What are GMOs?


Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are essentially plants and animals that have had their genetic material (DNA) altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The technology is also known as biotechnology, bioengineering, recombinant DNA technology, or genetic engineering. Often they are referred to as biotech crops.


Biotech crops (GMOs) is a term commonly used to refer to crops whose genetic makeup has been altered to give the plant a desirable trait. This is made possible using an experimental, imprecise laboratory process called gene splicing, where DNA from one gene is spliced into another. Sometimes, the genes are transferred between different species, resulting in traits that cannot occur naturally in nature. For example, the iconic "fish tomato" was created when genes from winter flounder, known to resist cold temperatures, were inserted into a tomato plant in order to enable the plant to survive a frost.1 Jeffrey Smith, prominent speaker on the dangers of GMOs and founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, among others, believe that “the technology of genetic engineering is currently very crude. It is not possible to insert a new gene with any accuracy, and the transfer of new genes can disrupt the finely controlled network of DNA in an organism.”2


What foods contain GMOs?


As of December 2011, there were nine GMO crops in commercial production:3


  • Alfalfa (first planting 2011)
  • Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
  • Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop; approximately 988 acres)
  • Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Sugar Beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop in 2010)
  • Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approx. 25,000 acres)
  • Papaya (approximately 77% of the Hawaiian crop4)

Also at high-risk of containing GMOs are animal products (milk, meat, eggs, honey, etc.) because of contamination in feed and flora.


In North America, over 80% of our food contains GMOs.5 Everything including bread, cereal, frozen pizza, soup, soda—the majority of processed foods—now contain genetically engineered ingredients.


Another common source of GMO food is dairy products from cows injected with the genetically modified hormone Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). Because there are no laws mandating that these ingredients must be labeled as genetically modified, consumers are most likely unknowingly consuming genetically modified ingredients.


Are GMO safe to eat?


One of the most common concerns about the prevalence of GMOs in North America is whether they are safe for human consumption. The sad truth is many of the foods that are most popular with children contain GMOs. Cereals, snack bars, snack boxes, cookies, processed lunch meats, and crackers all contain large amounts of high-risk food ingredients.


While many in the scientific community assert that GMO foods are not toxic and are safe, a significant number of scientists are sounding the alarm. They say genetic engineering poses risks that scientists simply do not know enough to identify. In fact, based on what little is known about GMOs, many scientists have identified a variety of ways in which they could adversely impact both human health and the environment.


Do GMOs pose health risks?


Specific GMOs may be harmful by virtue of the novel gene combinations they possess. No one knows with certainty how these new life forms will behave in the future, so the limited risk assessments conducted to date are poor predictors of the safety of GMOs over the long term.


Risk assessment is further challenged by the highly complex web of regulatory review, which involves three government agencies (USDA, FDA, and EPA) and dozens of departments with competing interests that render government oversight practically toothless.


For example, on its website, The Institute for Responsible Technology lists 65 documented health risks associated with GMOs, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. In 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) acknowledged that, ".6 The studies cited found that mice and rats fed GMOs experience allergic reactions,7 immune system response,8 damaged intestines,9 partially atrophied livers,10 premature death,11 infertility12 and excessive cell growth in the intestinal lining that potentially may lead to cancer.13


At the most basic level, so-called government risk assessment is suspect because it actually conducts no research on its own. Health and safety reviews rely almost entirely on data supplied by the very companies seeking approvals for their new GMO products. This is a serious conflict of interest that brings into question the validity of safety assurances from the government.


What are the environmental risks?


GMOs contaminate forever. GMOs cross pollinate and their seeds can travel. It is impossible to fully clean up our contaminated gene pool. Genetic engineering allows plants to survive high doses of weed killers, resulting in higher herbicide residues in our food. GMO crops are creating ‘super weeds’ and ‘super bugs,’ which can only be killed with ever more toxic poisons. Pollen drift from GMOs can contaminate nearby crops and wild plants of the same type through crossbreeding. Biotech crops have not reduced pesticide applications nor increased crop yields. They have not helped farmers produce food that is healthier, more nutritious or better tasting. Rather, genetically engineered crops have caused 527 million pounds of additional herbicides to be applied to the nation’s farmland.14


Why does the government say GMOs don’t need to be labeled?


Government and the GMO industry say these new crops are environmentally safe and that there's no nutritional difference between GMOs and conventional crops. According to them we don't need to know, so no labeling is required.


Therefore, since their commercialization 1992, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has rejected labeling of GMO foods. By contrast, labeling is required in 64 countries including the 27 member nations of the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Brazil and China.15


Why are consumers calling for labeling?


Down to Earth joins the call for GMO labeling so that, if we want, we can choose not to eat GMOs. The general public agrees. A 2011 New York Times blog poll shows that 83 percent of US consumers are bothered by the presence of GMOs in food; 89 percent want to see labeling of such foods; about 85 percent would like to see stricter regulations; and nearly three-fourths would buy less salmon if it were GMO.16


This tracks with a 2013 survey by HuffPost/You Gov Poll, which found that 82 percent of Americans think GMO foods should be labeled, while only 9 percent say they should not be labeled.17


Similar results were found five years ago among Hawaii residents' preferences who, in a 2007 University of Hawaii survey, indicated that they want choice. "…More than 90 percent of those surveyed supported the labeling of GM [Genetically Modified] foods, 68 percent indicated that such labeling was needed, and 50 percent felt that not labeling GM food products was a violation of the consumer’s rights."18


The simple truth is that most people want the right to choose what they eat and what they feed their families. For consumers to make informed decisions, the public deserves a truthful marketplace.


How can you avoid GMOs?


One of the ways to avoid GMOs is to choose foods that have the Organic seal, which certifies that GMOs were not used in production:


USDA Organic Seal


Another option is to look for the Non-GMO Project Verified Seal issued by the Non-GMO Project19:


Non-GMO Project Verified Seal


Down to Earth, along with the natural products industry, strongly supports this Project. It is a non-profit collaboration of companies, farmers, and consumers offering North America’s first program that verifies non-GMO products. The Non-GMO Project provides a seal of approval to manufacturers that meet their rigorous non-GMO standards. Backed by independent testing, the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal means that GMO contamination has been avoided throughout the growth and harvesting of crops, their processing, storage and packaging. Over 10,000 products have been verified to date, with thousands more in the process.20


As manufacturers begin to include the “Non-GMO Project Verified” logo on their packaging, you will see more and more of the verified products on our shelves. Consumers have the right to choose what foods to eat and feed their families. This Non-GMO logo enables consumers to exercise this right! We get to exercise this right only with products from manufacturers that voluntarily comply with the Non-GMO Project's standards. In contrast, GMO labeling should be required on all food packaging.


What is the “Non-GMO Project”?


The Non-GMO Project was established by the natural foods industry to ensure organic and non-GMO foods are free of GMOs. The Non-GMO Project provides manufacturers with the "Non-GMO Project Verified" seal, backed by independent testing. The “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal means that GMO contamination has been avoided throughout the growth and harvesting of crops, and their processing, storage and packaging.


Non-GMO is the fastest growing natural food category with annual growth of 66% per year, which is faster than gluten-free, fair trade, and other food categories. There are more than 10,000 non-GMO verified products on store shelves and 800 participating companies. Sales of non-GMO verified products are more than $3 billion per year.21


As increasing numbers of manufacturers include the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal on their packaging, you will see more and more of these Verified products on our shelves. Consumers have the right to choose what foods to eat and feed their families. This Non-GMO logo enables consumers to exercise this right. To find out more about the Non-GMO Project and this seal, visit the Non-GMO Project website.


Does Down to Earth sell products that contain GMOs?


We don't know of a single food retailer in the U.S. that doesn't sell products containing GMOs. Along with other retailers, food manufacturers, and consumers, Down to Earth is essentially a victim of the biotechnology industry. Without mandatory labeling it is difficult to know with any certainty which products contain GMO ingredients. Down to Earth is opposed to the development of products containing GMOs. Unfortunately, the biotech industry has forced its products upon us with inadequate testing and—due to lax government oversight—without any requirement for labeling. As a result, it is not possible for us to identify which products may or may not contain GMOs. Therefore, regrettably, as with all grocers and natural foods stores, we may sell some products that may contain GMOs. (NOTE: Down to Earth does not sell single-ingredient GMO foods including papaya, corn, soy, canola or sugar produced from GMO sugar beets. In our Deli, we use only organic corn and tofu made with organic soybeans.)


What is Down to Earth's GMO Policy?


Down to Earth’s long-term goal is to be GMO-free. As we move towards our long-term goal to be all-organic and GMO-free, we give priority to organic and Non-GMO Project Verified products in our purchasing decisions, and we are gradually eliminating products that contain GMOs. Unfortunately, we are unaware of any grocery store in the USA that can claim to be GMO-free, though we are hopeful that one day, many stores, including Down to Earth, will be able to make that claim. Toward this end, we:


  • Avoid purchasing any new food products that may contain GMOs
  • Do not sell single-ingredient GMO foods (including papaya, corn, soy, canola or sugar produced from GMO sugar beets)
  • Encourage our suppliers to become Non-GMO Project Verified
  • Require that by 2018 all products sold in our stores containing GMO ingredients be labeled
  • Actively support organic and sustainable farming methods
  • Advocate for the consumer’s “right-to- know,” including labeling of products that contain GMOs
  • Educate and communicate about the economic, social, health, and environmental impacts of GMOs


To learn more, visit the FAQ pages on these sites:


References:


  1. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_tomato (Retrieved 10-18-13)
  2. The Institute for Responsible Technology http://www.responsibletechnology.org/faqs (Retrieved 10-30-13)
  3. What is GMO? Agricultural Crops That Have a Risk of Being GMO http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/what-is-gmo/ (Retrieved 10-31-13)
  4. Papaya: A GMO success story, Hawai'i Tribune Herald, June 10, 2013 http://hawaiitribune-herald.com/sections/news/local-news/papaya-gmo-succ... (Retrieved 10-30-13)
  5. GMO Facts: Non-GMO Project, "http://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/
  6. American Academy of Environmental Medicine, "Genetically Modified Foods," https://www.aaemonline.org/gmo.php (Retrieved 11-1-13)
  7. Hallman, W. K., & Hebden, W. C. (2005). American opinions of GM food: Awareness, knowledge and, implications for education. Choices, 20, 239-242.
  8. American Academy of Environment Medicine. (2009). Genetically Modified Foods. Retrieved from https://www.aaemonline.org/gmo.php
  9. M. Green, et al., “Public health implications of the microbial pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis: An epidemiological study, Oregon, 1985-86,” Amer. J. Public Health 80, no. 7(1990): 848–852; and M.A. Noble, P.D. Riben, and G. J. Cook, Microbiological and epidemiological surveillance program to monitor the health effects of Foray 48B BTK spray (Vancouver, B.C.: Ministry of Forests, Province of British Columbi, Sep. 30, 1992)
  10. Vazquez et al, “Intragastric and intraperitoneal administration of Cry1Ac protoxin from Bacillus thuringiensis induces systemic and mucosal antibody responses in mice,” 1897–1912; Vazquez et al, “Characterization of the mucosal and systemic immune response induced by Cry1Ac protein from Bacillus thuringiensis HD 73 in mice,” Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 33 (2000): 147–155; and Vazquez et al, “Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac protoxin is a potent systemic and mucosal adjuvant,” Scandanavian Journal of Immunology 49 (1999): 578–584. See also Vazquez-Padron et al., 147 (2000b).
  11. Nagui H. Fares, Adel K. El-Sayed, “Fine Structural Changes in the Ileum of Mice Fed on Endotoxin Treated Potatoes and Transgenic Potatoes,” Natural Toxins 6, no. 6 (1998): 219–233.
  12. Arpad Pusztai, “Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food,” Nutrition and Health, 2002, Vol 16 Pp 73-84
  13. Irina Ermakova, “Genetically modified soy leads to the decrease of weight and high mortality of rat pups of the first generation. Preliminary studies,” Ecosinform 1 (2006): 4–9.
  14. Environmental Sciences Europe,”Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. -- the first sixteen years,” by Charles M Benbrook 2012, 24:24
  15. Just Label It “Labeling Around the World”, http://justlabelit.org/right-to-know/labeling-around-the-world/ (Retrieved 10-31-13)
  16. GMO Poll Results (and More), Mark Bittman, February 24,2011 http://bittman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/24/gmo-poll-results-and-more/?s... (Retrieved 10-31-13)
  17. Huffinton Post, "GMO Poll Finds Huge Majority Say Foods Should Be Labeled,"March 4, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/04/gmo-poll_n_2807595.html (Retrieved 11-1-201
  18. Univ. of Hawaii-Manoa, Cooperative Extension Service, "Attitudes of Hawai‘i Consumers Toward Genetically Modified Fruit" http://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/handle/10125/12173/BIO-7.... (Retrieved 10-31-13)
  19. The Non-GMO Project, http://www.nongmoproject.org (Retrieved 11-1-1
  20. The Non-GMO Project Blog, July 29, 2013, http://www.nongmoproject.org/blog/welcome-aaron/ (Retrieved 11-1-13)
  21. The Non-GMO Sourcebook, p. 2 http://www.nongmosourcebook.com/advertising/2013-2014_Non-GMO_Sourcebook... (Retrieved 10-31-13)