Also: Minimizing Your Exposure to GE Foods
More than 60 countries, including France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan, require genetically-engineered foods and ingredients to be labeled, so that consumers know what they are buying. However, GE labeling is not required in the United States. As such, GE crops are becoming increasingly common in this country, even when we don’t yet know what the long-term implications of consuming them might be, for humans or for livestock.
The big yields that GE seed manufacturers promised when these crops were introduced in the mid-1990’s have not panned out, according to a report by the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), published online on February 20, 2014. The report states that sometimes, yields of GE crops are even less than those of non-GE crops.
Scientists do not know whether GE crops are safe for living organisms, as few independent scientific studies have been done since their introduction. But what is known is that when crops are genetically modified to make them more tolerant to herbicides, it also produces “superweeds,” weeds that, likewise, are more tolerant to herbicides.
The statistics are grim, and it makes one wonder how we got to this place. More than 61 million acres of farmland in the U.S. have Roundup-resistant weeds, according to Farm Industry News (2013); a 2012 survey found that almost half of American farmers reported having superweeds in their fields.
To control these herbicide-resistant weeds, many farmers have used older, stronger and more toxic herbicides. Some of these older herbicides can cause serious harm, such as reproductive problems and birth defects, according to the Environmental Working Group.
It also poses a big problem for organic farmers, who are also growing in numbers to meet increasing demand for their products. Their crops often get cross-contaminated, when GE seeds or pollen migrate onto their lands through wind, insects and other ways. This can result in substantial financial losses, as the crops can no longer be sold as organic.
In 2012, close to 70 million hectares (around 170 million acres) of GE crops were planted in the U.S., an increase of 6 million hectares (15 million acres) from 2009, and constituting about half of all the crop land in the country. This is a lot of GE food that is now being sold at supermarkets, and that we health-conscious consumers would want to do our best to avoid. According to some estimates, more than 75 percent of the food sold in supermarkets is genetically engineered or has GE ingredients!
Two ways to insure you are avoiding GE or GM (genetically modified) food are to buy food labeled “organic” or certified “Non-GMO Project Verified.” (GMO stands for “genetically-modified organism,” another term for genetically engineered.)
The four foods most likely to be genetically modified in the U.S. are:
- corn (and derivatives)
- soybeans (and derivatives)
- vegetable oils
Corn is the number-one crop in the U.S. Ninety percent of corn produced in the country is GE. Most of that crop is animal feed, but 12 percent is processed into corn flour, corn syrup, ‘masa’, corn starch, corn meal and corn oil. Most sweet corn is not GE, though some varieties are.
Ninety-three percent of soybeans, the U.S.’s number-two crop, are GE. Soybean ingredients are found in many processed foods. The EWG advises consumers to assume that products containing “soy proteins,” or soybean oils, soy milks, soy flour, tofu and soy lecithin, have GE ingredients, unless they are certified organic.
Fifty-five percent of sugar produced in the U.S. is made from sugar beets, and 95 percent of these beets have been genetically modified. Look for the words “pure cane sugar” on packaging to insure that it does not have GE beet sugar.
Most vegetable oils made in the U.S. are from GE crops. These oils include: corn, soybean, canola and cottonseed. People should opt for other oils, such as: olive, coconut, sunflower and rapeseed.
The EWG also works to educate consumers about pesticide content in foods. The organization has put together a list of fruits and vegetables that should be purchased organic whenever possible, due to likely traces of toxic pesticides in them. The top seven, from most contaminated to less, are: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach and sweet bell peppers. As you can see, fruits and vegetables are both included.
If it is not possible to buy organic produce, you should still get whatever you can, as eating fruits and vegetables is a very important part of a healthy diet, and they should be eaten daily. Another great way to go is to plant your own fruit and vegetable garden in your backyard — it’s easier and a lot more fun than you might think!
By Lisa Pecos