The controversy surrounding Genetically Modified (GM) foods isn’t going anywhere. Activist groups have made their voice heard; we have seen protests around the globe, the burning of GM crops in Hungary, and murmurs of the same happening right next door in Washington. Biotech companies such as Monsanto are also making headlines. Although they have backed out of Europe due to lack of support for GM crops from farmers and citizens, they continue to stipulate that the public must embrace GM foods for our own food security and for the starving developing nations.
Why Care About Genetically Modified Foods?
Regardless of how we feel about GM foods and their affect on our health, there is no doubt that the environmental impacts are there. More than 80% of GM food grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance. What does this mean? The use of toxic herbicides like Roundup have increased 15 times since GM crops were introduced.
Once a GM seed is released into the environment, there is no turning back. Do we really want big biotech companies such as Monsanto, the larger pesticide producer in the world and the maker of Agent Orange, to be playing with mother nature? I think no.
“Once these new life forms have become established in our surroundings, they can replicate, change, and spread; there may be no turning back. Many ecologists are concerned about what this means to the balance of life on Earth that has evolved over millions of years through the natural reproduction of species.”
-Geneticist and Environmental Activist David Suzuki
What Genetically Modified Foods Am I Eating?
Because labelling laws for GM foods don’t exist yet in Canada or America, it is up to us the consumer to make informed decisions about what we put in our mouths. Luckily the list of approved GM foods isn’t getting much bigger, and if you shop at farmers markets, organic grocers, and avoid processed foods you are probably avoiding the bulk of GM foods.
What Genetically Modifed Foods to Look Out For
- Papaya – The poor innocent Papaya didn’t stand a chance. In the ’90’s the Hawaiian papaya trees were plagued by the ringspot virus which devastated the states crop supply. In ’98, scientists developed a transgenic fruit called Rainbow Papaya which was resistant to the virus; GM Rainbow Papaya now makes up 77% of the states supply of papaya.
- Squashes and Zucchini – While not grown in Canada, some GM squashes and zucchini may be making it over the boarder from the USA. Approximately 25,000 acres of GM crookneck, straightneck, and zucchinis have been bioengineered to be virus resistant.
- Milk Products – No they are not genetically modifying the cow, or are they? RBGH aka recombinant bovine growth hormone is a GM variation of a naturally occurring hormone injected into dairy cows to increase milk production. But don’t worry, it is banned for milk destined for human consumption in the EU, Canada, NZ and Australia. Unfortunately it may still be found in frozen desserts that contain dairy such as ice cream, imported mixed drinks with milk ingredients and products that contain milk solids and milk powder. Cheese is also at risk.
Have Genetically Modified Foods Made it Elsewhere in Our Food Supply?
Just because we avoid these foods doesn’t make us safe. Most processed food will contain some ingredient that has come from GM sources. This includes cotton seed oil found in potato chips and take away shops, canola oil which may be sitting on your pantry shelf, any product that contains corn (cornflakes, corn chips) or a corn derivative (cornstarch, corn syrup, corn oil, glucose and fructose), and any product containing sugar beets. The later is labeled as just plain ‘sugar’ on an ingredient list so unless it is labeled ‘cane sugar’ you can bet your cotton socks it has probably come from a GM sugar beet.
Oh, and don’t forget soy! The GM variety would mainly be found in soy protein, soy oil and soy lecithin. But don’t worry, most major brands of soy milk and tofu are GM free. Check out the Non-GMO Project to see which of your favourite brands has gone GMO free.
What Foods are Free of Genetically Modified Organisms
There are many resources our there in support of GM free eating. Aside from the Non-GMO Project, there is GE Free BC which lists many brands that don’t source from GM ingredients. Buy local as the majority of GM food comes from industrial farms. Eat whole foods, avoid processed foods with ingredients from suspect sources. Lastly, look for organic certification.
Still Skeptical About Genetically Modified Foods?
I’ll leave it to the experts if you still are not convinced. This is a panel put on by AusVeg called The Great Debate. I would be interested to hear other peoples thoughts on Okanogan Non-Browning Apples… yeh? or neh? ;)
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Rachel Dickens, The Conscious Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated with her Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010 from Griffith University. She strives to provide evidence-based nutrition information with a focus on plant-based nutrition, and share some of her favourite seasonal recipes and sustainable eating tips.