What are GMOs and are they dangerous?
Q. Dear Terry, “I have been hearing a lot about GMOs, but don’t quite understand what they are. What are GMOs and are they dangerous?” — Tom W., Omaha, NE
A. Dear Tom, I could spend all day talking about GMOs, but below I have summarized some information that came from a Terry Talks Nutrition article called “The Hidden Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods”. If you are interested in reading the whole article, click here.
The abbreviation GMO stands for genetically-modified food. You may hear people refer to them as “Frankenfoods”, and with good reason. Genetically-modified foods take genetic material from one organism and put it into another. This gives the organism, whether it is a plant or animal, characteristics that it didn’t have before.
Consider soybeans as an example, they are one of the most popular crops worldwide. Newer varieties of soybeans have been created, not hybridized, with genetic material from bacteria that are resistant to Roundup®, a common herbicide. According to the USDA, they estimate that over 95% of the soybean crop in the United States is genetically-modified.
Soy is just one of many crops that are genetically-modified; others include corn, tomatoes, canola, alfalfa, many of which we encounter, or consume on a daily basis. Not only are we eating these genetically-modified crops, but so are the majority of the livestock raised for meat.
So why do they make GMOs in the first place? Proponents of genetically-modified foods say that radical changes to our food system are necessary and GMOs can provide the answer to world hunger (but they don’t mention it will also be extremely profitable – for them). However, because we do not fully understand the long-term health or environmental effects of GMOs, do we really want to be saturating our food system with them?
One of the scariest effects of GMOs is that the pollen from genetically-modified crops can drift to nearby fields. So, say you’re running an organic or sustainable farm adjacent to these crops. Chances are, your corn, soybeans, or other crops are going to be affected.
And it’s not just the crops.
In one instance, genetically-modified corn that was developed to be toxic to insects was also found to kill monarch butterflies that were feeding on corn-pollen covered milkweed plants, their main food source. Thankfully, that particular type of genetically-modified corn has been withdrawn from the market. However, some of the GM-developed pesticides are also killing honeybees, our primary pollinators, because they drift into other plants and stay in the soil longer than thought. Think about that: killing off honeybees is essentially killing off at least a third of our food supply.
Aside from that, what GM foods do to our inner environment is also open to question. Because of their strange mixture of ingredients, GMOs can introduce substances into our foods that have never been part of our diet, ever! We simply don’t know what the effects could be. Pest-resistant material from GM corn has even been detected in the blood of pregnant women and unborn babies.
Although we may not have all of the answers yet, from the research I’ve done, I personally choose to avoid GMOs. One way you can take charge is to eat organic foods. Organic foods are great for a variety of reasons like being grown without any synthetic pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers, or other toxic substances, they are free from artificial colors or flavors, and do not contain GMOs. Many of your local farmers may follow organic and sustainable practices, but might not have organic certification. I would suggest building a relationship with the people who provide food locally, and support their hard work. Consider the “farm to fork” approach, know where your food is coming from, and relish in the fact that it is life-building in more ways than one!
Terry . . . Naturally