Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Nutrition Debate #166: What About GMOs?

For the uninitiated, GMOs are genetically modified organisms. “Genetically modified organisms are made by forcing genes from one species, such as bacteria, viruses, animals or humans, into the DNA of a food crop or animal to introduce a new trait,” according to a flyer from the Institute for Responsible Technology I picked it up at a screening of the movie “Genetic Roulette” last summer. The Institute is an educational advocacy group, founded in 2003, whose “Campaign for Healthier Eating in America” goal is the rejection of GM foods in the U.S.

GMOs are thus distinguishable from hybridization. A hybrid is a cross between two related species or cultivars. Hybridization has happened naturally throughout history through cross-pollination, but gardeners, farmers and horticulturists have created the bulk of modern hybrids. GMOs are created by injecting an unrelated species into the DNA of a food crop or animal. For example, a gene from the California bay tree, inserted into a rapeseed plant, produces canola oil with more lauric acid. Most commercially available GMO products use bacteria to transform a plant, such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a soil bacterium. However, more bizarre combinations are under development such as “PopEye pigs” that have a spinach gene which reduces the saturated fat in favor of linoleic acid. (More PUFA, what a bad idea!)

According to the same brochure, “there are eight GM food crops: corn, soy, canola (oil), cottonseed (oil), sugar from sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, and a small amount of zucchini and yellow crookneck squash. Derivatives of these GMOs, such as vegetable oil, corn syrup, and soy lecithin, are found in more than 70% of supermarket foods. GMOs are also fed to animals that provide meat, milk, and eggs.”

For me, it’s pretty easy to largely avoid GMOs, which out of a prudent amount of caution, I regard as a good thing to do. I don’t eat corn (except for a few locally-grown ears during our local growing season), soy (except for organic fermented soy sauce), canola oil (no fried foods or mayonnaise made with canola oil), no added sugars, period (either cane or beet), and no papaya. But we do, however, occasionally sauté or grill zucchini and/or yellow squash in season.

Finally, we don’t drink milk and only buy organic, heavy whipping cream for use in our coffee. All our eggs are bought at a farmers’ market where I can see for myself that the hens are pasture-raised. In fact, they mimic Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm method of rotational pasturing. I like cheese, and there may be a problem there. I also like fatty meats, and I’m afraid GMOs are fed to some of the meats we buy, especially beef and chicken. I’m not worried about veal, though, because I buy it from a local farmer I know, or lamb, since it is produced in New Zealand and is likely grass fed/finished. Pork I’m not sure about, and all our fish is wild caught.

But, the Institute for Responsible Technology warns us that “processed foods often have hidden GM sources (unless they are organic or declared non-GMO).” The brochure contains a list of about 100 such ingredients. Their advice: “To avoid GMOs, you can avoid brands with the at-risk ingredients, purchase organic products, or look for non-GMO labels, especially the third party Non-GMO Product Verified seal. To make it easier,” they say, “go to or download the free iPhone app ShopNoGMO, for a list of thousands of verified non-GMO products.” Here are some “tips” from the Institute for Responsible Technology brochure:

·         If a non-organic product made in North America lists “sugar” as an ingredient (and NOT pure cane sugar), then it is almost certainly a combination of sugar from both cane and GM sugar beets.

·         The sweetener aspartame (also known as NutraSweet and Equal) is derived from genetically engineered organisms. Numerous studies and thousands of consumer complaints link it with disorders ranging from seizures to tumors.

·         GMOs are in infant formulas. Independent laboratory tests found significant amounts of genetically engineered soy in four popular soy-based infant formulas: Similac Soy, Enfamil Prosobee, Walmart Soy, and Gerber Good Start Soy.

·         In addition, these brands almost certainly contain derivatives from GM corn and milk from cows treated with GM bovine growth hormone. The government’s WIC program, which distributes free infant formula to more than 2 million moms in all 50 states, only offers GMO brands.

“Note: The only commercial non-GMO infant formulas that we have identified thus far are the organic brands.”

“The general public has the false impression that genetic engineering is precise. In truth, it’s sub-microscopic shooting from the hip, resulting in unpredictable  and potentially dangerous changes in the organisms’ DNA and the health properties of food,” according to Robin Bernhoft, MD, Surgeon, and former president of the AAEM.
Given that the diet/heart hypothesis was a giant epidemiological experiment on the entire US population, and the evidence today that it was a giant mistake, I think a cautious approach to GMOs is justified. Eat real food!

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