What are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)?
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been genetically engineered to insert, delete or modify a gene of a fungi, bacteria, insects, plants, fish or animal. The genes that are inserted can be, but are not always, from another species. GMOs have been used for medical research, medical therapies and farming practices for decades.
What are pros of genetically modified foods?
Some GMO crops are currently being designed to contain higher nutrient content, to be more drought or flood resistant and/or to have increased survival against various plant infections. There are amazing scientific possibilities with the use of GMOs, such as current production of clotting factors for hemophilia, insulin production for diabetics and the production of certain algae for biofuels.
What are cons of genetically modified foods?
Many of the genetic modifications that predominate in crops increase herbicide tolerance and the plant’s ability to resist insects. This can translate into increased glyphosate residues or an increased production of insecticides by a plant. Glyphosate, also known as Round-Up, is a potent chemical that binds minerals up from the soil, making them less available in our food supply (read: decreased good minerals in your food). Glyphosate also has been shown to cause birth defects in amphibians, embryonic deaths and endocrine disruptions, and organ damage in animals even at very low doses. Glyphosate has been detected in breast milk of nursing mothers and the cord-blood of pregnant women, meaning that babies are exposed to these hazardous chemicals before they are even born and during development. Glyphosate is also currently being investigated for its role in colony collapse of honey bees.
What are the most common GMOs?
Some estimates indicate that more than 75 percent of processed food in supermarkets in the US contains genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. Here is a list of the most common GMOs in the marketplace:
- Canola, also called Rapeseed
- Squash, like zucchini and summer squash
- Sugar Beets
- Rennet in commercial cheeses
Currently, US law does not require labeling of GE products; in May 2014, the governor of Vermont signed a law requiring GMOs to be labeled in the state of Vermont. Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified labels will not contain GE organisms.
Bottom Line: Things are not black and white. Genetically modified organisms are pervasive in the US and it will be hard, if not impossible, to reverse the trend. Regarding our food supply, my opinion as a farmer and doctor is that we want to eat food as close to its natural state as possible, with the least amount of chemical residues on it. When food is grown in a healthy soil environment, it is higher in nutrient content and beneficial biological organisms. We want to support local farmers and eat real food.
Your best bet: Buy local/sustainable or organic when possible. Advocate for labeling. Be an informed consumer.
About the author: Julia Strickler, ND* is a naturopathic doctor at Peoples Central, South and Westlake locations. In addition to supporting individuals on their individualized path to wellness, she is a farmer at Round Mountain Vineyards.
*Naturopathic doctors are not currently licensed in the state of Texas.