Years ago, there was a lot of media buzz about the GMO wheat discovered in eastern Oregon. This discovery impacted our country’s wheat sales worldwide, as these modified products were, and now not welcome in many of the countries our farmer’s sales depend on. You may ask why this is such a big deal? GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms are a growing concern for many people throughout the globe, and there are many researchers sharing their work regarding this issue. This issue is political in nature, with the financial resources of the giant chemical companies involved. There are disputes about labeling these agricultural products, with the manufacturers of the GMOs claiming that these processes are safe and labeling is not needed. What’s behind all of the fuss, fear, and trepidation?
What are GMOs?
A GMO is the end result of laboratory processes where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genetic material of an unrelated plant or animal species. The foreign genes come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans.
What is a gene?
Every plant and animal is made of many cells, each of which has a center called a nucleus. Inside each and every nucleus are strings of DNA, half of which are normally inherited from the mother and half from the father. Short sequences of DNA are called genes. These genes naturally operate in complex networks that are finely regulated to enable the processes of living organisms to happen in the right place and at the right time.
How is genetic engineering done?
Because living organisms have natural barriers to protect themselves against the introduction of DNA from a different species, genetic engineers must force the DNA from one organism into another. The methods include:
■ Using viruses or bacteria to ”infect” animal or plant cells with the new DNA.
■ Coating DNA on to tiny metal pellets, and firing it with a special gun into the cells.
■ Injecting the new DNA into fertilized eggs with a very fine needle.
What are the problems created through genetic engineering of food and crops?
Genetic engineers continually encounter unintended side effects when GM plants create toxins, react to weather differently, contain too much or too little nutrients, become diseased or malfunction and die. When foreign genes are inserted, dormant genes may be activated or the functioning of genes altered, creating new or unknown proteins, or increasing or decreasing the output of existing proteins inside the plant. The effects of consuming these new combinations of proteins are unknown.
What foods are Genetically Modified (GM)?
Currently commercial GM crops in the U.S. include soy (97 percent), cotton (95 percent), canola (90 percent), sugar beets (95 percent), corn (88 percent), Hawaiian papaya (more than 50 percent), zucchini and yellow squash (over 24,000 acres) and the new ”Arctic” GMO apples, that are designed not to brown when sliced and exposed to air.
Hasn’t research shown GM foods to be safe?
No. The only feeding study done with humans showed that GMOs survived inside the stomach of the people eating GMO food. No follow-up studies were done.
Various feeding studies in animals have resulted in potentially precancerous cell growth; damaged immune systems; smaller brains, livers and testicles; partial atrophy or increased density of the liver; odd shaped cell nuclei; false pregnancies; higher death rates and other unexplained anomalies.
Why are children particularly susceptible to the effects of GM foods?
Children face the greatest risk from the potential dangers of GM foods for the same reasons that they also face the greatest risk from other environmental hazards like pesticides and radiation, these include:
■ Young, fast-developing bodies are influenced most.
■ Children are more susceptible to allergies, problems with dairy and other nutritional issues, and could be in danger from antibiotic resistant diseases.
What can we do to Stop GMOs?
1. Tell your legislators, family and friends that you want the right to know what’s in your food.
2. Let your grocery manager know that you want them to support labeling and GMO education.
3. Eat fresh! While some produce is genetically engineered, most GMOs will be found in processed foods containing soy, corn, canola oil, non-cane sugars and cottonseed oil. Eat more fresh vegetables and whole, unprocessed foods. Your body will thank you and you will avoid direct exposure to most genetically engineered foods.
4. Avoid the products that are most likely to be genetically modified – unless they state that they are not made with genetically engineered ingredients, have a verifiable claim such as Non-GMO Project Verified, or they are USDA certified organic: Apples, Corn, Soy, Canola, Cotton and Sugar made from beets (sugar from cane is not GMO).
5. Look for the USDA Organic seal and buy organic – The National Organic Standards prohibit the intentional use of genetically engineered foods.
6. Download the Non-GMO Shopping Guide from the Institute for Responsible Technology and the Non-GMO Project for a list of brands with products that claim to be made without genetic engineering (also available via mobile app).
For additional information, contact the Institute of Responsible Technology, responsibletechnology.org a watchdog resource about food safety. Another great resource is GMO Free Oregon http://www.gmofreeoregon.org a grassroots organization promoting labeling of GMO foods. Vote with your dollars!