Saturday, May 23, 2009

How To Avoid GM Foods

After reading the article on genetically modified foods that I posted a link to the other day, I started reading up on how to avoid GM foods. As it turns out, the answer is both simple and complex.

On the one hand, four crops make up the large majority of GM crops currently on the market (many more have been in development for some time, but for various reasons are unmarketable). Those four and the percentage of their total US production that is genetically modified are: soy (89%), corn (61%), canola (80%) [this figure is for Canadian production as that is where most US canola originates], cotton (83%). Now, organic certification in the US forbids genetic modification at any level of production. So, avoiding soy, corn, canola, and cotton, or buying them only in organic form should pretty well cover the bases, right?

Wrong. Far from it.

If you eat, or drink, animal products (including farm raised fish), unless they are certified organic they almost certainly are fed GM crops. Look for “organic,” “wild caught fish,” or “100% grass-fed.” In dairy, look for items marked “no rbGH or rbST.” Also be aware that honeybees may have collected from GM plants, so the honey or bee pollen may contain GM dna. Watching for these things seems manageable, right? Sure!

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. The Nov-Dec 2003 issue of FDA Consumer magazine (yes, that FDA) states “The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimates that between 70 percent and 75 percent of all processed foods available in U.S. grocery stores may contain ingredients from genetically engineered plants.” We’re not just talking about hot dogs and deli meat. Think bread, cereal, crackers, cookies, frozen dinners, cooking oil, salad dressing, tofu, anything with corn syrup, things containing aspartame, the list goes on.

So how can you know for sure? You can’t. Not really. As consumers, we need to push for legislation mandating the labeling of GM foods. Yesterday, I emailed my congressional representatives to voice my concern. Today I received a reply from Senator Barbara Mikulski. In short, she said that the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act was not considered by the Senate before the 110th Congress adjourned, but that hearing from the public was “helpful” should the legislation be reintroduced when the 111th Congress convenes. I encourage you to contact your own representatives.

Also, please do your own research on this topic. There is much to know, far more than I can relate here. GM foods have caused serious allergic reactions in people who show no reaction to non-modified forms of the same food. And while four crops represent most of the GM crops on the market, they are not the only ones approved in the US. Some of the others might surprise you! Educate yourself about the advertised benefits of GM foods versus the real score. Learn how GM foods put us at risk of "superbugs" which don't respond to antibiotics. And, of course, plant a garden and grow your own food! (Then post about it on your blog so the rest of us can enjoy your journey too!)

A couple of links to get you started are here and here. But there are many more sources available...


Red Studio said...

Thank you for the great post! I was worried about the soy I drink. Since I purchase the majority of my grocery from Trader Joes, I checked their website. It appears they exclusively use non genetically engineered crops. body parts turning blue and falling off!

Twisted willow said...

Sorry, but my view is that GM offers us remarkable opportunities to create crops that will resist pests and diseases, grow better in less favoured areas etc etc. There is no reason why the moving around of genes - something plant breeders have been doing for hundreds of years - should cause any of the health problems you suggest.

Josie said...

thanks for the information!

Maggie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maggie said...

Twisted Willow, the reality of GM does not live up to the advertising. There is a good bit of evidence to back that statement up; you don't need to take my word for it. And you are mistaken to say that plant breeders have been manipulating genes in the same way as genetic modification. Plant breeders can only emphasize genes with a given species. Genetic modification, however, transfers genes from one species into an entirely different one. Human genes have been transferred into pigs. Cow genes into fish. (Neither of those products are on the open market.) Plus, gene transfer is not entirely an exact science. There are always unanticipated consequences. I encourage you to do a little more research on this topic yourself before adopting a position on GM foods.

Meg said...

I knew you were going to say corn and soy. I didn't guess canola and cotton. Last year, I mentioned the book I was reading: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Boy, did that ever open my eyes to the CORN thing we have going on (it is everywhere!). He didn't get into GM foods, but he describes the giant agri-business conglomerate beast that we have created (admittedly, in the beginning, to feed more people) very well. One can see how GM foods fit into this structure. Thing is, the "beast" has become unhealthy in many ways--for people eating the food, for the planet sustaining the crops, for small farmers who used to be able to make a living at farming, for the animals who suffer the physical and psychological damage of factory farms, etc.

My argument is always that, if we are smart enough to move genes around among species (and only just smart enough, since we don't really understand the full consequences), then surely we can figure out a system that can feed people safely, protect the natural resources that keep us alive, and treat animals humanely. We could figure that out. I really believe we could.

Thanks, Maggie, for offering links to resources and urging those of us (who me?) who are reluctant to get political, to speak up to our legislators. I would also add that people look into supporting any community gardening programs taking place in your cities. They are usually in need of money and/or volunteers. And they bring fresh, organic produce to areas most in need of it.

Jason said...

re: Twisted Willow and Maggie's comments: Yes GM technology is definitely different from conventional breeding technologies, and yes it is not an exact science. But neither is mutagenesis or embryo rescue - two conventional breeding technologies that have been around for decades. And both can have equally unintended consequences becasue you are mutating existing genes in weird and wonderful ways or introducing a suite of unknown genes many of which could be ressponsibe for producing toxins, allergens or anti-nutrients. And yes your organic crops have been bred with these technolgies as well. I think organic farming is great but the acceptability of risk needs to be put into perspective. Each person will have a different concept of acceptable, but my job is to try an ensure people have the right information to make an informed choice - and it is of no concern to me what that choice is.

Jason Major
Gene and NanoTechnology Information Service
Melbourne Australia

Jimmy and Wade said...

Maggie, I have often wondered about the "engineering" of our food. Being from the south we see it more in the meat industry than anything else. You have to wonder if the altering of our foods aren't causing us to get sicker, develop more cancers, and even die younger than we should be. I know that in my line of work we are seeing more and more young adults dying of cancer and other serious health problems. Just thinking out loud, I am no authority on this matter.

Maggie said...

Meg, I am with you. But I think the thing that gets in the way of resources being diverted to solve the issue your way You knew I was going to say that didn't you?

Wade, Actually, I think that as a mortician you are in a unique position to gauge mortality trends. To make them meaningful, it would be necessary to, for example, figure out if the number of deaths by illness of young people was *proportionately* larger than in the past, or if the numbers were greater because of population growth. But the fact that you *noticed* something you probably weren't looking for begs the question "why?"