You may have seen some alarming posts on social media recently about GMO labeling. Maybe you've been warned that your consumer rights are at risk or how food companies are trying to "keep you in the dark" about what you eat if we don't have GMO labels on our food. Some of your friends might be telling you that GMOs are unsafe and that they cause all kinds of health problems from allergies to autism.
Please do not buy into this complete bullshit.
Like most of you, I had heard only negative things about GMOs. As a cooking teacher and mom, I wanted to know why they had such a bad reputation so, about a year ago, I began heavily researching GMOs. I've read volumes of research, talked to scientists and farmers, listened to GMO opponents and even visited the headquarters of Monsanto (a company that makes a lot of genetically engineered seeds) to find out for myself. I've done the digging that most of you simply don't have time to do because you're busy with more important things, like earning a living or raising a family.
I'd like to share with you a little of what I've learned.
A GMO is an ingredient from a plant that has been improved via genetic modification. I know that sounds weird, but everything we eat has been genetically improved over time. One of the first graphics I saw was how kale, broccoli and Brussel sprouts originated from a wild mustard plant. The sweet corn you see at the farmstand in the summer isn't even close to what corn used be. Other food like ruby red grapefruit and seedless watermelon have been genetically modified. Farmers and breeders have been improving plants for centuries in order to produce certain traits, like color, pest-resistance and durability.
That's the old way of doing things. Now - through the magic of genetics - scientists can quickly identify which genes are responsible for certain traits. Plants have about as many genes as we do, around 25,000 - 30,000. A genetically engineered seed may have only one gene added or even muted to achieve a desired result.
For the last 20 years, American farmers have used genetically modified seeds for crops like corn, soy, cotton and sugarbeets. This is where the "GMO" part comes in. Any ingredient that comes from a genetically engineered crop is considered a GMO, and there are lots of them. For example, high fructose corn syrup is a GMO because it is made from corn. Soy milk is a GMO (unless it's organic). Almost all of the animal feed here is from GMO grains.
Another GMO ingredient is an enzyme to make hard cheeses that used to come from the stomach lining of a calf. To stop the need to slaughter calves, scientists created a genetically engineered version of the enzyme; almost all hard cheese uses that ingredient. Several vitamins, including B, C and E, are genetically engineered.
The bottom line is you've been eating GMO ingredients for years and didn't even know it. That might sound scary, but it shouldn't be. Federal agencies from the USDA to the FDA support the safety of genetically engineered ingredients. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told a congressional committee a few weeks ago that:
"Yes, we do consider them (GMOs) safe. I've seen a summary of 660 studies that looked at the safety of GMOs in terms of human health. We know that GMOs have been providing the opportunity to reduce the level of pesticides and chemicals. Part of that is the science of agriculture."
Genetically engineered crops have been a huge advantage for our farmers and food supply. Pesticide use is much lower. They use fewer resources like water. They're healthier for the soil and farmers can grow more crops on less land, easing some of the environmental pressures of modern agriculture.
So now you might be thinking, why all the bad publicity? That's because some companies have been misleading you in order to make money. I discovered the backstory to the GMO debate that is quite disturbing and, while most of you probably don't know it, you should.
The organic industry has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to convince you that GMOs are unsafe, harming your health and endangering your family. They specifically target moms and even enlist celebrity moms to tell us we should be wary about GMOs and that they need to be labeled.
Here's why: Organic foods can't contain genetically engineered ingredients (claiming they aren't 'natural'), so organic companies are using GMOs as a way to push you toward buying their higher-priced products. For the last few years, they've used every tactic possible - from social media to mommy bloggers to folks like Dr. Oz - to make you afraid of GMOs. This is all designed to get you to stay away from foods that have genetically engineered ingredients and switch to organic.
Now they want to force all food companies to put a GMO label on their products (some do it voluntarily now). This will raise food prices while telling you nothing about what you're eating. For example, a package of Goldfish crackers lists more than two dozen ingredients. Do you really need to know (or care) which ones are from a genetically engineered crop? By the time the crackers are made, every trace of DNA has been obliterated. You are not eating genes, you are eating food that has ingredients that long ago had any trace of genetic material blasted out of them. There is nothing to know.
As a mom, I will tell the other moms reading this: you are being used. Organic companies think you are so easily scared about every morsel of food you feed your family that you will buy into their neverending supply of bullshit about scary GMOs. Hell, they even flew Gwyneth Paltrow to Capitol Hill last year to shill for GMO labels. That alone should be a big red flag.
Don't be fooled...or used.