It occurred to me the other day that many, many people still do not have a firm grasp on what the terms Genetically Modified Organism (GMO), Genetically Modified (GM), and Genetic Engineering (GE) actually mean. The opposite of these is Organic food.
You owe it to yourself and the people that you care about to have a read and find out what these things are, and how they are affecting you, every day.
“So, what are GMO, GM, and GE?”
But before we delve into that, I want to address a couple of points.
The first is important because we need to put the case of GMO foods in historical and social context. Your grandparent’s generation didn’t have to contend with GMO foods, because they didn’t exist back then. Most of them knew their local farmers and quite possibly had their milk delivered to them in glass bottles. They might have had Mac & Cheese, but they made the ‘Mac’ part and they made the ‘cheese’ part. It was homemade, from scratch.
Your parent’s generation had limited exposure to GMO foods, and they probably remember planting a garden with your grandparents and canning/bottling/pickling these wares for the winters. They remember your grandmother’s homemade Mac & Cheese, but as they moved on to create you, they found the convenience of the store-bought-Mac & Cheese-in-a-box variety was so much easier and quicker to make that the effort and time savings justified the compromise in flavor – the true health aspects didn’t really factor in at that time because so little was known. Add to which, even if your mom tried to make grandma’s recipe, it wouldn’t taste quite the same because the milk grandma had at her disposal isn’t the same type of milk your mom had/has to work with. (Your mother’s is laced with growth hormones and antibiotics courtesy of the modern chemical companies and modern dairy industry.)
So now we get to you and your generation. You, most likely haven’t planted a garden of your own, ever. You’ve probably eaten countless quickie meals at fast food restaurants over the years, and when you cook at home, Mac & Cheese doesn’t even include the use of a pot and a stove anymore. In fact, it probably comes in a waxed cardboard container, straight from the microwave in under 4 minutes. I’m as guilty of this as you are, so please don’t consider that a judgement, rather, a realistic observation. After all, admitting that there is a problem is the first step toward recovery, right?
This stuff is important to understand so that you realize just how different our grandparent’s world was compared to the one we have now.
The second thing is that if you educate yourself about GMO foods, you’ll most likely choose to adopt a more organic diet. Those two words, ‘organic’ and ‘diet’ conjure up images of hippies in a field somewhere chewing on dandelions.
In truth, there probably are hippies in a field somewhere chewing on dandelions, but the organic movement is rapidly becoming more mainstream as information about GMO foods and the increase of illnesses linked to processed foods continue to find their way to the public. I am proof that you can be pro-organic and not be a hippy, or be destined to eat dandelions in a field.
Parents frustrated by hyperactive toddlers, or their own chronic conditions, are beginning to the examine foods that they consume as potential culprits. Hence, the word ‘diet’. This isn’t ‘diet’ to lose weight, it’s ‘diet’ as in the ‘complete menu of food that you eat’ each day. If you are a woman reading this, you might need your definitions adjusted, while if you are a guy reading this, you probably need your definitions adjusted (yes boys, the ladies have proven far more progressive when it comes to organic foods and taking control of their health, and yes, that should bring you a modicum of shame). So get up to speed gentlemen because the ladies of the world don’t want a planet without men almost as much as we don’t want a planet without them.
So, understanding the link between diet and health is a pretty simple leap of faith for most of us. When you eat better, you feel better. Straightforward right?
You’d think so.
Here is what our generation gets to contend with: If you made the same meal that your grandmother made, and put the two of them side by side on the table, they might look the same, but hers would still be better.
No, I’m not talking about your lack of cooking skills. In fact, lets take that out of the equation. Your grandmother, God rest her soul, time-travels herself with a plate of her roast chicken dinner with veggies and salad to your table all the way from the 1930’s. She also spends some time in your kitchen, cooking that exact same meal with today’s chicken, today’s veggies and today’s salad. You know what the end result is, right? Of course you do. Grandma’s original time-traveled version is better for you.
Because today’s chicken is force-fed feed that almost definitely contains GMO corn and GMO soy, as well as arsenic. (Here, I’ll play the part of your indignation, “Wait!? Arsenic? Why would they feed a chicken arsenic!?”) The chickens are fed arsenic because it plumps them up, and for chicken farmers, the more a chicken weighs, the more money they’ll make at the market. It is so effective, that industrial chickens grow twice as big in roughly half the time, often leading to broken legs that can’t support their weight and other mutations or defects. Arsenic, by the way, is a known carcinogen – that means it is known to cause cancer.
“Eewww, I don’t want cancer!” (sorry, that was your mind chiming in again).
So you decide you’re gonna just push the 2011 version of grandma’s roast chicken aside and try to eat the veggies. But, the veggies are GMO foods. Some scientist in a lab somewhere pulled some DNA from a fish and inserted it into the DNA of a tomato in order to affect it’s color, to make it stay reddish longer, and give it a longer shelf-life in the grocery store.
Hey! I see you pushing that tomato off of your plate. What’s left? The salad?
Not so fast… the chemical fertilizers and pesticides that are dumped by the ton on those romaine leaves are known carcinogens – again, known to cause cancer and a host of other illnesses. Are you still hungry for 2011 and beyond?
Your grandmother’s plate had free-range organic chicken that was fed real seeds, grass, worms, and bugs – the stuff that chickens are supposed to eat. The tomato was grown twenty yards from her kitchen and didn’t come off of the vine until it was ripe. It most definitely wasn’t part fish. Her lettuce grew up right beside her tomatoes and her method of keeping bugs away was a few ladybugs, the most vicious killers in the insect world. Okay, not really… unless you’re an aphid. One ladybug can eat 5,000 aphids in its lifetime. Needless to say, farmers love the ladybug.
So, now that you know how things are different across the generations, you begin to understand how important it is that you learn about GMO foods because we are responsible for our health and that of our children. For them to have the best chances of successful healthy, happy lives, we need to be educated and be able to educate them, right from day one.
“How pervasive are GMO foods?”
You may have heard the term ‘Big Agra’. Big Agra is the nickname given to multinational Industrial Agriculture corporations. These companies employ armies of lobbyists and lawyers to influence government officials and write laws allowing them to help them put profits first, all day, every day.
Some of the biggest profits come when a company alters the DNA of a plant or an animal, making it a Genetically Modified Organism, because the company can then patent that DNA structure. The patent means that this specific company is the only one with the legal right to grow that plant or animal. One company in particular is very adept at this whole process. They have lobbyists in place and lawyers writing laws that give them more corporate freedom once the new laws get passed. Some of the most brilliant scientific minds in the world are working for them to create patentable plants and animals.
The other reason for them to be so focused on developing GMO crops is that their tampering makes the plant resistant to the company’s own brand of pesticide. For the farmer to kill off weeds in his GMO crop, he simply dumps tons of chemical pesticide that has been developed to kill everything except the GMO plant itself.
Now look at this from a corporate perspective.
From a corporate perspective, once you have a patentable plant, the best course of action that you could take to raise profits is to actively destroy all of the organic versions of that plant that you can find. This means that the company would end up being the only place on the planet that you could buy the seed to grow that specific crop. “That’s impossible. How could one company drive a plant extinct?” I have no idea, but I’ve heard reports that they’ve managed to do just that with canola. It would be impressive if it weren’t so nefarious.
Also from the corporate perspective, the farmer now buys his GMO seed from the company every year, and mates that with the pesticide developed by the same company, every year. The company has also protected itself by making sure that the GMO seeds are so-called ‘Terminator’ seeds, meaning that any seed that you try to save from the resulting crop will not grow. This forces the yearly demand for more seeds.
This company is so engrained in our food supply system that unless you grow it yourself, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ve eaten their products, either directly, or indirectly through the consumption of animals raised on feed derived from their GMO crops. And even then, if you did grow your own food, but you didn’t specifically buy organic seeds, you probably ate plants grown from their GMO seeds.
But that is just the surface of it all.
The real reach of their market share is having a piece of the ‘processed foods’ pie.
“First GMO, now ‘Processed Foods’? What are processed foods anyway?”
Processed foods are foods that are grown and then elements of them are removed, things are added, and altered. They make up the majority of the food on the market, in grocery stores and in many restaurants, and they almost definitely contain GMO material in them.
For example, a bushel of apples can be peeled and cored, then run through a blender to make applesauce. This is technically a processed food, because when you eat it, it doesn’t resemble it’s original state. But as with the dinner earlier, this example is grandma’s version.
The term ‘processed food’, using the same analogy, is generally reserved for GMO apples that have had their DNA altered to make them grow faster or sweeter or bigger or juicier. Those genetically altered apples are then peeled and cored, and then they are put into a blender. After that, they most likely end up being stewed; some sugar is added – which itself is probably derived from GMO sugar beets and has gone through its own processing. Other things that get added would potentially include addictive food additives like chemical-based, manufactured flavors, excitotoxins, added color, and chemical preservatives.
This stewing stage either significantly reduces or entirely kills off some of the natural nutrients that you would expect to find in something based on apples. This is one of the reasons why you see a lot of fruit products labeled with ‘vitamin C added’. Vitamin C specifically, is one of the nutrients that does not survive the heating process. The ‘vitamin C added’ is most likely synthetic by the way, and usually it is a miniscule amount, only enough to justify splashing the words ‘vitamin C added’ to the front of the packaging.
If it comes in a box, can, or jar, it’s probably processed. And each one of those additives means the company has sold another portion of one of their patented chemicals to that food producer.
As of 2002, according to the documentary ‘Deconstructing Super’, approximately 60-70% of the processed foods on Canadian shelves contained GMO material – its DNA had been altered. That number is most definitely higher in the United States. And in the 9 years since then, Big Agra has only grown in size and market share. Unless it is specified as organic, we are definitely getting GMO material in processed foods containing soya (soy), corn, and canola. GMO Soy is used as a filler agent in processed foods to reduce costs and High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener, derived from GMO corn, also commonly used in processed foods.
“What health effects are linked to GMO foods?”
The total fallout from GMO food products may never be fully known, but each year as more and more products are allowed to land in our grocery stores, the accumulative effects of GMOs and additives on our bodies is clearly having detrimental results.
GMO foods have been shown to alter the receptors in your digestive track, mutating them to be less effective at absorbing the nutrients of the food you eat (which, if it is GMO, it is already nutrient compromised). This means that you can be overweight, eating huge portions, and still technically starving your body of nutrition. Being obese and malnourished is an ironic, and disturbing, first world problem.
GMO feed has been linked to increasingly negative effects in animals. Tests of animals eating GMO corn and GMO soy through multiple generations started growing hair in their mouths. Dramatic increases in sterility and stillbirths are commonplace. In pigs, farmers were noticing that their sows were giving birth after full term pregnancies to sacs of water. These are all signs of generationally and genetically accumulative mutations that should be major warning signs for the possible effects of human consumption.
GMO foods have been shown to leave DNA strands behind. These hybridized plant/bug or plant/animal or plant/plant genetically engineered GMO products have deposited portions of themselves – parts that we were told would not affect us in our bodies. Now, there is a realistic concern that we run the risk of becoming walking pesticide factories.
GMO foods or even one simple food additive like a food colouring, can compromise a child’s ability to focus, and lead to sleep and/or behavioural issues. The increase in food allergies has matched the increase in food additives approved for human consumption – an approval process based on science that has nothing to with the FDA, USDA or Health Canada. These agencies rely on the scientific findings of the companies looking for the approvals.
It is believed that GMO foods affect growing bodies more easily, meaning our children are at much greater risk of physical mutations to their developing digestive tracks.
“So what can I do about it?”
If you’ve read this far, you’re already ahead of the masses and you’ve taken your first step toward becoming healthier. Get your kids involved. If they’re teens, engage them in the conversation. Ask their opinions. Ask for some ideas for solutions.
If they’re even younger, pick up some organic seeds for the veggies that they actually like to eat and build a garden together. Kids love to play in the dirt and are amazed by the concept of planting and growing ‘something from nothing’. They’ll be having fun and learning a valuable, real-life skill.
– You parents out there that are clever and creative have already found ways to cut sugar out of your childrens’ diets. Recently, I thought I was on to something with agave syrup as a sugar alternative, until I found out that it too is heavily processed. So far, natural, unprocessed honey seems to be the best sugar replacement. HOWEVER honey should not be given to children under one year old. Furthermore, avoiding sweeteners altogether is the most advisable option.
– Stick to naturally fed/raised livestock to avoid the mutated strains of DNA caused by GMO feed.
– Avoid all sodas. The amount of sugar in just one 355ml can is not only terrible for your health, but also almost guaranteed to be derived from processed GMO sugar beats or GMO HFCS. Diet sodas are filled with artificial sweeteners…
– Avoid all artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame – a known carcinogen.
– Connect with local organic growers, farmer’s markets, etc… buy your produce and meat products straight from them.
Your health is your responsibility. So stay vigilant, stay healthy. Wake up to the food revolution.
I’ll leave you with some links to explore on your own:
http://youtu.be/fWXrRftyOMY ( A Great TedTalk with Robyn O’Brien )
Guest Author Bio
A.J. King is a writer living on the outskirts of civilization, on an island among many that dot the waters off the west coast of British Columbia. He is working on a number of written and visual art projects including but not limited to: his debut novel, a number of screenplays/teleplays, blog posts for various websites, some traditional First Nation’s art, some digital 3D visual arts, and basically anything else that piques his interest.
Blog / Website: www.ajking.ca