To truly understand what it means to eat healthier – you need to learn what GMOs are. If you’ve heard the terms: genetically modified food (GMO), Monsanto, or Prop 37 and haven’t been fully able to understand what these terms mean I hope this article will help. GMOs are a worldwide problem and just like the household world of toxins with plastics, flame retardants, phthalates, formaldehyde, etc., understanding there are major problems within our food source is actually pretty scary. Opening our eyes to how widespread the problem of GMOs has become, especially in North America is important. Let’s start at the beginning to understand why GMO, Monsanto, and Prop 37 are all terms to discover on your journey to better health.
What is Monsanto?
Monsanto is a company that has been a chemical giant since it started in 1901 – which immediately leads to the question “what are they doing in the food industry?!” The creation of toxic products that have lead to major pollution & health problems were created by Monsanto in the earlier 1900s: Agent Orange & PCBs. These and other chemicals kept Monsanto busy for the first 50 years of the company but after PCBs became banned in the late 70s, Monsanto shifted it’s focus and wanted to become known as an agricultural company. By 1980 Monsanto had become focused on producing Roundup which is a weed killer or herbicide. The marketing when Roundup first came onto the market declared it was biodegradable and good for the earth. The promise of using Roundup was to be a convenience for farmers to save time weeding. The wording of ‘biodegradable’ has since changed on Roundup bottles because it’s not. In order to grow food that could withstand the effects of spraying crops with Roundup, Monsanto created genetically modified seeds for soy, corn, sugarbeets, cotton, rapeseed (canola), potatoes, and more, so that the plants would grow, even though Roundup was being sprayed. They actually changed the DNA of the seed and this is when biotechnology was introduced to our food.
So to summarize: Monsanto is the company that created weed killer called Roundup to act as a time saver for farmers….then created a seed that could withstand the effects of Roundup. All of this was passed, approved, with very little testing by the US government. This takes us to understand what GMOs are – genetically modified organisms in the form of seeds.
What are GMOs?
First Roundup ready soy beans (GM or genetically modified soy beans) were approved in the US in 1996. We learn that in the early 90s GMOs were approved by the US government as more of a political decision rather than science which is what makes them so controversial. It’s another example of a product brought onto the market that wasn’t fully tested to prove that it’s safe before entering our homes, bodies, and food chain. Roundup ready soy beans account for 95% of soy beans grown in the US. Between 1995-2005, Monsanto purchased 50 seed companies throughout the world. This massive purchase has led to many foods being born from GMO seeds – view a more complete list here. Some of these foods include: corn, cotton, wheat, soy, potatoes, tomatoes, rice, sugarcane, canola, honey, peas, papaya, squash, sugarbeets, chicory, and sweet corn. At first thought you might think that avoiding GMO ingredients or products is easy but cruise the interior lanes of a supermarket, look at labels and try to find food that doesn’t contain canola.
The future problems of modified food or genetically altered seeds is contamination. Even in countries where GMOs are banned, you have genetically modified seeds appearing. This has happened in Mexico with their corn – which is a problem since it’s one of the largest corn producers. So let’s think about this fact – and it’s one of the scariest facts about how widespread we’ve allowed a company built on creating toxic chemicals has become. Cross contamination is evident and a problem with GMO and conventional food. If there are farmers on the same street, one producing GMO food and the other producing conventional and there is a high wind or a bird carries over a seed into the conventional farmer’s field you now have a contamination issue.
What is Prop 37?
This November 2012, Californian voters will decide if GMO foods should be labelled in California. Proposition 37 requires companies to add wording to their labels if their food had been genetically modified and this is a huge step in the fight against GMOs. It is not a ban of GMOs but a lot of guess work regarding food will be removed for consumers. As a Canadian I think Prop 37 is so important because I think the rest of the US and Canada will follow. 50 other countries already have labels on their food for GMOs – why is North America always so far behind?! If you have friends in California make sure they know about their ability to vote on Prop 37 in a few months!
How to Avoid GMOs?
Buying labelled certified organic food is one way to avoid GMOs. Foods that are labelled ‘organic’ or ‘made from organic ingredients’ cannot contain any GMO ingredients. Foods on my personal shopping list radar are those containing soy, corn, beet sugar, artificial sugars and canola oil which has led to an immediate ban of cereals in my house. Want to see a scary GMO list? Check out the ingredients of Cheerios – yes that first food we give babies (and I feed my kids)…it’s GMO city. Here is a long list of genetically modified food. I think the number of baby formula companies & brands on this list is sick. I would assume the health effect of GMO food would be larger in a babies tiny system…no?
Missing from the below image is ‘growing your own food’. It should be there, but with so many families dependent on buying food, I think the most important action you can take from this article is support local and get to know your local farmers! I’ve spend the summer doing this with my family and the gratitude you feel towards a person that is creating safe, healthy food cannot be measured. Ask questions and find trusted food sources. Farmers markets, organic food stores, and local stores that carry locally produced food is the way to beat GMOs.