I will be teaching a live, up close and personal class on GMOs that will detail this information and more this coming THURSDAY, April 7th, at 6pm at Veritas Medical Center, 1802 E. 50th St.  No fee, no registration required.  Join me!

What are GMOs?

The acronym GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism.  It refers to an organism that has had its genetic material manipulated, or modified.  Specifically this means that a gene not naturally found in the organism has been inserted into its genetic code.  Often the inserted gene is not even from the same species.  In other words, genes from fish or bacteria or viruses can be (and have been) inserted into the genetic code of plants or animals.  This is very different from natural selection or breeding within species for certain traits.  You may also hear or read the terms GE (genetically engineered) foods or GM foods, which are equivalent terms to GMO.

Why are GMOs a problem?

Scientists once thought that each gene was the code for exactly one protein.  However, in the Human Genome Project they discovered that each gene can code for multiple proteins!  This is important because it means that a foreign gene inserted into a host organism may not act in the host organism in the same way that it acted in the original organism.  The way that one gene can code for multiple proteins is a complicated process and the insertion of foreign genes into an organism’s DNA cannot and does not have predictable results.  This is a problem because adequate studies on the safety of GMO foods for humans have NOT been done, yet GMOs are found in almost all processed foods, which make up about 80% of our current food supply.  A few feeding studies with GMOs have been done on animals with results such as severe liver and kidney damage, increased mammary tumors, and impaired embryonic development.  Despite these results and the multiplicity of unknowns about the safety of GMOs, the FDA has never regulated them and instead actively works to allow their use by big food and livestock industry.

An additional problem with GMOs has been the development of GMO seeds that are resistant to herbicides such as Roundup, a development which has doubled the use of this dangerous chemical. Consequently both humans and animals are ingesting higher amounts of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, as farmers heavily spray corn and soybeans and other crops with it.  Many weeds are now becoming resistant to Roundup and requiring the use of more and different toxic chemicals such as 2,4-D.  This has led to the USDA’s approval of 2,4-D resistant corn and soybeans, also GMOs.  You can read more about the dangerous health effects of glyphosate and 2,4-D in this article.

Besides the known and unknown possible human health risks, GMOs infiltrate and adulterate both native plant and animal populations.  Once a GMO is in the genes of a species, nothing prevents it from being transferred throughout native or heritage populations of the same species.  For example, native salmon populations will be threatened and possibly forever altered should the new GE salmon approved by the USDA ever escape into native waters and cross breed with wild salmon populations.  GE cross contamination happens all the time among grain and seed growers worldwide.

Where are GMOs in my food and how do I avoid them?

Currently the major GE crops in the U.S. are soy, corn, cotton and canola.  Considering that these are seeds and grains that are already high in the inflammatory Omega-6 oils, adding the microbiome-altering chemical glyphosate makes them a double-edged sword in the human gut.  By all means avoid non-organic corn, soy and canola.

Almost all processed foods contain either soybean oil or a corn derivative of some sort.  Think dextrose, maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup, and MSG – all are corn derivatives, as are most artificial sweeteners and flavors.  A more complete list of the corn derivatives found in processed foods can be found here.  Some processed foods contain cottonseed oil. The simplest solution is to eliminate and avoid all processed food.  Fast foods should also be avoided, as many fast food kitchens use hydrogenated cooking oils, commonly GM seed oils.  When you eat out, ask your server what cooking oils are being used in the kitchen.

Other lesser genetically modified crops are U.S. zucchini and squash, Hawaiian papaya and some tobacco.  Milk containing rbGH is GM, as are meat and dairy from GM fed animals.  Most livestock raised in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have been fed GM corn and soy.

Are GMOs labeled?

Currently the only USDA labeling protection from GMOs is through the USDA Certified Organic Label.  This is the strictest of all required food labeling and by law cannot contain any GMO ingredients.  If you are buying processed food, corn, soy or canola, be sure it has the USDA Certified Organic seal on it.

Additional Resources


Robyn O’Brien’s TedX Talk on YouTube