Thursday, August 1, 2019

Retrospective #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 (IRT). I picked the flyer up at a screening of the movie “Genetic Roulette” at a local theater. The Institute is an “educational advocacy group” founded in 2003 whose “Campaign for Healthier Eating in America” goal is 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. However, 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 grain seed, produces canola oil with more lauric acid. Most commercially available GMO products use bacteria, such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a soil bacterium, to transform a plant. However, more bizarre combinations are “PopEye pigs” which have a spinach gene to reduce saturated fat in favor of linoleic acid. (More bad PUFAs, imho!
According to the same brochure, “there are [currently] 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 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 (or other fruit). We do, however, occasionally grill zucchini and/or yellow squash in season.
Finally, we don’t drink milk. We only buy organic, heavy whipping cream for use in our coffee. All our eggs are soy-free and bought at a farmers’ market where I have seen for myself that the hens are pasture-raised. 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 all our veal from a local farmer I know. Or lamb, since the lamb we buy is produced in New Zealand and is likely grass fed/finished. Most of the pork we buy is also raised by a local farmer, and all the fish we eat 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. Here are “tips” from the IRT 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. Studies and consumer complaints link it with disorders ranging from seizures to tumors.
·         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 infant formula 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.”
Given that the diet/heart hypothesis was a giant epidemiological experiment on the entire US population, and the evidence today that it was a gigantic mistake, I think a cautious approach to GMOs is justified. Eat real food!

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