How Genetically Modified Foods Affect Our Lives
In recent years, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have replaced our diet with genetically altered foods, which have adversely affected human health as well as local communities. Being resistant to pesticides, GMOs are created by splicing genes of different species that are combined through genetic engineering (GE), something that is impossible to do in nature (The Non-GMO Project). Consuming these genetically altered and more processed foods can lead to increased risk of diseases and even cancer (Genetically Modified Food). Most of the time we do not even realize that we are eating these harmful toxins as they are infused in our food without our knowledge (Label GMOs). The farmers that maintain the traditional farming practices and choose to grow organic produce over crops that are GE are constantly trying to keep their businesses alive. Larger corporations, however, who choose to use genetically modified (GM) seeds, make larger profits with less time and effort involved. Choosing to buy local organic produce over crops that contain genetically modified organisms can not only help you stay healthy, but also keep our local farmers in business so that they may continue to grow their crops the way nature intended.
Living in the Bay Area we are extremely fortunate to have access to all sorts of organic fruits and vegetables that are grown right in our own backyard. There are countless farms in California that can grow just about anything due to the fertile soil and ideal weather conditions. While we are lucky to live in an area that is well known for growing a variety of crops, corporations and their GMOs are starting to, if they have not already, take over. In the United States there are nine crops that are currently commercialized and sold to consumers. These include soy, in which 89 percent of the total soy crop is GM, cotton (83 percent), canola (75 percent), corn (60 percent), Hawaiian papaya (more than 50 percent), alfalfa, zucchini, and yellow squash. Even some tobacco has been GM (Smith, “Genetic Roulette” 258). Since corn can be manipulated and injected into virtually any food product, the thought of GM corn is even scarier. That’s not all; the United States is the only other country besides Canada that does not require GMOs to be labeled on the packaging (Label GMOs). This means that we are consuming even more GMOs than we realize. Some foods that we ingest on a daily basis that contain GM ingredients are dairy products food additives such as enzymes and flavorings, meat, eggs, honey, and pollen in the air contain traces of GM materials (Smith, “Genetic Roulette” 258). The harsh reality is that even if we are conscious about what we eat and try to stay away from processed foods, even the air we breathe contains GMOs!
Now that I have introduced GMO’s, I want to explain the health risks associated with these types of foods. Although GMOs were only introduced in 1996, the side effects can already be seen: there have been increased allergic reactions, antibiotic resistant bacteria and other toxic hazards (Safe Food). While these side effects of GMOs may seem minuscule in the grand scheme of things, the lasting affects can be much more drastic. More and more children are having life-threatening allergies, which can be contributed to increased GMO intake. Already 37 people have died from side effects of GMOs, 1,500 partially paralyzed and 5,000 were temporarily handicapped by chemicals used in harvesting GMOs (Smith, “Genetic Roulette” 258). These numbers do not include the number of children that have been born with birth defects associated with the chemical, glyphosate. This chemical alone can cause infertility, stillbirths, miscarriages and cancers (The Ecologist). Researchers found that glyphosate “caused malformations in frog and chicken embryos that were similar to human birth defects found in GM soy-producing areas. In particular, the researchers found malformations of the head and cyclopia (where a single eye is present in the centre of the forehead)” (The Ecologist). Essentially, GMOs could cause babies to be born as the one-eyed monsters we read about in fairytales. Seeing that GMO’s have only been deemed “safe” for human consumption for a little over 15 years and there have been no long-term studies performed on humans, the changes in animal fetuses mirror the growth of human babies. With prolonged exposure to GMOs the data concerning the side effects is only to increase as we continue to eat GMOs without considered the effects they can have on our bodies and procreation of future generations.
While effects may be only starting to surface amongst humans, tests on animals have been going on for a longer period of time. As a result, animals have been suffering because of the health complications brought on by GMOs. Jeffrey M. Smith, a leader in promoting healthier non-GMO food choices, writes in the introduction to his book, Genetic Roulette about the many side effects of GMOs that were displayed during animal testing:
Lab animals tested with GM foods had stunted growth, impaired immune systems, bleeding stomachs, abnormal and potentially cancerous cell growth in the intestines, impaired blood cell development, misshapen cell structures in the liver, pancreas, and testicles, altered gene expression and cell metabolism, liver and kidney lesions, partially atrophied livers, inflamed kidneys, less developed brains and testicles, enlarged livers, pancreases, and intestines reduced digestive enzymes, higher blood sugar, inflamed lung tissue, increased death rates and higher offspring mortality. (Smith, “Genetic Roulette” 5)
Looking at the results of GMOs on animals demonstrates how consuming these mutations can lead to serious health risks. So not only are most body parts affected, the animal’s lifespans are shortened and their offspring have a lower chance of survival. If this were any indication as to how humans will be affected after long-term exposure to GMOs, then I would not want to eat something that could harm my bodily organs, endanger my life and the lives of any future children.
As shocking as the statistics about animals are, even more so is the potential for increased chances of disease and cancerous cells to produce. Cancer is a disease that is caused by a lack of vitamins and the poisonous chemical substances found in our food (Nacci 25). By adding more chemicals to our foods, chances of developing the degenerative disease only increase. An Italian physician named Giuseppe Nacci confirms this idea by explaining how the changes of our composition can increase our chances for disease: “The delicate biochemical balance of the human race depends on plant species remaining integral, just as evolution created them, because the health of every one of us is based on the biochemical human cell…through the complexity of the DNA, on the use of thousands of vitamins and of the herbal-chemical compounds present in nature” (Nacci 25). By changing the biochemical balance within our bodies by consuming GMOs we are ultimately adding harmful toxins. Nacci continues by acknowledging “the majority of genes used in GE come from living species which have never been a part of the human food chain and actually come from the DNA not of plants but of animals, bacteria or viruses and/or transgenic retroviruses” (Nacci 26). These modifications can cause irreparable damage though a balanced diet of organic foods that have not been genetically changed we can return to a diet that have kept us alive and well for centuries. Adding genes, chemicals and other harmful toxins can only negatively hurt our normal bodily functions and increase our chances of developing more serious diseases in the future.
Despite how much healthier organically grown food is for our bodies, many farms are losing business to larger companies who support GM crops. For example, corporations like Delta & Pine Land Co. developed a gene cleverly called the “Terminator gene.” What this means is that the “gene causes a plant to effectively commit suicide, by producing a sterile seed” (Arkansas Times) and cannot be used again for the next planting season. This benefits the companies that sell the seeds as at the end of each season; farmers must purchase new seeds. While the GM seeds are sold at a lower price than other seeds, because they cannot be used for the next planting season, the cost of these cheaper seeds increase over time. This means even more money comes out of the farmers’ pockets. By not being able to save the seeds from the previous year, farmers struggle to keep their farms alive and have no way of returning to the organic farming they had done previously. Once a GM crop is planted on a farm, or even someplace nearby, there is always the constant threat of cross pollination resulting in unwanted and unnecessary trouble with large corporations who own the patent: “You will be sued. Even though you did nothing intentionally wrong, the courts (based on rulings so far) will side with the big business. Your seed stores will be destroyed. You will go bankrupt. Or you’ll settle, at a significant financial lose” (Arkansas Times). Even farms that chose not to use GM seeds are under the constant threat of the larger corporations taking over their business. No matter which way farmers turn, they are faced with the troubles of GMOs whether they want to grow them, or not.
While some may argue that only a small number of GMO crops are commercialized for human consumption, there are countless more on the list than one may think. According to Jared Diamond in his book, Collapse, he claims that “virtually all GM crop production at present is of just four crops (soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton) not eaten directly by humans but used for animal fodder, oil, or clothing” (508). Using the word directly implies that down the line we are exposed to the GMOs present in these products. For example, humans digest the animals that have been in contact with GMOs, which results in exposure. We use canola oil in cooking and wear clothes daily, meaning even more contact with the unsafe toxins. Some scientists attempt to argue that GMOs are perfectly safe for human feasting, more and more data surfaces claiming otherwise. Many GM crops “contain its own built-in pesticides…when bugs take a bite of the GM plant, the toxins split open their stomach and kill them” (Smith, “Genetically Modified Food Is Not Safe 18). With this in mind, we ingest these “safe” crops every single day despite their ability to kill other living things from the inside out. Those that argue for GMOs insisting that they are safe to eat should consider the negative effects of the food and reevaluate their position on GMOs.
As a part of a solution to eliminate the intake of GMOs, I propose that GMOs be labeled along with the nutritional values. Presently, the United States is one of the few countries left that does not require GMOs to be labeled (Label GMOs). However, in a 2007 poll, only 11 percent of participants said that they would knowingly eat GMOs while most of the others would try to avoid the mutations (Lapudus 31). If we were to label GMOs on the nutritional label found on all food products, we would be able to see what food we eat on a daily basis and decrease our intake of GMOs for the sake of our health. Groups such as “California’s Right to Know” are petitioning for the labeling of GMOs to be a requirement for all food products so that shoppers can be cautious of what foods they buy and make more informed decisions. By knowing exactly what we are eating, we can make more informed choices about our food, which can only prolong our health.
In order to look forward to a long and healthy future, we need to focus on local farmers who still choose to grow their crops the “natural way.” Foods that are grown organically have shown to be beneficial for our bodies because they contain vitamins and minerals that are not combined with chemicals which dilute their effectiveness (Hinduism Today). In his article “The land ethic,” Aldo Leopold writes, “the conquering role is eventually self-defeating” (23). As we attempt to conquer the food industry by imposing our own rules on how to generate food, we are essentially going to defeat ourselves at our own game. Rather than creating foods that contain GMOs, we should focus more on the naturally occurring wonders that nature has performed for millions of years. Shiv Visvanathan writes, “that nature was not just an object of experiment or a source but a part of a way of life” (152). Nature is a way of life, something that is not to be manipulated or changed. Organic farmers are an excellent example of people who decided to work with nature, rather than against it.
Another way we can take a stand against GMOs is by supporting farmers that continue to grow food organically. In an interview with Nancy Gammons, who works with Four Sisters Farm in Colorado says in response to why they grow their produce organically that, “First of all, it’s healthy! Anything that is toxic enough to kill one living thing will do harm to all living things. As a farm we have chosen to do as little harm as possible” (Gammons). Inspired by J. I. Rodale, who was an advocator for organic food, the farm tries to refrain from using pesticides whenever possible. Rodale’s “agricultural methods and health benefits of growing food without synthetic chemicals” (Pollan 142) are said to be what started the organic revolution and Four Sisters Farms wishes to keep that dream alive. If we support farms who’s purpose is to be as sustainable as possible, we are doing our part to eliminate GMOs because organic farms are able to continuing growing their produce and stay in business. By supporting these farms they do not have to fall victim to large corporations who “by their nature, are always trying to take more market share, therefore taking from smaller businesses” (Gammons). Farmers that are sucked into corporations with the promise of making money struggle to escape the debt they accrue by the end of the next planting season. Purchasing food that is grown locally and without the use of GMOs, we can preserve the businesses that still choose to grow their food the natural way while also increasing our lifespan and overall health.
One way to become more aware of what we consume is by downloading an application on your smartphone that helps you locate and avoid products that contain GM ingredients. The app is called “True Food Shoppers Guide” and is compatible with iPhones, iPod Touches, iPads and Android phones. The app is extremely easy to use and offers information about the products that contain GMOs as well as tips on how to avoid them. Products that do not contain any GMOs are also listed so that customers can decide between two different brands that are similar but differ in GMO content. The “Four Simple Tips” feature tells the buyer how to avoid GMOs in any product they choose to buy. For those who are unable to download the app, there is a printable version available so that even those with less familiarity with technology can still be informed (The True Food Network). By making the information more accessible to the general public, more awareness can be spread about the foods we consume and how we can avoid GMOs.
Now what should we do with all of this information? GMOs have not been adequately tested on humans and is just one of the many reasons why they should not be consumed. With their long list of side effects that are present in animals, soon enough humans will be affected as well. Taking a stand against GMOs is key. If we want local farmers to continue growing their crops without genetic mutations, we need to support them by buying their produce rather than a brand name. Not only does buying locally grown produce healthier, but also gives promise that the healthy food you are purchasing will still be available for years to come. Although the pricing may differ, you are paying for the quality of the food and essentially, your quality of life. GMOs were not meant to be consumed and conflict with our body’s natural biochemical balance. By consuming GMOs you are putting your own life at risk. It’s your body and only you can decide what to put in it.
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