GMOs: The Pros & Cons of Genetically Modified Food
In the past few years, growing research into genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has revealed two ugly truths: GMOs are more widespread than we thought, and they are more harmful than we thought. Further, the vast majority of Americans have been eating GMOs for decades without even knowing about it. I want to bring this new research to you and cut straight through the confusion of GMOs—what GMOs are, what they do, and how to avoid eating them.
What are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)?
The process of genetic modification involves inserting a gene from bacteria or a virus into an organism where it would normally not be found. The purpose is to alter the genetic code in plants and animals to make them more productive or resistant to pests or farming techniques, like being doused with chemicals that would ordinarily kill them. For example, soybeans that have been genetically modified can survive applications of herbicides that would destroy an organic soybean plant.
GMO foods first hit the market in 1996. Since then, most of us have eaten GMOs in many foods, from soybeans, beef, dairy products, corn, beets, sugar, cottonseed, and rapeseed, which is used to make canola oil.
According to the USDA, only 3% of planted acres of corn in 1996 were planted with GMO herbicide-tolerant corn. Today, it’s 89%. In 1996, GMO herbicide-tolerant soybeans were planted in 7.4% of U.S. farm acreage. Today, it’s 94%. Meanwhile, experts estimate that as much as 75% of the processed foods sold in this country contain GMO ingredients. I’m willing to bet that this is even higher.
Pros and Cons of GMOs
On the surface, strengthening soybeans for purposes of more widespread production and consumption seems like a win-win idea. But there are some very real concerns shared by top experts in the health, medical, and nutrition fields. I’ve created the chart below to help clarify some of the pros and cons:
|The Pros of GMOs|
(according to GMO manufacturers):
|The Cons of GMOs|
(according to unbiased research):
|Growing GMO plants is supposed to allow farmers to:||The downsides of farming with GMOs include:|
GMO advocates claim that since many plants already have the ability to produce their own pest repellents, GMO plants engineered to do the same are no different. Wrong! Indeed, Mother Nature did give plants an ability to defend themselves from natural enemies, but we’ve been eating these plants for centuries. As a result, our bodies recognize these substances and are accustomed to dealing with them. But the GMO plant insecticides are new, and research into how our bodies are reacting to them is still new. But studies that have been done so far are showing scary results.
We have been unknowing and unwilling guinea pigs to a massive and dangerous experiment. And study after study shows that pesticides (a term that includes herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides) from GMO plants are linked to cancer, neurological diseases (like Parkinson’s), and a number of other very serious health concerns. They have also been shown to cause cancer in children.
Another problem with GMO crops was discovered earlier this year, when an Oregon farmer found GMO wheat growing in fields where he had not planted it. Although that story is still developing, it appears that other GMO plants have also escaped into the nation’s farmland. If this cross-contamination continues, the consequences could affect the entire food supply.
Latest GMO Research
Also in 2017, the groundbreaking Food Revolution hosted the GMO Revealed Summit. Much of that summit (videos, speakers, information) is available online and I strongly encourage you watch every minute and read every word. It is that good. The panel of experts spoke about everything GMO-related and what it all distilled down to is this:
- Genetically modified food is not good for you. Period.
- Genetically modified food is unsustainable and is destroying the planet.
- Nearly all of the world’s food supply has GMOs in it.
- Billion-dollar food manufacturers have been hiding these harmful effects from consumers
Today, most people carry a heavy burden of toxins, ranging from plastics to heavy metals to compounds found in drugs and—nowadays—food and beverages. One of my major concerns about GMOs is that they could easily increase our toxic load, leading to even more cancer diagnoses.
New studies on the toxicity of various chemicals used to produce GMO products are not reassuring, either. One recent clinical trial, for example, found that glyphosate, a common herbicide ingredient used to grow GMO plants, caused human breast cancer cells to grow due to its estrogen-like qualities. Glyphosate, I should add, is deemed a carcinogen in California and is the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer products. The World Health Organization hedged slightly, calling glyphosate a “likely carcinogen.”
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Another report from the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that exposure to glyphosate has increased by approximately 500% from 1993 to 2016. Glyphosate is sprayed on “Roundup Ready” crops such as GMO soy, corn, wheat and oats, which are central ingredients in nearly everything in the American diet. Even if you are eating a bread-less hamburger, that cow was likely eating GMO corn, and thus you are too.
While I was not surprised to learn any of this, I still tremble at the thought of the damage that’s already been done and the amount of work that’s needed to fix it. But that’s why I do what I do! And so what follows is everything you need to know about consuming GMOs.
Are GMO Foods Safe?
The answer to that question ranges from “We’re not sure” to “Absolutely not!” Remember, there are millions of dollars spent trying to discredit unbiased research that attempts to show the short-term and long-term effect of GMO foods—not just the effects on our health but also on the environment.
For example, if you search for “GMO foods,” the first search result is a site (I don’t want to dignify it by posting a link) that is funded by The Council of Biotechnology Information, whose members include BASF, Bayer, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto Company and Syngenta. Clearly, they have a vested interest in spreading disinformation.
No wonder so many people are confused about GMO foods. We’ve been lied to for decades by companies that have a financial interest in keeping the truth away from us. And they continue to fund campaigns to distort the truths that are finally bubbling to the surface.
The fact remains that there are no long-term studies demonstrating that GMO foods are healthy. But given the results of studies I’ve seen, I avoid GMO products whenever possible for myself and my family, and I recommend that you do the same.
GMO Food List
It’s safe to assume that it is standard procedure for major food manufacturers (General Mills, Tyson, ConAgra, Coca-Cola, Smithfield, Nestle) to use GMOs in their flagship products. Doing so allows them to produce more food for less, increasing profits and share prices. And they spend those profits lobbying politicians to look the other way as more negative GMO research comes to light but also to develop shady marketing campaigns that discredits people like me who are trying to educate you on the growing health hazards of GMOs.
So I want to tell you right here and now what you need to avoid and what to eat if you want to be GMO free. First, if a food does not say that it’s GMO-free, then it’s safe to assume that it has GMOs in it.
When I buy any of these foods I shop for organic versions, or varieties bearing a “Non GMO” label.
- Non-organic dairy products
- Soy in any form (oil, tofu, protein powder, meat substitutes, etc.)
- Vegetable oil
- Salad dressings
- Granola bars
- Chicken nuggets
- Yellow squash
- Anything containing high fructose corn syrup
- Bread and crackers
But, since the answer affects the health of nearly everyone in the nation, here’s the advice I give my patients:
Eat organic produce, grass-fed beef, free-range poultry, and wild-caught fish whenever possible.
Yes, organic food, which has been grown without chemicals or growth hormones, does tend to cost a little more. But you can either pay a few cents more for organic produce, or you can pay a lot more for doctor visits, prescription medication, and hospital stays. Personally, I prefer to pay a bit extra for the peace of mind that comes with knowing my food is GMO free.
The debate over GMOs in my mind is not even a debate. I know which side is telling the truth. The hard part is putting the truth on food labels. Between now and then, it’s vital that you make informed choices about the foods you eat.
- Thongprakaisang S, Thiantanawat A, Rangkadilok N, et al. “Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors.” Food Chemistry and Toxicology. 2013 June 10.
- Alavanja MC, Bonner MR. “Occupational pesticide exposures and cancer risk: a review.” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health: Part B: Critical Review. 2012;15(4):238-63.
- Koutros S, Beane Freeman LE, Lubin JH, et al. “Risk of total and aggressive prostate cancer and pesticide use in the Agricultural Health Study.” American Journal of Epidemiology. 2013 Jan 1;177(1):59-74.
- Roberts JR, Karr CJ. “Pesticide exposure in children.” Pediatrics. 2012 Dec;130(6):e1755-88.
- “Recent Trends in GE Adoption.” USDA. Published July 12, 2017.
- Weeks, John. “JAMA Report: Exposure to GMO-Associated Glyphosate, a Likely Carcinogen, up 500 Percent.” Published Oct. 26, 2017.
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What are GMOs?
If you’ve eaten anything today, chances are you’ve snacked on GMOs. GMO stands for genetically modified organism. Genetically modified (GM) foods are made from soy, corn, or other crops grown from seeds with genetically engineered DNA.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), GM seeds are used to plant more than 90 percent of corn, soybeans, and cotton grown in the United States. Unless you consciously avoid them, GM foods likely find their way into many of your snacks and meals.
Some people believe GM foods are safe, healthy, and sustainable, while others claim the opposite. Read on to learn about the pros and cons — and what the research says.
Pros of GM foods
Scientists genetically engineer seeds for many reasons. For example, they sometimes make changes designed to increase a plant’s:
- resistance to insects
- tolerance to herbicides
- tolerance for heat, cold, or drought
- crop yield
They also engineer seeds to give GM foods stronger colors, increase their shelf life, or eliminate seeds. That’s why we can buy seedless watermelons and grapes. Some GM foods also have been engineered to have higher levels of specific nutrients, such as protein, calcium, or folate.
Proponents of GM food contend that genetic engineering can help us find sustainable ways to feed people. Specifically, in countries that lack access to nutrient-rich foods. The heartiness of some GM crops makes it so they can grow in marginal environments. The longer shelf life of some GM foods allows them to be shipped to remote areas.
Potential cons of GM foods
On the other hand, some people wonder if GM foods are safe and healthy to eat. Genetic engineering is a relatively new development. As a result, research on the long-term health effects of GM foods is limited.
GM foods have to meet the same safety requirements as foods grown from non-GM seeds. But critics suggest there’s more to be concerned about. Some people worry that GM foods may be linked to allergies, antibiotic resistance, or cancer. Others suggest these concerns are unfounded. Here’s what the research says.
Food allergies are a growing problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food allergies in children under 18 years of age have increased; from 3.4 percent between 1997 and 1999 to 5.1 percent between 2009 and 2011.
Some people believe that spike is linked to GM foods. But there’s no evidence that GM foods in general are more likely to trigger allergic reactions than non-GM foods, according to a study from Harvard University.
Others raise concerns about the transfer of specific proteins from one plant to another in genetic engineering. Proteins found in a relatively small number of foods cause most allergic reactions. Tree nuts are one of the most common triggers.
In the mid-1990s, researchers examined a strain of GM soybean that was engineered to contain protein from Brazil nuts. According to their report in the New England Journal of Medicine, the soybeans triggered allergic reactions in people with Brazil nut allergy. Those soybeans never entered the market and aren’t sold to consumers.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) have since established protocols for GM foods. They require GM foods to be tested for their ability to cause allergic reactions. According to the Mayo Clinic, none of the GM foods that are currently on the market have been found to have allergenic effects.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can resist antibiotics, making them hard to kill. According to the CDC, antibiotic-resistant germs infect two million people each year. Those infections kill at least 23,000 people per year.
Scientists often modify seeds using antibiotic-resistant genes in the genetic engineering process. Some people wonder if there’s a link between these GM foods and rising rates of antibiotic resistant bacteria. No studies have confirmed this claim, but more research is needed.
In 2013, the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology retracted a paper that linked the herbicide Roundup and Roundup-tolerant GM corn to cancer and premature death in rats. Due to concerns about the paper, the journal’s editor reviewed the researchers’ raw data and the peer-review process. They found the researchers had used too few rats, the specific strain of rats was prone to cancer, and the results were inconclusive.
Since then, the paper has been republished in another journal, Environmental Sciences Europe. The controversy surrounding the study’s findings has continued.
According to the American Cancer Society, more research is needed to assess the potential long-term health effects of GM foods.
How can you tell if you’re buying GM food?
The European Commission requires GM food products in Europe to be labeled as such. But in the United States, no federal mandate exists for labeling GM foods. As a result, it can be hard to know if you’re buying and eating GM foods.
If you decide to avoid GM foods, look for products that are USDA certified organic. Certified organic foods are grown and handled without the use of GMOs.