What we need to know about genetically engineered foods

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine recommends physicians advise patients to avoid GM food because animal studies indicate serious health risks, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.

by Rose Montana — 

Food derived from genetically engineered (GE) crops entered the U.S. food supply sometime after 1996, the year in which the first GE crops were planted. Chemical companies, including Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and BASF, that produce these never-before-in-the-history-of-planet-Earth organisms have succeeded in keeping most consumers in the dark regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). According to, 80 percent of processed foods on U.S. shelves contain genetically modified ingredients. This includes breakfast cereals and other products labeled “natural” or “all natural.” Who knew?

According to Dr. Mercola (, more than 90 percent of soybeans are now genetically modified to resist herbicides and 85 percent of corn has been genetically engineered to include a bacterium (Bt) that resists the corn worm and other pests. I was shocked to learn that the pristine looking, genetically modified ear of corn I purchased from my grocery store is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Does this technically make GE corn a pesticide?

Although the industry has tried to compare genetic engineering with traditional plant breeding and tout the process as perfectly safe, concerned scientists argue that genetic engineering is an entirely new plant technology that has not been adequately tested and carries both known and unknown health risks for humans, animals and our environment.

What health risks, you might wonder? The American Academy of Environmental Medicine recommends physicians advise patients to avoid GM food because animal studies indicate serious health risks, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. In the UK, it was discovered that allergies increased by 50 percent after the introduction of GM foods in that country. The EU has since required labeling of GM products, as do more than 40 countries, representing 40 percent of the world’s population.

In his impressive book, Genetic Roulette, author Jeffery Smith reveals 86 documented health issues related to genetic engineering and cautions that children are more vulnerable to possible heath risks. Recently, a Canadian study discovered that 80 percent of pregnant women, 93 percent of babies and 63 percent of non-pregnant women tested positive for Bt in their blood.

Whether folks choose a vegetarian or vegan diet for health, philosophical or religious reasons, a seemingly purposely hidden food issue pervades and may undermine these well-meaning intentions. Meat substitutes, such as veggie burgers, are made with soy or corn that has probably been genetically modified. Ditto for tofu, tempeh, texturized vegetable protein, soy yogurt, soy cheese, soy milk and soy ice cream.

Chances are soy, corn, canola or cottonseed (vegetable) oils serve as the base for the dressing used on the mixed greens luncheon salad, not to mention what the sweet potato fries may have been fried in. Most bread these days is not made simply with wheat, yeast, water and salt, but from a cornucopia of ingredients. Chances are that the store-bought garlic bread also contains GMO vegetable oils or other potentially GMO-derived products. To add insult to injury, more than 70 percent of the dark chocolate bar I cautiously bought at the health food store may contain GMO sugar and soy lecithin. Unless the ingredient label lists cane sugar, it could be GM beet sugar or GM corn sugar.

In addition to genetically engineered soy, corn, canola and cotton, sugar beets, alfalfa, some zucchini and yellow summer squash, the Hawaiian papaya and Quest tobacco crops have also been planted in the United States.

Why is it so difficult to eat healthy these days? Aside from the many conflicting theories of what constitutes a healthy diet, many companies manufacturing our food do not want us to know what we are eating. This is evidenced by the more than 23 million dollars that has been raised to fight Proposition 37, a California labeling initiative scheduled to appear on the November ballot.

Despite polls indicating that the vast majority of Americans want GMO labeling, Monsanto, DuPont, Nestlé, General Mills, Coca-Cola Company, the National Grocers Association and many others do not think we have a right to know that GMOs are in the food we buy and consume. Luckily, the California Right to Know Campaign ( is fighting for those of us who want to be educated consumers.

The good news is that products certified by the USDA as organic cannot knowingly contain genetically engineered ingredients. So buying organic is probably the easiest way to avoid GMOs in our food choices. In addition, the Non-GMO Project now does third-party verification of products produced, according to rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance. Look for their label that verifies GMO-free products. The organization has also just launched a food service/restaurant program.

So what are we to do? Read the labels. Look for and avoid the approved GM products listed previously but ferret out the invisible GM ingredients, such as corn starch, corn syrup, Equal®, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, tamari, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and flavorings. Eat out less, cook from scratch more often, avoid most potlucks and try to educate friends and family.

Although I believe a complete overhaul of your pantry, shopping cart, restaurant choices and diet is the wisest course of action, you can start the process of eliminating GMOs one step at a time by changing oils and asking about oils at restaurants, switching to organic corn and soy products, and substituting iced tea (unsweetened or sweetened with cane sugar, honey, agave or stevia) for sodas. Starting an organic garden was another way I chose to protect myself from GMO food.

As consumers, we vote through the products we buy and the meals we consume. Corporations do respond to public opinion, as evidenced by the growing organic movement. If we continue to purchase foods that we believe are more healthful for us, not only will we have more choices for us and for our children, but we will also leave behind a healthier planet for future generations.


Rose Montana is a retired health care provider and member of GMO Free Prescott, a coalition of consumers, business owners, professionals and allied groups who support everyone’s right to choose food and products that have not been genetically modified.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 31, Number 5, October/November 2012.

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