By Karen Parucha
What are GMOs?According to the World Health Organization (WHO), genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in such a way that it does not occur naturally.” Scientists insert a gene from one organism into another to “improve” or change the organism. Also known as GM (genetically modified) or GE (genetically engineered) foods, GMOs were first introduced in the 1990s under the belief that their use would decrease production costs and increase crop yields, and thereby feeding more people. The first GMO crop was the Flavr Savr tomato and was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1994. Today, common GMO crops include corn, soya, sugar beets and canola, among others.
How are GMOs harmful to our health and the environment?The Non-GMO Project states that more than 80% of all GMOs grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance. As a result, use of toxic herbicides has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. GMO crops are also responsible for the emergence of “super weeds” and “super bugs,” which can only be killed with ever more toxic poisons. Because of these herbicides, studies in humans reveal that GMOs leave behind harmful material in our bodies, which have been linked to long-term health problems and certain types of cancers. According to The Institute for Responsible Technology, The American Academy of Environmental Medicine cite “animal studies with GMOs showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging and infertility. Genes inserted into GM soy, for example, can transfer into the DNA of bacteria living inside us, and that the toxic insecticide produced by GM corn was found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses.” Further, a breakthrough study in 2009 determined that GMOs do not actually increase crop yields at all. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ report Failure to Yield recommended that we look into other methods, such as organic farming, in order to feed growing populations, as we cannot “produce more food at the expense of clean air, water, soil and a stable climate, which future generations would also require.”
How can I avoid GMOs?Identifying what is a GMO food and what is not a GMO food can be tricky. In North America, 75% of the processed foods we eat contain GMO ingredients, and there are no strict rules in Canada about labelling. However, there are many resources available that can help you distinguish GMOs from organic, non-GMO foods.
- Visit Non-GMO Project’s Verified Product list before making any purchase
- Download an app to help you identify items while navigating the grocery store: Center for Food Safety’s True Food, NxtNutrio and Fooducate.
- Support local farmers markets and organic food stores