From Green Right Now Reports
Genetically modified foods are everywhere, having crept into processed foods as key components, such as corn oil, corn flour, high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, soy isolate, invert sugar and on down the food label.
These foods have taken over supermarket shelves as GMO or GE crops have achieved an epic supremacy in the U.S. farm belt. More than 80 percent of the corn and 90 percent of the soybeans grown today come from genetically modified seeds. About half of the sweet corn, once a holdout in the march toward modification, has gone GMO within the last two years; GMO alfalfa has won approval and soon, GMO salmon could appears on our plates, along with more engineered foods to come.
If you believe these transgenic or pesticide-resistant crops are dangerous, the cascade of genetically modified edibles is disheartening. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to approve applications for more genetic seed modifications, even as the question of their safety remains unanswered. And now, you may have heard, anyone challenging the safety of GMO foods created by Monsanto and other big biotech firms, will be stopped at the gate by the recent passage of a federal law that prevents courts from stopping GMOs even when they’re the subject of a legal challenge.
The FDA, which has ushered in the GMO food-era, considers these foods to be “substantially” the same as their non-GMO counterparts, even though the process of modifying foods often uses organisms from another species or breeds in resistance to toxic pesticides. That’s been the agency’s stance since the first commercialization of GMOs in the 1990s.
These foods may look much the same as their unadultered cousins, but are they? A growing movement of food activists is skeptical. They want to know more, and until then they want ways to opt out, like labeling requirements for GMO foods. So far efforts to do that have failed, including a recent labeling ballot initiative in California that had broad popular support initially but failed to win a majority in the November 2012 election. Big food and biotech companies had poured money into a large ad campaign to stop the measure.
Biotech companies responsible for these changes in our food staples say they’re safe as well. But a few independent studies have found that GMOs may trigger allergic or immunological responses in humans and could even increase human vulnerability to cancer. Farmers have reported fertility issues with livestock fed GMO-grains.
Around the world, instead of asking whether these foods are dangerous, other nations have asked, are they safe? And that precautionary approach has resulted in bans and labeling requirements for GMOs in Europe, Asia and Australia — but not in the U.S.
How can a consumer cope? Until GE foods are labeled, shoppers have to ferret out the non-GMO foods and ingredients. It can be done. Here’s how:
- Start by buying Organic-certified produce when you can. Here’s what you’ll be getting: Foods grown in soils with active microorganisms that some studies show foster richer nutrients in the plants. In addition, you’ll be clearing your the pesticides from your groceries and supporting chemical-free agriculture. When organic gets crazy expensive, look for local foods, which may not need chemical inputs because they’re seasonal and indigenous. This first step just makes sense. Here’s how even the USDA describes organic production: “Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” Land conservation and the absence of growth hormones and synthetic pesticides. That sounds like a plan. Of course last year a survey of existing research on organic vs. non-organic foods by Stanford University physicians concluded that organic foods appear to provide no nutritional gain significant enough to affect our overall health. We think that this study was out to lunch, (see our blog) and so do some other experts. Here’s an article that looked at several studies, which concluded organic produce is richer in phytonutrients, minerals and certain vitamins. (Yes, the Stanford study looked at more studies, but we need to move on.)
- Buy Non-GMO Project Verified foods. Their label attests that a third party has verified that a food product is GMO-free. You can find a list of verified Non-GMO products on their website. It’s a long list. You may have to take it to the store with you. We’ve also found that some of the stellar brands providing many non-GMO products, like Eden, can be easily ordered online. Another big brand is Whole Foods Market’s 365 label. Here too you’ll find packaged products that make your life easier, such as Annies, Amy’s, Pacific, Miso Master and Rising Moon Organics. Be aware though, that right now, you have to check product by product, even when the brand-line leans toward non-GMO, it may still have some products that contain GMOs. So if you’re trying to purge GMOs completely from your diet, you’ll have to be vigilant.
- Use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide supported by the Institute for Responsible Technology. This website offers a variety of helpful tips and pages, including one devoted to succinctly answering the question, “Why Should I Avoid GMOs?” Another page covers the eye-opening array of “Invisible GM ingredients”. It would be hard to know some of these obscure ingredients — cystein, diacetyl, shoyu — but you can take this list with you on a phone app. Aside from those insidious-sounding additives, you’ll need the list to remind you that the otherwise OK-sounding Vitamin E, Vitamin B-12 and food starch are GMO ingredients. Parts of the Non-GMO Shopping Guide are discouraging. Pop open a favorite brand on the website and you may find that the company has yet to sign up for the Non-GMO Project. On the other hand, sometimes, you be reassured. Turns out that two brands that recently arrived at our grocery, Sol and Wildwood, have a long list of Non-GMO products, including prepared tofu and veggie burgers. This was a valuable find because many veggie burgers still harbor GMO corn and soy components. The guide’s phone app gives you a cheat sheet (or you can download a brochure) to take to the store. It lists brands that have Non-GMO verified products by categories, snacks, dairy products, faux meats etc.
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