Do you worry about consuming Genetically Engineered (GE) foods?
Proponents of GE foods are quick to point out how they’ve never been directly linked to disease. True, but they have never been proven safe either. Plus, the process of genetic engineering comes packaged with a host of deleterious effects on human health and the environment.
The Dangers of Producing GE Crops:
1. Increases use of toxic herbicides. GE crops are engineered to be herbicide resistant. The logic is that when an agricultural field is injudiciously doused with herbicide, the weeds will die while the herbicide-tolerant crops continue to grow. This has backfired by creating superweeds which are resistant to modern weedkillers. To deal with the superweeds, agricultural companies are resorting to older and more toxic forms of herbicides.
Recently the World Health Organization classified the herbicide glyphosate, marketed by Monsanto (the leading producer of GE seeds), as a carcinogen. The Environmental Protection Agency names glyphosate as the most used herbicide in the U.S. The continued production of GE foods will only boost the use of toxic glyphosate in our food supply.
2. Endangers biological diversity. Genetic engineering creates monocultures that are bred to lack variation in rate of growth, durability, appearance and flavor. As a cook and an eater, I find this frightening. We’re being set up for a food system which only offers singular varieties of individual crops. Imagine, only one type of corn to choose from, or wheat, or tomato…all because heirloom and specialty varieties are too intensive and fragile for large-scale agriculture. By now, we should have learned from history that relying heavily on one type of crop is never a good idea.
Unfortunately, many non-GE crops are at risk of cross-contamination. It’s not comforting to know that if and when the wind carries GE seed into a field of non-GE crops, the Supreme Court has granted Monsanto the right to sue the field’s owners for patent infringement.
3. Puts farm laborers at grave risk. When choosing what to eat, I try to always think beyond myself. This means considering the treatment of the laborers involved in producing the food I purchase, and striving to make the most ethical choices on their behalf. As explained in my first point, GE agriculture promotes the use of dangerous herbicides in massive quantities. Workers in these fields and nearby households are exposed to toxins daily and have been shown to suffer from poor health because of it. If you think it’s not worth opposing GE foods for your own sake, consider doing it for theirs.
Two Surefire Ways to Avoid GE Foods:
1. Buy/grow/choose organic foods. Those which are certified organic are guaranteed to be GE-free since it’s a criteria of organic certification. But keep in mind that many small-scale farms can’t afford organic certification or don’t see the point of paying a yearly fee for responsible farming. When you can buy directly from farmers, ask about their growing methods to know exactly what you’re getting.
If you grow food, have a look at the The Four Steps Required to Keep Monsanto Out of Your Garden by The Healthy Home Economist.
2. Buy foods which bear the Non-GMO Project certification. Packaged foods labeled as such have been verified by a third party to contain no trace of GE ingredients. GE corn can be mutated into many things, including packaging materials, so it’s not always easy to determine by sight if a product is GE-free. I find the GMO-free label especially helpful when buying oils, sweeteners, flours and other staples.
By the way, the terms “GE” and “GMO” are broadly used interchangeably, but there is a distinction between the two. Have a look at OPB’s blog post, “Food For Thought: The Difference Between GMO And GE Foods“.
3. Sign up for the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Avoiding GE Foods. Another simple way to keep GE foods out of your kitchen.
Which foods are currently approved to be GE?
Corn – and all its derivatives which include animal feed, corn flour, corn starch, high fructose corn syrup, oil and corn meal…see how tricky it can be to avoid the stuff? One of corn’s incarnations shows up in almost every commercially processed food.
Soybeans – including soy lecithin (watch out for this in chocolate), soy protein isolate (found in several vegetarian meat alternatives), soybean oil, soy sauce and tofu.
Beet Sugar – which is turned into white sugar. Sugar is another ingredient that features in an astounding number of commercially processed foods. Often, there’s nothing to indicate whether a product’s sugar was made from GE beet sugar or non-GE pure cane sugar.
Cotton – which is manufactured into cottonseed oil.
Canola – which becomes canola oil.
Papaya – but only in Hawaii where 75% of the crop is GE.
Zucchini and yellow summer squash – only a few varieties are GE, but since labeling isn’t required in the U.S., it’s nearly impossible to know which, unless you buy/grow organic.
Alfalfa – which is turned into animal feed. The story of alfalfa speaks to the duplicitous nature of the GE business. Alfalfa seems to have snuck into the range of GE crops without announcement or available answers to farmers who want to know how the variety will affect their fields.
I want to hear from you.
Do you make a point to avoid GE foods? If so, why? Or if not, why are you comfortable with them? Comment below and let’s get this conversation started.
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Image Credits: Dear! Stop buying the genetically modified produce!