“An ecosystem, you can always intervene and change something in it, but there’s no way of knowing what all the downstream effects will be or how it might affect the environment. We have such a miserably poor understanding of how the organism develops from its DNA that I would be surprised if we don’t get one rude shock after another.”
– Professor Richard Lewontin, Professor of Genetics, Harvard University
You’ve probably heard of a GMO, but if you were asked to defined it, it may be tough to do. Don’t worry, you’re not alone! In fact, many people have never even heard of GMOs, much less think about them when they are grocery shopping. However, 60- plus countries around the world (including Australia, Japan, and the European Union) have significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs. If that many countries have placed restrictions on GMOs, we should probably pay more attention to them.
So what are GMO’s? GMO stands for “Genetically Modified Organism,” and the phrase refers to plants or animals that have been genetically engineered to produce a specific set of characteristics. This is much different than traditional breeding practices, where different breeds of the same species are combined to produce favorable traits. With modern GMO’s, DNA is taken from a completely different species (like a fish or virus) and inserted into a crop (like a tomato) to transfer genetic traits. These experimental combinations of genes cannot and do not occur naturally.
Most commercial GMOs are engineered specifically to be more tolerant to large applications of herbicides and pesticides, like Roundup Ready, a chemical fertilizer created by the corporate giant Monsanto. Monsanto controls 80% of the GM (“genetically modified”) corn market and 93% of the GM soy market. Roundup’s main ingredient is glyphosate. Glyphosate was found by the World Health Organization to be a “probable human carcinogen” in May 2015 and today is classified as a “known carcinogen” under Prop 65 in California. Our partners at GMO Inside have the scoop on glyphosate here.
The biggest reason many plants are modified is so that they can withstand higher concentrations of pesticides or even so that the plant becomes a pesticide. GMOs have caused the use of pesticides and herbicides to skyrocket, leaving more chemical residue on crops for consumers to ingest. While much of the research around GMOs is conflicting, a growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health issues, environmental damage, and violations of farmers’ and consumers’ rights. To make matters worse, the long-term health effects of GMOs on both people and the planet are virtually unknown, and almost all studies that “prove” the safety of GMO’s are funded by the very biotech corporations that profit from GMO sales.
Most millennials were born into a GMO world. Today, an estimated 80% of food on supermarket shelves contain GMOs, something not stated on ingredient labels.
Fortunately, a growing number of people are becoming informed and demanding corporate food giants to label GMOs. In the absence of meaningful mandatory labeling in the United States, our partners at the Non-GMO Project are working hard to protect non-GMO food in a different way, by creating a voluntary labeling system by which food companies could meet the consumer demand for non-GMO choices, thereby changing the supply chain and preserving safe, healthy food for future generations.
If you want to dive deeper, take a look this article from the New York Times about genetically modified crops.
As consumers, we have the power to find and choose non-GMO products to support a safe and healthy food supply. When in doubt, choose USDA Certified Organic products, which cannot contain GMO ingredients. And keep an eye out for The Non-GMO Project’s “butterfly” verification mark, which is North America’s only independent verification for products made according to rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance. The butterfly is also the fastest-growing label in the natural products industry representing more than 43,000 verified products, with annual sales of over $20 billion.
The list of common ingredients that are now almost entirely made from GMO crops is astounding. And food companies are not required to test these GMO ingredients for pesticides or other harmful effects, and they don’t have to tell you when they put GMOs in your favorite foods. The passage of The Dark Act (S. 764) in 2016 preempts all mandatory labeling laws already passed at the state level and puts the burden on the consumer to discover if a product contains GMOs or not.
It’s time to do your own investigative work.
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The key to change is understanding. GMOs can be a highly controversial topic that is often not fairly represented. Propaganda, like the new GMO film Food Evolution, can skew the facts, preventing people from taking action around an issue that really matters.
To gain a better understanding of GMOs and the breadth of information that is available, take a look at The Organic and Non-GMO Report.
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Due on 10/29 at 6am PT. We will award up to 50 bonus points based on quality of work.
It just so happens that some of the most popular snack foods (i.e. processed, packaged foods) often contain GMOs. In this challenge, we are inviting you to share what you’ve learned about GMOs with friends and family.
It’s time to take a break from the books and help educate your friends about GMOs.
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