also consuming GMOs through their diet.
One big problem in the United States and Canada is that GMO-containing foods do not have to be labeled as such. In most developed countries, these products have to be identified for the consumer. In fact in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, GMOs have been banned until further studies have been conducted. As far as I’m concerned, GMOs have a long way to go before they’re on my list of approved food products. I’m all for supporting a product that helps developing communities access food and nutrients that they would otherwise not be able to grow. However, establishing safe and environmentally-friendly solutions takes time and the necessary studies have to be conducted.
Keep in mind that with everything I discuss, it’s up to you to decide what you are going to feed yourself and your family. The difficulty with GMOs is they are often hidden in products. The only way to be certain that you are not eating a GMO-containing product is to buy certified organic products and of course this is expensive and limiting. You may want to consider avoiding ready-made products that likely contain the crops mentioned above that most often contain GMOs; this will at least eliminate some of your exposure. You could also consider starting your own garden and ask your local garden store if their plants and seeds are GMO-free. This is also in line with the same message I regularly try to get across, which is to make your own food from whole ingredients so you know exactly what’s going into your body. If anything, I hope that this dialogue opens your eyes to the industrialized world that we live in and helps you make informed decisions, whatever those decisions may be.