By Emily Farley
Should you or should you not consume genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?
One would think the FDA could provide a satisfactory answer, but for good reason — direct ties to GMO manufacturers — their safety assertions are questionable. Some researchers say they’re healthy, while others profusely object. Who is right? A clear-cut answer would save a lot of time, stress, and most importantly money. So here it is: Until proven safe, stay away from GMO foods. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s break down why.
GMOs are any organism whose genetic material has been unnaturally altered through genetic engineering (GE) — think lab coats and petri dishes — as opposed to natural changes and traditional crossbreeding. The concept of breeding different plants into hybrids is not new by any means. In fact, this farming practice dates back over 10,000 years. However, it wasn’t until the 1860s that the “gene” concept was introduced by Austrian monk Gregor Mendel after successfully cross-breeding varieties of garden peas. In 1972, Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer discovered how to chemically splice strands of DNA at targeted places and attach the protein to another DNA. Only 20 years later, gene-splicing made its way into the food industry when the FDA approved GMO rennet (used in dairy products) and Calgene’s Flavr Savr tomato, whose delayed ripening made for a longer shelf life.
As earth and its creatures have seemingly evolved just fine until now without genetically engineered food, why do GMO foods even exist? There are really only two vantage points. On the positive side, GMO foods (in theory) are meant to provide consumers with a wider, more cost-effective variety of foods throughout the year. On the negative side: money and power. Essentially, if a few large companies can control the food supply – and everyone must eat to survive – then these companies can control the world.
Genetic engineering is not terrible in itself. For example, the growth hormone has helped many with severe GH deficiencies, which can cause cleft palates and Pituitary dwarfism. Without in vitro fertilization (IVF), many would not have their families. Furthermore, many crops are modified genetically to “naturally” resist disease and pests, as well as to grow in much more varied conditions (all theoretically better for the consumer). Intention does matter.
However, side effects matter, as well, and there are some potentially serious ones to consider with GMOs:
1. The biggest issue, and this is a REALLY BIG one, is that there is not enough independent research on the subject. In fact, most of the published research on GMOs is, simply put, shady. GMO manufacturers prevent independent review via trademarks and patents. Though they publish their own data, there is evidence that their findings are incredibly skewed, oftentimes unscientific, lacking evidence and missing of critical information (i.e. health risks). There is actual evidence proving even low levels of pesticides associated with GMO foods, such as Roundup, could cause severe health issues over time, like liver and kidney toxicity. Moreover, 3-month test trials on rats are not enough to truly measure the long-term effects on humans, the animals we consume, and the earth.
2. Genetically modified crops can have quite negative effects on biodiversity. Dr. Don Huber noted a link between some GM crops and spontaneous abortions and infertility in livestock. GM crops and pesticides have also been identified as the culprit behind massive bee extinctions, which have a greater impact than most people realize.
3. Finally, what happens when pests evolve to tolerate the GMO foods and pesticides that are created to repel them? Superbugs. They, along with superweeds, already exist! We have yet to see the true impact of these issues, but already they have damaged millions of acres.
There are many other factors at play in the GMO debate, such as allergens, small farm preservation, necessity, and hunger prevention, but even these few points should either give you the ammunition to make a solid decision — or the interest to research more.
So, how do you go GMO-free? There are a few ways. First, buy products labeled organic or non-GMO, which by law cannot contain any genetically modified material. Buy from local farmers who do not use GMO seeds (research or just ask!). Also, avoid the following foods (unless labeled otherwise), as they are over 70% genetically modified: soybeans, corn, sugar beets, canola, cotton, Hawaiian papaya, and all processed foods. Note that most of the following are likely non-GMO, though they may still be covered in pesticides and herbicides: conventional nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit. To make it simple: If you go Paleo/Primal, you’ll naturally eliminate almost all GMOs from your diet.
The GMO debate is just getting started, and scientists are bound to release findings that change the debate entirely. Until then, the best you can do is make informed choices and be open to new possibilities, wherever they may be.
Born and raised in Mississippi, statistically the most obese state in the US, Emily Farley’s interest in health and fitness began at a very young age. While continuously active in sports, several early surgeries and chronic health issues required a more restrictive diet than the rest of her family and friends. Though this seemed like quite the unfair nuisance at the time, Emily is incredibly grateful for the lifetime of healthy eating. Holding dual degrees in International Business (emphasis: International Marketing) and French, Emily graduated with honors from Mississippi State University in 2006, and immediately moved north to conquer NYC. Following a year stint in Nashville in 2012, she finally returned to start South By North, LLC – a health and fitness venture – with her best friend, Gina Cavallo. While vigorously studying fitness and nutrition, Emily discovered Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint Lifestyle, which she had been unknowingly living for years. Learning all she could, Emily searched for any way to apply this passion to business. Then she and Gina met George Kuan, and the EKG Project was born. Emily is excited to bring her deepest passions of health, fitness, and helping others to the world. “I’ve put my heart and soul into EKG Project. I dream of bringing truly healthy, affordable food to those who have limited to no access, including my family in Mississippi, New Mexico, and Ohio. This lifestyle has changed everything about me for the better, and I cannot wait to share the love with everyone on this beautiful planet!”