The Controversial Technology That Divided My Family

Ok, I’ll get right to the point.  I have a confession to make.  It’s something I don’t really like to think about…..

It’s a point of contention for citizens all across the country, even the planet.  There are very strong feelings about it on both sides.

In this case, my dad and I have major philosophical differences about one of the food industry’s most controversial issues.  Let me explain….

My dad has a Masters in Microbiology and a PhD in Molecular Genetics.  He has spent a good portion of his career developing crop protection (pesticide) technology and Genetically Modified crops.

lab scientist

Image Credit: acad.williams.edu

When he worked on researching and developing pesticides, I was pretty young and didn’t really understand or grasp what he did.  I didn’t know what the term ‘organic’ meant.  I knew he was a scientist and wore a lab coat.  I liked hanging out in the lab with him.  Maybe that’s why I went on to become a scientist myself.

So….What’s a GMO?

I must’ve been in my early teens when he first explained to me about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).  He described how a gene that allowed an Arctic species of fish to withstand severe cold temperatures was isolated and then inserted into a tomato so that it could survive frost conditions.

My first thought was, “Genius!  Who thought of that?”.  That was immediately followed by what I like to think of as my gut instinct, “Huh, messing with the genetic make-up of natural beings, with the very code of Mother Nature…..doesn’t seem like such a great idea.”

Genetic Engineering refers to any time in which DNA from a foreign species (a virus, bacteria, insect, animal) is inserted into the DNA of another plant or animal to effect a desired outcome.

bt gene drawing

It wasn’t until years later that I began to understand how genetic engineering was used to solve a tricky problem with corn crops.  The herbicide called Roundup was being applied to corn crops to kill weeds, but it was also killing the corn.

Monsanto, the company that manufactured Roundup, then discovered  a bacteria that was thriving in their chemical waste dump, despite the large amounts of Roundup they were disposing of there.  So they figured out how to isolate the gene that was responsible for the bacteria in the waste dump being resistant to Roundup and they inserted that gene into the corn.

AND VOILA!

Now the corn was resistant to the Roundup and they could apply as much Roundup as they wanted without damaging the corn.

Even worse, the weeds targeted by Roundup are evolving to be more and more resistant to it. Therefore, greater and greater amounts of Roundup are required to continue to kill the weeds…

…amounting to more toxins down the hatch for the consumer!

Pesticides

Ok, maybe I should back up and talk about pesticides for a minute….

In my first job out of college,  I worked in a lab measuring the amounts of pesticide residue in different crops to see at what levels they would still meet regulatory limits.

It was at that job that I got really clear on my stance on organic farming.  I didn’t stay at that job very long.  I just couldn’t stomach the industry.  Although it would be many more years before I would begin to learn about nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, I knew pesticides were bad news.

Organic means that a crop was not sprayed with pesticides.

There are many different kinds of pesticides that are intended to kill insects, weeds and anything else that might hinder the growth of the crop.

If it kills the “pests”, do you really want it in your food?

Would you feel comfortable eating food that was laced with bug spray?  The active ingredients in pesticides damage any living cells, including human cells.  When you consume pesticides in the food you eat, your cells are weakened, impacting your overall health.  Not only that, but because they’re designed to kill, they also wipe out all the good bacteria you need for healthy digestion in your gut.  That’s one big reason why we’re a country rife with digestive problems.

Your body has to do something with the toxins it takes in…

Do you know what your body does with more toxins than it can handle?  It stores them in your fat in order to keep them from running around in your body doing damage to your organs.  That means it’s that much harder to shed fat because your fat has become a toxic waste dump for all the toxins you’re taking in.

Pesticides come with an array of different risk in humans from cancer to neurological degeneration to endocrine disruption.

Additionally, conventional (non-organic) food has fewer nutrients, vitamins and minerals than the comparable organic variety (see research findings here and here).  So when you eat conventional, pesticide-laden food, you get less nutrition and more “empty calories”.

 

haz mat pesticides

 

Did you know that the farmers and technicians that spray the crops with these pesticides must wear full body hazmat (hazardous material) suits?   They have to protect themselves from contact with the pesticides and keep from breathing the dangerous chemicals.

If they are that dangerous, I know I don’t want to eat Them!  What about you?

GMO Safety

When I got old enough to do my own research on GMOs, I learned that scientists spearheading this big genetic experiment had performed no safety trials to assess the impact of long-term consumption of GMOs on human beings before introducing these “frankenfoods” to the food supply.  When a new drug or medical device is submitted for approval to the FDA, clinical trials must be performed in which the drug or device is administered to actual patients to assess safety, efficacy and any adverse reactions. Clinical trials of this nature were not performed before putting GMOs on our dinner tables.

Studies performed since then have shown that there are serious health risks associated with GMOs including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.  In fact, the more independent studies that are conducted and published, the more information is uncovered about the dangers of pesticides and GMOs.

Currently, genetically modified crops grown in the US include corn, soy, cotton, canola, hawaiian papaya, zucchini, yellow squash and sugar beets.

genetic engineering

Image Credit: www.earthtimes.org

And while the U.S. is approving more and more crops for genetic engineering, over 60 countries in other parts of the world, including France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Austria, Russia, Brazil, India, and Peru have banned them altogether or at the very least require labeling.

In fact, to accommodate these more cautious countries, many companies like Pepsi Cola, Coca Cola, Heinz, Mars, Danone, Kelloggs, Campbell Foods, Cadbury Schweppes, Kraft and McDonald’s all currently use non-GMO ingredients only for the products they sell in Europe. However they continue to use GMO ingredients for products sold in the U.S.

As an adult, I’ve expressed my position on GMO’s to my dad…..we’ve had many discussions about it… and, well, what can I say…. we’re both pretty attached to our perspectives.  I have agreed to disagree with him.  Today, he serves as the Head of a division of one of the major GMO producers worldwide.

Now that you know the inside scoop on GMO’s You Might be wondering how you can best avoid them…

In the US, food containing GMOs aren’t labeled as such, so you need to know what to look for.  You will probably be surprised at how many GMO products are actually hidden in your cabinets or pantry.  Here’s how you can begin to pinpoint the culprits:

1.  Go Organic

If a food is labeled as Organic, that means it can’t contain GMO’s.   The major at-risk crops that you want to avoid buying non-organic are corn, soy, canola, and cottonseed.  This is easier said than done.  Corn and soy are hidden in many, many products.  Some examples of GMO corn- and soy- based ingredients: corn starch, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, soy protein, soy lecithin.

2. READ INGREDIENT LABELS!

Begin looking for GMOs on your ingredient labels and choosing non-GMO alternatives.  Food labels can be tricky.  Here are a few tips:

  • “100% Organic” means that all the ingredients are organic.  This product is safe and contains no GMOs.
  • “Organic” means that  the product contains at least 95% organic ingredients.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients” means that the product must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.

To be safe, read all the ingredients on the label to see if they contain any non-organic, at-risk ingredients.  If the ingredient list is miles long, chances are it’s not a good product for you to eat.

3. Know what your meat eats.  

  • If you eat meat, be aware that if it was fed a GMO diet, you are consuming GMO’s when you eat it.
  • Know where your meat came from and how it was treated.
  • Choose only Organic, pasture-raised eggs and chicken, 100% grass-fed Organic beef, Organic milk products from cows that were not injected with rbGH (a GM hormone that increases milk production in cows).
  • Organic meat comes from animals that were given 100% organic feed and no growth hormones or antibiotics and they had access to outdoors (however the organic label is no guarantee as to how much time they spend outdoors or what their indoor conditions were like, which is why it’s also a good idea to buy from local, trusted sources, whenever possible).

4. Avoid food additives, flavorings, processing agents and artificial sweeteners.  These can be hidden sources of GMOs.

We all assume when we buy something at the grocery store that it’s safe for us to eat and feed our families.  As a country, we are learning that this is not always true and that we must be empowered to know what we’re eating by reading ingredient labels and making smart choices for ourselves and our families.

If you’re not used to looking out for GMOs, it may feel like they are in everything!  What are you supposed to eat?!

Fear not!  I keep Gmo’s almost completely out of my diet and i have plenty of choices!!

Don’t feel like you have to eradicate GMOs from your life all at once.  Just start with small changes.

 

Here’s an actionable: Go to your pantry or your refrigerator right now and start looking at labels.  How many GMOs can you find?  Next time you go grocery shopping, look for alternative products that don’t contain GMOs and start phasing out the bad ones.

Check out this link GMO’s A Go-Go for a cute informational animation on GMO’s.

There’s an app for that!!

Download this app to help you find GMO-free products GMO Shopping Guide App

And my last piece of advices is:

Read your labels!!!!!!!!!!!!

Please, don’t put anything in or on your body without knowing what’s in it!

I want to hear from YOU!  Leave me a comment below and share your insights on GMOs!

Did you like this article?  Sign up below and never miss an update!

 

This post is linked to Sunday School at Butter Believer.

 

Get my 4-part Video Series FREE!!! Just subscribe to my newsletter here!
Must-have tips for Clean Living!

6 Responses to The Controversial Technology That Divided My Family

  1. Ben says:

    Drives me crazy that chemical laden, modified food hijacked the word “conventional”. Is there anything more conventional than organic plants growing in dirt?

    The non-organic food is what should require labeling. I dream of a day when organic food is just labeled “food” and GMO pesticide drenched food has a surgeon general’s warning on it.

    • Erica says:

      Ben, you’re right, I never thought about the use of the word conventional that way. We definitely have it backwards! Keep holding that vision, maybe we’ll get there in our lifetime!

  2. I’m definitely trying to phase out GMOs, but it has been easier said than done.

    I’ve made strides by shopping more at farmer’s markets and signing up for veggie boxes sent to my home.

    This article, though, has opened my eyes to a whole host of other things to look out for! Great info. Thanks a bunch!

    • Erica says:

      I’m so glad to hear that, Jennifer! Good for you for putting in the effort. I am fortunate that I live in an area where organic food is easy to get my hands on, but I’ve also lived in areas where that wasn’t the case and I’d have to put a lot more effort into finding organic/non-GMO food. Hopefully we’re moving closer to it being readily available to everyone!

      • Gene Mann says:

        Hi Erica,
        There is a lot of controversy over GMO crops and one thing that is really needed in this debate is an injection of truth and facts. You may not be aware of it, but on your website you are promulgating a number of untrue points about GMOs that have been spread by Anti-GM groups like Greenpeace who know better. I would like to take this opportunity to correct some of the points you make and provide evidence to support this. On your site you claim that ” I learned that scientists spearheading this big genetic experiment had performed no safety trials before introducing these “frankenfoods” to the food supply. Not a single study was run prior to putting these GMOs on our dinner tables.” The truth is that GM crops are regulated in the US with oversight by USDA, FDA and, for insect resistant plants, EPA. In order to get cultivation approval in the US (oversight by USDA) a petitioner must conduct numerous field trials in different locations and in 2 different years in order to demonstrate that the GM crop grows and otherwise performs in an identical way compared to its non-GM counterpart. In order to get approval to use the crop in its traditional way for food or feed, the FDA reviews many different studies that demonstate the safety of the new protein whose production is directed by the new gene. In addition hundreds of different nutritional components (all amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and anti-nutrients [yes, even traditional foods contain toxic compounds]) are measured in the GM crop and compared to its traditional non-GM counterpart to demonstrate that the nutritional characteristics of the GM crop are the same as its nonGM counterpart. The regulatory dossiers submitted to the USDA and FDA consist of many studies with hundreds of pages of data. These are reviewed carefully by the regulatory agencies in a process that takes a couple of years. If you are interested you can go to a USDA website where all petitions that are being reviewed and all approved GM crops are listed (http://www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/petitions_table_pending.shtml). Here you can even download a copy of the petitions and see all of the studies and data that is being presented by the petitioner to support the environmental, food, and feed safety of the products. If you do this I think you will see that contrary to the statement on your webpage, many in depth studies are conducted to demonstrate the safety of GM crops prior to their commercialization.
        I think it is important to be as factual as possible when discussing current issues such as GM technology and so I hope you will consider changing your comments on this topic on your webpage to be aligned with the truth and facts. I encourage you to take a look at the above USDA site and peruse a few of the regulatory petitions for GM crops.

        • Erica says:

          Hi “Gene Man”. I am familiar with the lengthy approval process of GM crops by regulatory agencies, via field trials and establishing bio-equivalency, although my knowledge is perhaps not as intimate as yours given your affiliation with Bayer. I imagine my readers aren’t as familiar with the process, so I’m glad you’ve shed some light on it.

          In my statement where you reference that no safety trials had been performed before introducing genetic engineering to the food supply, I was referring to clinical trials to assess the impact of consuming GMOs on human beings. When a new drug or medical device is submitted for approval to the FDA, clinical trials must be performed in which the drug or device is administered to actual patients to assess safety, efficacy and any adverse reactions. To my knowledge, no studies were performed to determine how the long-term consumption of GMO’s impacts human beings. I will update that sentence to qualify the safety studies to which I’m referring.

          I do a great deal of research before posting articles on my website and what I share are facts that are corroborated by multiple scientific and medical sources many of which are referenced. It is certainly true that there is conflicting evidence on GMOs. I focus on independent research since the companies that profit from GMOs may be biased in their reporting, as has proven to be the case for pharmaceutical companies when reporting on their drug studies. I have never utilized Greenpeace as a source of scientific evidence; I consider them a political organization, not a scientific one.

          I do not refute in this article that GMOs are regulated by the appropriate governing agencies. The incestuous relationships between Monsanto and these agencies make it hard and frankly, unwise to have faith in their impartial regulation. Many former Monsanto execs holding important positions in the FDA, EPA, and USDA creates a conflict of interest of which the American public ought be leery.

          Although I choose to avoid eating GMO products and recommend others do the same, I respect the right of individuals to make their own informed decisions. That’s one of the reasons I strongly support GMO labeling. The science and technology behind GMO products is fascinating and creative work, and there are many brilliant well intentioned people working in this field. However, I want humans to survive and thrive for a long time on this planet, and long term longitudinal studies would be required before GMO products could be determined to be safe for human consumption; these studies were never done, and GMO foods were released into the food supply without labeling, making the US population guinea pigs for GMO products. It appears from the evidence so far, that at least some GMO products have adverse health effects on humans.

          Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I always find if helpful for me to consider other viewpoints; I hope you will take another look at this issue and consider that the law of unintended consequences may be helpful to consider before making huge changes in the food supply.

Leave a Reply to Jennifer Kennedy Cancel reply

Cultures for Health
A passion for organics picture frame

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor.  I am a scientist and householder.  Please do not replace advice from a doctor or medical professional with information found on this site.