What are GMOs?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism – plants, animals and bacteria. GMOs are a product of human intervention; their DNA has been altered in a laboratory setting to achieve a desired quality that wouldn’t otherwise occur in nature. For example, a gene from a certain strain of bacteria might be added to a plant so that it becomes toxic to certain pests. This process of transferring the preferred genes of one organism to another is referred to as genetic engineering and is the process by which GMOs are created.
GMOs are most often recognized for their association with agricultural crops. Many crops are genetically engineered to increase their resistance to pests and disease, extend shelf life, enhance nutrients etc. Some of the most common GMO crops include corn, soy, alfalfa, canola, sugar beets, papaya, zucchini and yellow summer squash. Dairy products are another common target of genetic modification. Certain ingredients and additives contained in dairy products are commonly produced from GMOs and/or the animals themselves have been given genetically modified feed or hormones.
Why should you care about GMOs?
Safety concerns around the production and consumption of genetically modified foods (GM foods) are becoming more and more prevalent. Health concerns include the potential for GM foods to cause allergic reactions and the transfer of antibiotic-resistant genes to our gut bacteria. There are also significant concerns related to the potential environmental impacts of GMOs, namely, the potential for GMOs to threaten wild species through cross-contamination, negatively impact non-target species, cause biodiversity loss and result in increased use of toxic chemicals to control weeds and pests that become resistant. But perhaps most disconcerting of all is simply the fact that we don’t fully understand how GM foods impact human health, nor the natural environment, yet they continue to propagate the market.
Moreover, in Canada we have no legislation or regulations that mandate the labelling of GM foods. While all GM foods and animal feed are subject to a “safety assessment” process prior to approval for market, a lack of clear labelling impedes one’s ability to make an informed choice about whether or not to consume GM foods.
So what can you do to avoid GM foods?
As a consumer, there are still measures you can take to avoid the consumption of GM foods. Here are three tips to keep in mind:
Avoid common GM foods. These include corn, soy, canola oil, sugar derived from sugar beets, aspartame, papaya, zucchini, yellow summer squash and conventional dairy products.
Buy organic. Any food products in Canada that are certified organic under the Organic Products Regulation and labelled with the Canada Organic Logo must be GMO-free. Products labelled as certified organic or USDA organic are generally considered to be GMO-free as well, however, some loop-holes do make it possible for GMO ingredients to be present.
Look for Non-GMO Project Verification. The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization that provides third-party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and products in North America. Rest assured that any products labelled with the Non-GMO Project Verification logo are GMO-free.
By exercising your consumer purchasing power and choosing to avoid GM foods, you can influence the future of GM foods in the marketplace. Your food choices have the power to make a difference, not only for your own personal health, but for that of society and the environment at large!
by Laura-Leigh McKenzie