Our Genetically Modified World

Did you know that roughly 75% of the foods in your grocery store contain genetically modified organisms? Some of the most common genetically engineered ingredients can be found in almost all nonorganic/non-GMO marked, packaged foods and even in many of the foods in restaurants, making it nearly inescapable.

What is a GMO Anyway?

The first GMO created was a tomato in 1994. It became available for sale once it was approved and evaluated by federal agencies. A genetically modified crop is an organism whose genetic makeup has been modified by humans, in a laboratory with the use of genetic engineering, meaning their DNA is altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The image to the right shows the nine approved GM crops in the United States.

GMO seeds are not created by selective breeding, open-pollination, or hybridization, where humans have always been able to breed crops that had the genetic ability to breed, like two varieties of apples. However, unlike selective seeding, the technology behind GMOs allows us to break rules and alter the structural DNA of species that would never be able to breed in nature, like shrimp and squash.

More on GMOs

Endless Poison

Herbicide-tolerant crops allow farmers to use certain chemicals that will kill the weeds without killing their crops. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world. The most popular type of herbicide-tolerant crops is “Roundup Ready” crops, in which glyphosate is the active ingredient, and is used many times throughout the season. This image shows just how intrusive this herbicide is on miles and miles of cropland.

As we know, pollen travels freely on the wind and via pollinators, and new resistance to Roundup Ready has begun to appear in unintentional species. The pollen drift and over-spraying of the herbicide have unfortunately created a new problem, leaving farmers to ask how do we get rid of these new “superweeds”? The answer: stronger and more toxic herbicides. One of the more common strong herbicides includes a product called “Agent Orange” that contains a highly toxic chemical called dioxin. This ingredient has had immediate and long-term effects that include darkening of the skin, liver problems, and chronic acne-like disease; chloracne. Dioxin has also been linked to type 2 diabetes, immune system dysfunction, heart disease, muscular dysfunction, and nerve disorders. Dioxin is in some ways even more toxic to developing fetuses, linking to miscarriages and birth defects.

The increased use of glyphosate has also been associated with affecting productive soil health. The active ingredients in Roundup kill the good qualities in soil that crops need to fight disease, utilize minerals and vitamins, and instead promote the growth of harmful pathogens. This affects not only the nutrition in the food we eat but the long-term well-being of their ecosystems.

More on Glyphosate

Environmental Impacts

The use of GMOs and their pesticides have had major implications on their biodiversity and overall natural balance. As states above, many toxins are released into the soil through the plants resulting in fewer bacteria in the soil. However, these bacteria are integral to the health of plants to grow on their own without the use of chemically ridden fertilizers. Once the crops have been harvested their residue is left in the soil and nutrients are not returned. Meaning that the soil becomes dry and will have essentially no nutrients. This forces a continuous cycle of dependence on GMO seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides to grow one single crop. And yet, it still does not stop there. Besides the soil issues, the irrigation system used to water the crops naturally carries all of these problems into its water source and through the air. This means that GMO DNA could end up in the compost, animal feed, byproduct, different bacteria, soil, and any other living organisms.

The focus of GMOs also means fewer weeds which therefore means less nectar. One example of this is the destruction of much of the monarch butterfly habitat in the U.S. due to the expansions of herbicide-tolerant corn and soy, layered with other herbicides. Monarch populations have declined by more than 90% in under 20 years and has lost more than 165 million acres of habitat due to the use of the ingredient glyphosate in herbicides. Glyphosate kills milkweed, which is the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The graph to the left shows just how much the use of herbicides has increased over the years and unfortunately gives context to why the monarch butterfly’s habitat has been under such extensive threats.

Herbicide-tolerant crop systems encourage the use of herbicides, reducing the overall plant diversity and limitations on habitat food sources for other vital organisms. And once it is introduced to its agricultural environment, it is sensible to assume that it will ultimately become part of a larger ecosystem. This means that the problem of environmental damage created by GMOs is much larger than the potential harm to our health.

More on environmental impacts

Take Action

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for an immediate suspension in 2009 on GM foods, stating that “GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health.”

So, what can you do?

1. Many Americans are unaware of what products in the grocery store include GM ingredients. So, firstly we must demand the labeling of any foods that contain GMOs so that every consumer can make their own conscious choice.

2. Because it is so hard to avoid GMOs at the grocery store, the Institute for Responsible Technology created a “Non-GMO Shopping Guide” that you can print and share with your friends and family to use at the store.

This guide is also in app form for free called, “Non-GMO Project Shopping Guide.”

3. While all of these options are effective, the best thing you can do is to buy 100% certified organic products because these do not allow GM ingredients. You can also buy from local farmers who you trust not to use GMOs or purchase products that do not include the nine crops listed above.

More you can do

-Posted by Elizabeth

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