What a thrill to return to my hometown Santa Rosa on September 11 to attend the National Heirloom Exposition, “The World’s Pure Food Fair”. Growers from across the country were contracted to grow produce specifically for the event and more than 3,000 varieties of heirlooms fruits and vegetables were brought in from all parts of the country. A key factor having the event in Sonoma County is that it is bound on the North by Mendocino County and on the South by Marin County, both of which are GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) free counties. Beyond being the world’s largest exhibit of traditional food crops, the event provided a platform for creating awareness and education on the issues related to Genetically Modified Organisms.
Produce displays were staggering and the trade show had over 300 leading companies of the pure food movement. The event highlighted some of the world’s renowned keynote speakers. They included, Dr. Vandana Shiva, a GMO activist, scientist, seed saver and author; Jeffrey Smith, one of America’s leading experts on genetically modified foods (http://www.responsibletechnology.org/faqs); and Andrew Kimbrell, an environmental attorney with the Center of Food Safety (www.truefoodshoppersguide.org ). All three speakers advocated labeling of genetically engineered foods. Polls show most Americans want GMO food identified as such; however, unlike more than 60 other nations around the world, the U.S. does not yet require labeling of GMO food. Labeling ingredients on a product is about giving consumers a right to know what is in their food; it allows consumers to make an informed choice.
GMO’s were introduced into our food supply in 1996. Explore and research all that you can to make informed decisions on what you are eating. The following website has information from the Institute of Responsible Technology: http://www.responsibletechnology.org/faq.
What is a GMO?
A GMO (genetically modified organism) is the result of a laboratory process of taking genes from one species and inserting them into another in an attempt to obtain a desired trait or characteristic; hence, they are also known as transgenic organisms. This process may be called either Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification (GM); they are one and the same.
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 have to find ways to force the DNA from one organism into another. These methods include:
- Using viruses or bacteria to “infect” animal or plant cells with the new DNA.
- Coating DNA onto 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.
- Using electric shocks to create holes in the membrane covering sperm, and then forcing the new DNA into the sperm through these holes.
GMOs in Foods
What kinds of traits have been added to food crops?
- Although there are attempts to increase nutritional benefits or productivity, the two main traits that have been added to date are herbicide tolerance and the ability of the plant to produce its own pesticide. These results have no health benefit, only economic benefit.
- Herbicide tolerance lets the farmer spray weed-killer directly on the crop without killing it.
- Crops such as Bt cotton produce pesticides inside the plant. This kills or deters insects, saving the farmer from having to spray pesticides. The plants themselves are toxic, and not just to insects. Farmers in India, who let their sheep graze on Bt cotton plants after the harvest, saw thousands of sheep die!
What foods are GMO?
Currently commercialized GMO crops in the U.S. include:
- Sugar beets (95%): Sugar not specified as 100% cane sugar is likely from GE sugar beets
- Soy (94%): Soy flour, lecithin, protein, isolate, and isofavone, vegetable oil and animal protein
- Canola (90%): Canola oil (also called rapeseed oil)
- Cotton (90%): Cottonseed oil
- Corn (88%): Corn flour, meal, oil, starch, gluten, and syrup. Sweeteners such as fructose, dextrose, and glucose; Modified food starch
- Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%)
- Zucchini and yellow squash (over 24,000 acres)
- Alfalfa: This is primarily for the animal feed market. Seek out organic dairy products to avoid GE alfalfa.
What are other sources of GMOs?
- Meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals that have eaten GM feed (and the majority of the GM corn and soy is used for feed);
- Dairy products from cows injected with rbGH (a GM hormone);
- Food additives, enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet) and rennet used to make hard cheeses; and
- Honey and bee pollen that may have GM sources of pollen.
Keep in mind, the best tip to avoid GE foods is to buy organic ingredients.
If interested, here’s a YouTube video with Vandana Shiva discussing the biotech company Monsanto and their patents on GMO seeds.
More good info on Dr. Mercola’s site: the interview with Dr. Huber provides a tremendous amount of information regarding GMOs.