Saying "No!" to GMO in North America

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Creative Commons License Photo credit: {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}

What are genetically modified foods?

Biotechnology covers a broad range of technological “advancements†in food. These include the production of herbicides and pesticides, the use of antibiotics in dairy and meat, and of course, genetically modified foods (Otero, 2008). Genetically modified food refers to food that has had its genetic structure altered in some way, such as by mixing genes of different organisms. Generally, this has been done to make a crop more efficient to produce, export and sell (Bakshi, 2003). Examples include making crops resistant to certain herbicides or pesticides, making food tougher and firmer to last during international shipping, and making crops that grow faster (Bakshi, 2003).

What’s wrong with GMOs?

Genetically modified food is shown to be very harmful. Increased serious food allergies (such as for soybeans and corn), heavy metal contamination, and antibiotic resistance are several examples of adverse health effects. Dr. Arpad Pusztai’s famous study determined that GM foods were toxic to mammals (see my article on the Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods). Mice that were fed a diet of GM foods became very ill (Bakshi, 2003). Interestingly, Pusztai’s research lost its funding from the British government (Bakshi, 2003). As well, GM foods are speculated to have less nutritional value than conventional, natural crops of the same kind (Bakshi, 2003). Lastly, most research that determined GM foods to be safe has been focused on one particular chemical at a time. That is, the combination of different chemicals (as they would appear in food) has mostly gone unexamined (Bakshi, 2003).

These are the health effects of biotechnology, although they have many more problems, including the loss of biodiversity, and patents on plants and animals. As Greenpeace states, “Life is not a commodity†(http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/campaigns/ge/). Additionally, the infamous terminator seeds are plants that are bioengineered to produce sterile seeds. This means that farmers cannot use the seeds to plant future crops in the upcoming years; new seeds must be purchased every year, leaving farmers dependent on biotechnology giants like Monsanto. Today, biotechnology corporations are some of the most powerful corporations in the world.

How to avoid GM foods:

The problem (as most of us know already) is that in North America, GMO foods are not labeled as genetically modified, as they are in Europe and other parts of the world. How, then, do we say “no†to GMO?

Look for Non-GMO Product Certifications

Since North American governments have failed to assure consumers about the safety of their food by labeling genetically modified products, individuals and organizations have taken it upon themselves to do this.

The North American non-profit organization Non-GMO Project (http://www.nongmoproject.org/) has made a commitment to identify and locate products and companies that do not use any genetically modified ingredients. These include Nature’s Path Foods, Barbara’s Bakery, Choice Teas and Tofurky (meat alternatives). However, as mentioned, not all non-organic food is genetically modified. Non-organic companies that are still non-genetically modified include Kettle Chips, Silk (soy beverages), and Bragg’s soy sauce.

The organization is relatively new, so the Non-GMO Project assures us that the certification will be available sometime this Fall. Better yet, the Project has named October as GMO-free month! In the meantime, check out their website and sign the consumer pledge (http://www.nongmoproject.org/consumers/consumer-pledge/) showing that you support their work and will purchase non-GMO products.

Look for Certified Organic

Generally, a good indicator of a GMO-free product is an organic certification. All products that are certified organic (meaning that it obeys the guidelines of a third party certifying body) must be non-genetically modified. Even this, however, can be difficult with multi-ingredient products. Tracking the sourcing of every ingredient can be tricky.

Look for common GM ingredients

When you’re in doubt, the most common genetically modified ingredients include corn, soy and canola. However, the situation becomes more difficult when these ingredients are hidden in other ingredients. Genetically modified corn, for instance, can be found in corn starch, high fructose corn syrup, and even maltodextrin. Because of these complexities, “it is estimated that GMOs are now present in more than 80% of packaged products in the average U.S. or Canadian grocery store†(source: http://www.nongmoproject.org/consumers/about-gmos/).

Take action

Greenpeace’s website contains some excellent resources for consumers to take action against genetically modified food. Locate it here: http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/campaigns/ge/Get-involved/ and send letters to political representatives explaining your concerns and urging them to take action.

Contact the Company

A possible way to find out if your favourite food contains genetically modified ingredients is by contacting the company directly. The only problem with this is that the one who answers the emails may not be the one who sees the food production firsthand.

From my own experience, I have received several responses that explain that it is difficult to track the production of the product, and therefore they don’t know for sure if biotechnology has been used. Is this an excuse to cover up known genetically modified ingredients? Is it a real example of how, when a company gets so large and decentralized, they no longer have full knowledge of the production process? Either way, it’s not ideal for the consumer.   

Your best bet? Buy certified organic, buy products labeled as non-genetically modified, support genetically-modified labeling initiatives by donating, and contact your political representatives to send them a message.


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Leah
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Although it is great to buy foods labeled organic, I always try to buy from local farms. Even though foods may be labeled organic, their carbon footprint may be much higher than traditional foods as many are grown in China. I would rather support local farmers anyway even if they can't fork out the big bucks to certify their farms organic.

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Guest Caleb "Muscles" Anthony

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American has a obesity & health problem bad enoguh as it is, GMO is a horrible thign to keep in the mix...Check out this article on soy http://www.activebodi.com/2010/11/02/is-soy-peventing-you-from-getting-a-rock-hard-muscular-physique/

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Guest SweetWheat

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Thank you, thank you, thank you for gathering so much info on the dangers of GMO and creating an article that explains things simply. Most people out there have no idea what GMO means, let alone how dangerous they can be! Most Americans are overweight and eat poorly without giving second thought to what they're actually sticking in their bodies. People should realize what they're eating before they eat it, but the sad truth is that most people don't care.

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Your assertions regarding increased allergens and heavy metal content in GMOs are either out of context or misinformed. In fact there have been genetically modified plants expressing proteins that help bind “chelate†heavy metals and sequester them out of the soil as a method of bioremediation, but they aren’t designed to be eaten. In terms of allergies there is definitely a possibility of an allergic reaction, however, there is no report or proof of any kind that GMOs are increasing allergic reactions. An allergy is a defect of the human immune system not a defect in the GMO. Just because someone is allergic to peanut butter doesn’t mean everyone should stop eating peanut butter (just the one who’s allergic to it). Furthermore GMOs can even be made to remove allergens. It is possible to find the segment or “epitope†of the allergen that causes the allergic reaction and remove it. Another misconception is antibiotic resistance conferred to these plants. This is a technique used as a means of plant selection; it’s a means to an end not the end result. The antibiotics used in plant selection are never used clinically as many bacterial strains have already developed resistance to them (before they were used for transgenetics). These plants aren’t helping evolve antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria because those bacteria already existed. The issue of decreasing biodiversity, cross pollination or mixed breeding between native and transgenic plants is also misguided. Firstly you must understand that the gene inserted into GMO plants most likely doesn’t provide any selective advantage over native plants. If a plant that is resistant to a certain herbicide contaminates an area outside of the farm that isn’t sprayed with herbicide, then it has no advantage over the other native plants. Furthermore many transgenic plants have their genes inserted into the chloroplast so that it will no longer be released in the pollen. GMOs have a lot of promise in terms of increasing the efficacy of farming and providing a more economic source of food in third world countries. Many transgenic organisms are used in research as well in the development of vaccines and the study of disease. Foods in the future will probably be used to confer vaccinations or produce antibiotics.

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Your assertions regarding increased allergens and heavy metal content in GMOs are either out of context or misinformed. In fact there have been genetically modified plants expressing proteins that help bind “chelate†heavy metals and sequester them out of the soil as a method of bioremediation, but they aren’t designed to be eaten. In terms of allergies there is definitely a possibility of an allergic reaction, however, there is no report or proof of any kind that GMOs are increasing allergic reactions. An allergy is a defect of the human immune system not a defect in the GMO. Just because someone is allergic to peanut butter doesn’t mean everyone should stop eating peanut butter (just the one who’s allergic to it). Furthermore GMOs can even be made to remove allergens. It is possible to find the segment or “epitope†of the allergen that causes the allergic reaction and remove it. Another misconception is antibiotic resistance conferred to these plants. This is a technique used as a means of plant selection; it’s a means to an end not the end result. The antibiotics used in plant selection are never used clinically as many bacterial strains have already developed resistance to them (before they were used for transgenetics). These plants aren’t helping evolve antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria because those bacteria already existed. The issue of decreasing biodiversity, cross pollination or mixed breeding between native and transgenic plants is also misguided. Firstly you must understand that the gene inserted into GMO plants most likely doesn’t provide any selective advantage over native plants. If a plant that is resistant to a certain herbicide contaminates an area outside of the farm that isn’t sprayed with herbicide, then it has no advantage over the other native plants. Furthermore many transgenic plants have their genes inserted into the chloroplast so that it will no longer be released in the pollen. GMOs have a lot of promise in terms of increasing the efficacy of farming and providing a more economic source of food in third world countries. Many transgenic organisms are used in research as well in the development of vaccines and the study of disease. Foods in the future will probably be used to confer vaccinations or produce antibiotics.

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Great recipe. I Love this, absolutely delicious. Thanks for sharing http://www.ccsviclinic.ca/

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Guest Greg Mills

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After 6 months of offering stem cell therapy in combination with the venous angioplasty liberation procedure, patients of CCSVI Clinic have reported excellent health outcomes. Ms. Kasma Gianopoulos of Athens Greece, who was diagnosed with the Relapsing/Remitting form of MS in 1997 called the combination of treatments a “cureâ€. “I feel I am completely cured†says Ms. Gianopoulos, “my symptoms have disappeared and I have a recovery of many functions, notably my balance and my muscle strength is all coming (back). Even after six months, I feel like there are good changes happening almost every day. Before, my biggest fear was that the changes wouldn’t (hold). I don’t even worry about having a relapse anymore. I’m looking forward to a normal life with my family. I think I would call that a miracle.â€Other recent MS patients who have had Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation (ASCT), or stem cell therapy have posted videos and comments on YouTube. www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFQr2eqm3Cg.Dr. Avneesh Gupte, the Neurosurgeon at Noble Hospital performing the procedure has been encouraged by results in Cerebral Palsy patients as well. “We are fortunate to be able to offer the treatment because not every hospital is able to perform these types of transplants. You must have the specialized medical equipment and specially trained doctors and nursesâ€.  With regard to MS patients, “We are cautious, but nevertheless excited by what patients are telling us. Suffice to say that the few patients who have had the therapy through us are noticing recovery of neuro deficits beyond what the venous angioplasty only should account forâ€.Dr. Unmesh of Noble continues: “These are early days and certainly all evidence that the combination of liberation and stem cell therapies working together at this point is anecdotal. However I am not aware of other medical facilities in the world that offer the synthesis of both to MS patients on an approved basis and it is indeed a rare opportunity for MS patients to take advantage of a treatment that is quite possibly unique in the worldâ€.Autologous stem cell transplantation is a procedure by which blood-forming stem cells are removed, and later injected back into the patient. All stem cells are taken from the patient themselves and cultured for later injection. In the case of a bone marrow transplant, the HSC are typically removed from the Pelvis through a large needle that can reach into the bone. The technique is referred to as a bone marrow harvest and is performed under a general anesthesia. The incidence of patients experiencing rejection is rare due to the donor and recipient being the same individual.This remains the only approved method of the SCT therapy.

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