Monday, February 15, 2010

The Truth About Genetically Modified Organisms

This is what really prompted me to start this blog. I am a member of Diaper Swappers, an online cloth diapering community with tons of forums. When I'm bored, I like to browse it and check the most recent post. One day, I saw a thread about someone who made over $1300 in one month with her blog. In this thread, there was a mention of GMOs. I asked what they were and read the blog that brought up the topic of GMOs and what I learned just made me want to research it more. Since then, I have researched it at least once a day and I keep wanting to learn more. Then I got to thinking, its a shame more people don't know about GMOs. It would be a shame if I did all this research and I was the only one who learned about them. So I started this blog.

A big part of my journey to supermomdom is going to be eliminating GMOs from my kitchen. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I mean, I'm sure you'd like to know what a GMO is before you get tips on how to avoid them.

GMOs are organisms that have been genetically modified by inserting or deleting genes to change the original organism. For the purpose of this post, when I talk about GMOs, I am referring to genetically modified plants, specifically edible plants that are used to make food, or GMFs (genetically modified foods), as there are other genetically modified organisms out there that are not plants. Some plants are modified by inserting a gene present in other species of the same type of plant such as when a tomato is modified by adding a different type of tomato gene so that it can ripen early but won't bruise easily. Other plants are modified by inserting genes not naturally present in other species of the same plant, such as plants that are "roundup ready", which are genetically modified so that they are unaffected by pesticides. Which makes growing them easier as you can just douse the entire field with roundup and it will only kill the weeds, not the plants. Another example would be BT corn which modified the corn so that the plant itself produces a toxin that kills insects. There are also plants that are modified with fish genes to produce omega3s and plants that are modified with genes from other plants such as rice plants that are modified with daffodil genes.

Now, I'm sure many of you are thinking "wow, that's weird and all, but scientists playing with plants in a lab can't possibly affect me, so what's the big deal?" Well, to me the big deal is that the US does not require labeling for GM foods. And GM foods have been in the US since 1990. We have been eating them for 20 years and I don't know about you, but I had no idea when my mom said high fructose corn syrup was bad that that was due to the fact that the corn was genetically modified. And neither did she.

In the US, by 2006 89% of the planted area of soybeans, 83% of cotton, and 61% corn were genetically modified. Today, the top 4 genetically modified plants are soybeans, corn, rapeseed/canola, and cotton/cottonseed. Other genetically modified plants include sugar beets, rice, zucchini, squash, and potatoes. These are used to create many ingredients in prepackaged foods, oils, canned foods and drinks, most notably being high fructose corn syrup. You still may think this isn't a big deal and it is certainly your right to decide what is a big deal to you, but it is a big deal to me. I do not want to feed my children plants or plant products engineered to produce toxins or engineered to be able to withstand being doused with pesticides and I don't want to eat it myself. I don't know if its unhealthy for humans, but there have been studies that indicate that GM foods cause intestinal issues and cancer, among other issues, in animals. And I can't imagine anything that has been doused in pesticides or engineered to produce toxins that are lethal to bug larvae to be healthy for humans. Some GM foods have antibiotic resistent "markers". To verify that the GM was successful, all a scientist would have to do is douse the organism with antibiotics and if it survives, the GM was successful. But will that make those antibiotics less effective to someone that consumes GM foods with antibiotic resistant markers? Unfortunately, big name companies who find it cheaper and easier to use GMOs and the FDA don't think its important to conduct more in depth testing because it would be expensive and I think they are worried about the results. So, in effect, everyone who buys GMFs is participating in a huge, uncontrolled test.

For me, its all about risk assessment. I don't see the benefits of GM outweighing the risks. And frankly, the idea of fish genes or bacteria genes in my fruits and veggies is just weird and gross to me. And definately not worth the risk.

I expect the topic of genetic modification and how to avoid genetically modified foods to be a frequent topic in this blog. I will address the best ways to avoid GMFs in my next post about GMOs.

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