FAQ on the Dangers of
Genetically Engineered Foods
The dangers of genetically engineered foods is a big topic with many different facets and risks. This is why I've invited Angela Malson, environmental expert and activist (and hardcore advocate for organic foods), to share her knowledge on GMOs and the steps we can take to make a difference.
What is genetically modified food or GMO's?
GMO's are "Genetically Modified Organisms", essentially the splicing genes to create unnatural combinations of animal, plant, bacterial and viral genes into one seed.
One example is taking a gene from a fish and injecting it into a strawberry to make it grow longer into the season; you then have a strawberry with a fish gene, thus the "modification" or mutated existence. GMO's are also created with their own pesticides injected into them that can release on their own and are grown to withstand huge amounts of herbicides.
What are the dangers of genetically engineered foods to humans?
GMO's haven't been thoroughly tested for human consumption, and it is unknown if we really can digest these mutated seeds. Plus, with the added pesticides and herbicides used, and the prevalent use of GMO's in animal feed, we are consuming an ever-increasing load of toxins and food that is not really food! With these added burdens, and because GMOs are hidden in nearly every processed food on the market that is not labeled otherwise, our bodies are finding it harder and harder to resist disease. With the increase in GMO production so has the increase in autoimmune diseases, allergies, asthma, autism, decreased fertility and cancers of all kinds. GMO crops are also becoming resistant to the herbicides sprayed on them and so super weeds and super pests form which require even greater spraying and more toxic overload.
What are the dangers of genetically engineered foods to the environment?
The environmental risks from GMO's are numerous and still unfolding as more and more plants are being genetically engineered. With new combinations of seeds planted, entire ecosystems are essentially being altered, and we really don't yet know the consequence of this. We do know that with an increase in GMO crops, there comes an increase in herbicide sprayed, and since GMO's are herbicide resistant, the amount of herbicide used continues to rise exponentially. Since some GMO plants can also eject their own pesticides, and even pollen from a GMO plant can impact a neighboring plant, there becomes multiple levels of toxins being released into our soils, air and water. This truly has devastating consequences, and is already impacting many unintended members of our ecosystem, including bees and butterflies.
Read More: Know the Environmental Hazards
What are the dangers of genetically engineered foods to farmers?
Farmers are also at risk. Because GMO giants like Monsanto have a patent on their seeds, and require that farmers can't replant and save seeds, but must buy from them each year, they are literally putting farmers out of business. Small farmers are going into debt with the need to continuously buy new seed and more and more herbicide, mainly RoundUp, which is also owned by Monsanto. Neighboring farmers can also be sued when their fields become contaminated with GMO's through cross-pollination simply because there is a patent on the GMO seed. It is extremely profitable to control the seed source and the herbicide used, especially when the seed is resistant to the herbicide and more and more of it needs to be used. Farmers also put their health at risk with exposure to BT toxins over time, and in India farmers have committed suicide in droves because they end up not producing the amount of crops promised with GMO seed, their hands are essentially tied into contracts with Monsanto and other Biotech Corporations. Once they have planted GMO crops it makes it very difficult to go back to sustainable practices and their land fails them.
Are there other potential dangers of genetically engineered foods?
Allowing Biotech Giants to patent foods and control not only the seed source, but the process and outcome of food production is a huge social risk. One of the most overlooked dangers of genetically engineered foods is that food sovereignty is compromised and control over our main food sources creates a dependency on these corporations. Our food then becomes controlled by a select few, and could be allocated disproportionately, or used against our health and well-being. No corporate or political entity should have this much control over something so inherent to the existence of our population.
Is there testing being done on the safety of GMO foods?
The testing being done on the safety of GMO's is lacking. Reports that show GMO's are "as safe as traditional foods" are done by the biotechnology companies themselves, or third party sources that are still connected to them in some way, and are a blatant conflict of interest. The true independent studies that do exist mostly show a decrease in fertility and and an increase in cancer causing diseases in animals fed genetically modified feed. So much more testing needs to be done on the dangers of genetically engineered foods, and true independent studies that examine the impact not only on human health, but environmental and social impact, as well.
Which companies are spearheading the pro-GMO campaign? What are their arguments for GMOs?
The main pro-GMO corporate giants are Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer, and Dupont, mostly chemical companies that are now creating seeds. The top food industry supporters of GMO production is Pepsico, Kraft, Bayer, Nestle, and General Mills. The Big Ag companies claim that through genetic engineering they can create stronger plants, longer growing seasons, and greater quantities of food to feed more people. What they fail to recognize (or admit) is that the "food" they are creating, is just that, a creation, or experiment on our health and environment. Yet, they continue to pump millions of dollars into defeating GMO Labeling initiatives. Honestly, if GMO's are so amazing, why wouldn't they want to label them and let consumers decide if they wanted to choose to eat them or not?
Read More: Companies That Oppose GMO Labeling
How would you respond to their arguments for GMOs?
We can grow just as much non-GMO food to feed people as we need. (If we could just address our food waste problem, we'd solve this dilemma too.) We're already doing it in countries around the world that have banned GMOs. Additionally, GMO plants must be doused with chemicals in order to grow, and so the toxic load is greatly increased. Also, while the plants themselves might appear to be stronger or grow longer, they are actually creating super weeds and super pests resistant to more and more. And, it isn't really food! Our bodies are rejecting these foods because we aren't designed to digest them. Food grown in a sustainable way with rotating crops, seasonally based, and natural pest control is not only better for our health, but also better for the environment, and can actually feed the world if done correctly!
Read More: GMO Myths and Truths
Are there any countries where GMO foods have already been banned?
There are over 60 countries that recognize the dangers of genetically engineered foods and already have restrictions, labeling, or GMO-Free Zones in place. Much of the European Union has GMO-Free regions, and in addition there are over 20 other countries that have some type of GMO ban on a selection of crops. Most recently, Mexico and France have banned GMO corn in their countries, which is significant because corn is one of the top GMO seeds to be produced in the world.
Why haven't GMO's been banned in the US or other countries?
GMO's haven't been banned in the U.S. for several reasons. Profit is the biggest excuse, and having former Monsanto executives running the FDA and Monsanto Board Members in our judicial system doesn't help matters. Political pockets run deep, and when corporate influence is rampant in our legislative and policy positions, there unfortunately isn't much room for unbiased support. However, there has been an increasing demand for Non-GMO foods, and the grassroots movement to Label GMO's and create GMO-Free Zones has taken off in recent years. California, Oregon, Hawaii, Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine have all had partial success in passing labeling laws, meaning they have passed with some stipulations (like they will only take effect once other states join, etc.) and there are some small local municipalities in the U.S. that have passed GMO-Free Zones, with more currently in the works. There are definitely more people speaking up about the dangers of genetically engineered foods and creating change in the Non-GMO Movement, but there is still a long way to go.
Read More: GMOs: Ban Them or Label Them?
Which plants are most likely to be genetically modified?
The top GMO foods or plants include corn, soy, cottonseed, alfalfa, papaya, canola, sugar beets, and zucchini and yellow summer squash. In addition, 80% of processed foods on grocery store shelves contain GMO products, and there are many hidden sources of GMO's which makes it especially difficult to discern what you are eating.
Read More: Agricultural Crops at Risk of Being GMO
How can I tell if my food has GMOs?
If you choose foods that are USDA Certified Organic they are supposed to by default be Non-GMO. Or, you can look for the Non-GMO Product Verified Seal. Best is to look for both certifications, but note that just because a product is Non-GMO doesn't mean it is organic. You can search Non-GMO verified products here, and to use a Shopping Guide App here.
What steps can I take to make a difference?
Know what you are eating and make a commitment to buy organic and Non-GMO.
- Read labels, know your farmer, buy from a CSA, and close the gap between farm to table.
- Use and promote resources like Making Organic Food Affordable to help you and others prioritize organic food in their budget.
- Under these dangers of genetically engineered foods so that you can share with others.
- Speak up at community meetings that are considering Non-GMO or labeling initiatives.
- Volunteer with local Non-GMO and Food Action groups that educate others on the dangers of genetically engineered foods.
- Get involved in passing labeling laws and other ballot measures that give consumers the right to know what they are eating.
- And, the most powerful way to make a difference, vote with your forks and your dollars! Ask for Non-GMO options at your local restaurants and grocers, only buy food you know is safe, and commit to going Non-GMO whether for one meal a week, or an entire month!
It's possible, it's been done. And, Big Ag and the Biotech Giants will only change based on consumer demand. Their bottom line is profit, and if it decreases, they make change. Many of the same foods sold in Europe are sold without GMO ingredients because consumers who understood the dangers of genetically engineered foods demanded it. So, don't let them tell you it costs more, or that it can't feasibly be done on a large scale. It has already been done there, it can be done here. We just have to be willing to initiate that change.
Will it cost more for me to go Non-GMO? How does a family afford to buy Non-GMO exclusively?
We get asked this a lot, and we always say first and foremost that food is our preventive healthcare. If you don't want to get sick, then you must eat healthy. And, by going organic and Non-GMO, and buying USDA Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified, you do eliminate the added toxins into your body so you automatically have to do less to digest and excrete what is not needed. This extra work often bogs down our system, and causes inflammation. When we are eating clean, our system is inherently cleaner, so less work to process and less illness as a consequence. Just remember that when you feel dis-ease your body goes toward a state of disease, but when you feel at-ease, you are more likely to be easy, or healthier. Now, how to save money so you can afford to buy organic and Non-GMO? Buy more whole foods and nutrient dense foods, so you fulfill your energetic needs and don't crash after digesting, or find you have to eat larger quantities of food to satiate your hunger. Also, buy in bulk to save money, make your own snacks, rather than buying processed, and buy direct either from your local farmers or co-op to save money. If you buy in season, too, that helps, because then you are not spending extra for a food product to be shipped across the world.
Read More: Making Organic Food Affordable
Angela Joy Malson - Mama, dreamer, lover, writer, life learner, activist, eco-traveling, simple and sustainable living, gypsy, hippie mama on the road full-time with her family in the Eco Womb on a journey of one love and conscious connection. With a Masters in Environmental Law, Angela is now Co-Founder of Eco Womb and Visionary for The Conscious Caravan, Senior Writer and Copy Editor for Letterbox Studios, and Staff Writer for Blindfold Magazine. She runs the Non-GMO Family Awareness Campaign, the Non-GMO Family Food Drive, and has been marching for our Right to Know what is in our food since 2011 sharing the dangers of genetically engineered foods. Juggling four kids and four jobs, she finds it grounding to dig her toes in the sand, gather by the moon, build campfires, create space for stillness, and climb mountains. Find her online: EcoWomb.com // Facebook.