Why and How Seniors Should Avoid GMOs.
For most Americans – regardless of their age – eating a fresh, sustainable diet is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Studies have shown that including fresh fruits and vegetables, and limiting the amount of saturated fat and processed foods we eat, is the best way to stay fit and healthy.
But have you ever stopped to truly think about what it is you’re putting on your plate? Are all foods created equal? How were those fresh fruits and vegetables in your refrigerator grown? What about that package of chicken?
The answers may surprise you.
The Emergence of GMOs
So how, exactly, is food genetically modified?
Genetically-engineered foods are produced from organisms that have had alterations made to their DNA. The process allows new traits to be introduced into food products and greater control over how and when those foods are produced.
Genetically-modified foods have become a hot topic as of late, but the foods themselves are hardly new to the market.
The first genetically-modified food product to be made available for public consumption was the Flavr Savr tomato in 1994. The tomato was developed by Calgene and was modified by adding an antisense gene that delayed the ripening process, thereby increasing the product’s shelf life. With its success, several other genetically-engineered products hit the market the following year, including the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Potato, Bt maize and Bt cotton.
By 2010, 29 countries had confirmed the planting of commercialized biotech crops and another 31 countries had granted regulatory approval for transgenic crops to be imported. By 2011, the United States was the leading country in the production of genetically-modified foods. As of 2015, 92 percent of corn, 94 percent of soybeans and 94 percent of cotton produced in the U.S. were derived from genetically-modified strains.
Genetic modification isn’t limited to planted crops. In 2015, the AquAdvantage salmon was approved for food use. The salmon are infused with a growth hormone regulating gene derived from the Pacific Chinook salmon and the promoter from an ocean trout. The modification allows the salmon to grow year-round instead of just during the spring and summer.
Now that we know how GMOs are created, why do we need them?
The main reason GMOs were created was to be resistant to herbicides, which allows farmers to spray their crops to kill weeds, but not the crops themselves. While the crops are not affected by the herbicides, they can hold residual traces of it, which then ends up in our bodies when we consume the food. The most commonly used herbicide in the world is glyphosate, which is the main ingredient in the popular product Roundup®.
The Risks of GMOs
While it may sound like a great idea to have greater control over our food sources, the tinkering being done during the genetic engineering process is not without its consequences.
For starters, the long-term effects of consuming genetically-modified foods are unknown. A 2015 report from the Pew Research Center revealed that 37 percent of adults believe that eating genetically-modified foods is “generally safe,” while 57 percent said they believe it to be unsafe. Most of the individuals interviewed (67 percent) for the report said they are skeptical about the scientific understanding of the effects of GMOs on health.
The Pew Research Center report also revealed that roughly half of all U.S. adults indicated that they always or sometimes look to see if products are genetically modified before purchasing them.
Consumers are right to be wary of GMOs. Producers of GMOs have not met the internationally-accepted precautionary principle where GMOs are concerned. The principle is based on the notion that nations have a sovereign obligation to take precautionary measures where products that have not been proven to be socially or environmentally safe are concerned. In the case of GMOs, the companies producing them insist it is not their responsibility to prove the products are safe, but rather the public’s responsibility to prove that they are not safe. The only way to prove or disprove their safety is through their consumption by individuals, and the monitoring of any adverse effects on those individuals. In essence, it turns consumers into guinea pigs.
While there have been no long-term tests on the effects of GMOs on humans, scientific researchers found that 70 percent of female rats and 50 percent of male rats died prematurely when fed genetically modified corn produced by Monsanto – a publicly-traded American multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation that is a leading producer of genetically-engineered seed.
Highly-regarded M.I.T. researcher Dr. Stephanie Seneff has published numerous reports concerning the dangers of glyphosate. Among the dangers she has recently warned consumers about is the role of glyphosate in the formation of cancer cells. The World Health Organization also has labeled glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” in humans.
How to Identify and Avoid GMOs
Seniors who wish to avoid consuming GMOs do have options.
In July, Congress approved legislation that would require genetically-modified food to be labeled as such. The legislation directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a national labeling system that would allow food producers to decide how they wish to disclose whether their products contain GMOs.
While we’re waiting for those labels to be created and used, consumers still can identify foods that contain GMOs with a little bit of sleuthing on their own.
It is fairly safe to assume all non-organic corn, soy, cottonseed and canola ingredients are GMO. What foods tend to contain these ingredients? Processed junk food – most commonly found in the center aisles of any supermarket – always contain these ingredients. Avoid them, and you will avoid GMOs.
Other products to avoid include: aspartame, whey, xantham gum, glutamate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lactic acid, cellulose, citric acid, maltodextrin, monoglycerides and diglycerides.
A surefire way to avoid GMOs is to buy certified organic food. According to the certification process, these organic products cannot contain GMOs.
Have some tips about avoiding GMO products? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.