Everyone seems to have an opinion on GMOs. But while the debate between organic versus Roundup Ready Corn continues, you can easily get lost in the science of it all and end up confused about which side you are even on. Before taking a stern “GMO’s are the way of the future” stance, get your basic questions answered here in 9 quick steps.
1. What is a GMO?
A GMO is a genetically modified organism. So basically anything that is “alive”, from cows to corn, whose genetic makeup has been tampered with in a lab.
2. Why do we even have them?
Because we can’t stop eating. That may be simplified a bit, but it’s true. Humans are eating more than ever, and therefore, there is more demand for food. More demand for food means farmers have to up their yield of crops.
While trying to do that, they have to also deal with unwanted weeds and insects munching on their produce. So, they use pesticides and herbicides to get rid of these pests. By using GMOs, their plants are manipulated to withstand these strong chemicals, and flourish.
3. How do they work?
You have a bunch of people in white lab coats dissecting an organism’s genetic material, and altering it to do something that wouldn’t occur naturally.
There are four main ways to do this: transferring genes from different organisms; modifying a gene, called gene editing; deleting or multiplying genes within one organism; and gene splicing, which is putting together pieces of different genes. Bottom line, you create something that mother nature didn’t intend through science.
4. Example, please…
Corn. So you take your everyday corn and add a little bit of the DNA from soil bacteria, which is naturally resistant to an herbicide called RoundUp. Then add a little bit of the E. coli bacteria, and a little more of soil bacteria that causes tumors in plants, which in turn allows its cell walls to be broken through.
Drum roll please… And that’s how you get RoundUp Ready Corn, a GM (genetically modified) crop that is resistant to herbicides, created by Monsanto in 1998. Weird that you’ve been eating something so scientifically altered… On a much cooler note, you can also manipulate genes to make glow in the dark cats.
5. Who is Monsanto?
According to their website, Monsanto is an bio-agriculture company, focused on “empowering farmers” by providing them with products to increase their yield.
In reality, they are one of the largest companies responsible for implementing and creating GMOs, along with herbicides and pesticides. Formerly they were a chemical company helping produce Agent Orange for the US in the Vietnam War. You know, the chemical that effected over 4 million Vietnam citizens, resulting in horrendous deformities and genetic diseases…
Well, now they’re in control of our food, producing the herbicides that are sprayed on our food, to the GM crops that we eat daily after they’ve been sprayed. Many small scale farmers and non-GMO advocates blame Monsanto for the large scale use of GMOs, making them the bad guys of the food industry.
6. Is it safe to eat them?
Not going to lie, this is a tricky question to answer. There are countless studies that say there are no health effects on humans, and then there are studies that show rats on GM diets dying way faster than those on “natural” diets. If you go to Monsanto’s website, you’ll get a very different answer than if you go to GMO awareness website (while you’re there, check out the risks). The verdict is still out on how healthy GMOs are…
So hey, that should mean it’s okay then, right? If the government isn’t saying no? Well, take a step back and think for a second. Think about RoundUp Ready Corn. We are spraying toxic chemicals on it that would usually kill the corn, but by modifying it, we are now able to consume it. So we are digesting some kind of super plant that has chemicals all over it. Sounds a little strange, don’t you think?
Smoking is still legal, and we know the detrimental side effects, so what will it take to make GMO’s illegal? My motto to be on the safe side, and avoid GMOs when you can, because your health isn’t worth any risk.
7. Where can I find GMOs?
Basically everywhere. Well, everywhere in the US. In 64 other countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Spain, GMOs are either banned, monitored, or restricted. But here in America, GMOs aren’t even labeled.
In 2014, 94% of all US soybeans were genetically modified, along with 93% of corn and 96% of cotton. Canola, fish, tomatoes, strawberries…it’s said that almost 70% of all american food contains some sort of GMO (since many foods contain corn or soy as well). It’s basically unavoidable.
8. So is it really necessary to have them? What are the advantages?
Well, you get apples that don’t brown and tomatoes that don’t bruise. We like things that are pretty, we like things fast, and we like things big. GMO’s basically get us all those things where and when we want them. We expect our food to look and taste a certain way.
On a less superficial note, GMOs also allow farmers to produce crops faster, which means more food for less money, which means more people can buy it, and in turn, less starvation. This is by no means to be downplayed, and to understand more, read on here.
9. Okay, so how do I avoid them?
The two simplest ways to avoid GMOs are not to look for labels that say “Genetically Modified” (since we don’t do that here), but rather look for labels that say “USDA Organic” or organic certified and “Non-GMO Project”. Organic may not guarantee that your cow had the best life growing up (it does not mean it was free range, or grass fed etc.), but it ensures you that your cow is 100% a cow.
Check out this shopping list created by GMO Awareness that ensures genetically modified free produce. Always ask your seller about the produce you are buying, and check the labels on prepackaged food – if it contains corn syrup or soy lichen or soybean oil, you’re probably consuming GMOs. Just be smart about your choices, ask questions, and eat well.