I was having a strawberry the other day and before plopping one of my favorite fruits in my mouth, I caught a glimpse. I kid you not, it was the size of a baseball. It got me thinking, how will our food look in 2017, 2020 and beyond? This week, Chipotle announced they will no longer serve foods made with genetically modified ingredients—after being the first to admit using such food products in 2013. The announcement, being a first for any fast-food restaurant, has sparked a national debate about genetically modified foods (GMO) and the effects on our health.
With PepsiCo removing aspartame from Diet Pepsi and Tyson Foods stating human antibiotics will not be used in chicken flocks by the year 2017, its obvious brands are taking our food production concerns seriously.
Of course, Chipotle can tout coy marketing messages like “G-M-Over it” or “Food with integrity” but I’m skeptical if they can actually deliver on this promise.
GMO v. Non-GMO: Is organic the answer?
By definition, a genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been altered, involving the mutation, insertion or the deletion of genes. I don’t know about you but I don’t like the idea of associating those words with my food. Taken more simply, aspects of how our food grows is changed from the natural process. Techniques include attaching these various genes to a virus, physically inserting DNA into the organism with a very small syringe, using electroporation—introducing new DNA to the organism through an electric pulse— or DNA particles fired from a gene gun.
This engineering has been around since 1973 and in 1976 food companies adopted this technique for production. In the early 1990s, the U.S. adopted this approach.
How our body breaks down GM Food
Even though GM Foods have proven to breakdown in the body following the normal pathway for human digestion, questions still remain. As our body breaks down these foods, are the chemicals released into our system potentially harmful, leading to long-term health issues? Some experts believe that if this type of engineering gets into our body, it could change the entire ecosystem, affecting how good bacteria manifests.
Can it cause cancer? We have no data to prove it but I still remain skeptical along with others.
Studies: The GMO Debate
Even though 88% of scientists believe these foods to be safe, there’s still a big debate. The long-term effects still remain unknown. The truth is, more independent studies are needed to uncover any potential harms of this food. Many of the studies we have were funded by companies that sell GMO seeds.
The GMO verses Non-GMO debate has been ferociously fought since 2013, when almost 2,000 studies were analyzed by Italian scientists and published in the journal Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. The researchers couldn’t find a single credible example that showed GM foods pose harm to humans. Experts fired back deeming the research as not credible. Are these engineering techniques killing us slowly? It’s anyone’s guess. Studies have just scratched the surface.
The magnitude of this research hasn’t been adequately reviewed. On the other side, we have the American Academy of Environmental Medicine indicating serious health risks associated with GM foods including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin resistance, diabetes and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. Some studies have shown it may increase inflammation around the bowels and potentially harm kidney and liver function.
FDA scientists also warned that altering these foods may create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects including allergies, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems, but GM Foods were still approved.
Food Labeling Should Be Mandated
If you Google GMO, in mere seconds, a floodgate of conflicting information is opened. So, how do we make sense of all this?
Here’s what I know to be true.
Transparency from restaurants, fast-food chains, grocery stores, all the way down to your local farmer’s market is key. Any food that has been touch by genetic engineering should be properly labeled. Both Whole Foods and Walmart, have already jumped on this bandwagon.
As we shop around or go out to dinner, we need to be aware, then we can make a personal choice when it comes to our nutrition. Ask your waiter or waitress next time you’re out at a restaurant. Be mindful of this and actively ask and look for labels.
In 50 countries around the world, including Japan, China, Australia, Italy, France and the UK, GMO labels are required on food. In the U.S., they are not.
Common GMO ingredients include baking powder, aspartame, canola oil, citric acid, condensed milk, hydrogenated starch, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, lactic acid, flavones, soy milk and whey protein. There’s many more. It’s estimated that GMO affects 80% of our food supply, however regulators have not mandated labeling those products. This is a huge problem. Only the genetically modified food technologies themselves are regulated, but as soon as the technology is injected into a substance, all bets are off, no regulation exists.
Tips for avoiding GMOs
It is against the law for farmers to use any GMO products in organic food production. These foods should always be labeled ‘Certified Organic Foods.’
Look for the Non-GMO Project seal
Products are independently verified to be in compliance with North America’s only third party standard for GMO avoidance, including testing of at-risk ingredients through The Non-GMO Project —a non-profit organization committed to providing consumers with clearly labeled and independently verified non-GMO choices.
Avoid at-risk ingredients
Sugar and dairy foods are most at risk. If a product lists “sugar” and not “pure cane sugar” then it’s a GM Food. With dairy products, look for labels stating no rBGH, rBST or “artificial hormone-free” —this means they don’t contain artificial growth hormones that are injected into cows.