It’s generally understood by those of us in the CrossFit world, the loyal paleo-eaters and zone-dieters, that going organic in our diet is key to high performance in our workouts, better recovery and an overall healthier lifestyle. Heck, even the general population knows this, but often times avoids buying organic produce because they may not care or the alternatives are cheaper. Sure, the price of buying organic may be a little steep, but the benefits of fresh and naturally grown food certainly outweigh the cost. As it turns out, the harm that some of these so-called ‘alternatives’ provide can be just as costly. In an effort to combat crops that have become insect-resistant from the use of pesticides, and to provide food in higher quantities with a longer shelf life and a lower price, multi-national companies have created GMOs.
What is a GMO?
Since 1996, you (and pretty much everyone in the United States) have been eating genetically modified foods, or organisms (GMOs). These GMOs are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. Almost all GMOs are engineered to withstand direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. For example, genetically engineered soybeans have DNA from bacteria and viruses spliced into their own DNA, allowing them to tolerate weed killers such as Roundup. Needless to say, these new species of engineered plants and animals would have never occurred naturally.
GMO foods were first introduced in the US market with the advent of the Flavr Savr tomato. Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1994, Calgene, the biotech industry’s third agricultural startup, designed this tomato to ripen without softening and have a longer shelf life. Since then, the aisles of our supermarkets have been flooded with different GM foods, including corn, soybean, rice, potatoes, sugar beats and sugar cane, etc. Today, more than 50 percent of the world’s genetically modified crops are grown in the USA. An even greater issue is that the five most commonly grown GMO crops in the country (soy, canola, cotton, corn and wheat) are also the most common ingredients found in processed foods. Which explains why nearly 80 percent of processed food contain GMOs.
Of course, throwing a bunch of statistics out there is all well and good, but what we really want to know is…
Are GMOs safe for us?
Based on the above-mentioned statistics and the fact that we seem to have been eating GM food since the 90’s, you could be forgiven for thinking that we humans have gotten along just fine with GMOs for some time now. Well, in reality the answer to this question is not entirely clear. The reasons being that there are no long-term studies demonstrating that GMOs are safe for humans, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not do its own safety testing of GMOs. Instead, what we have are safety tests conducted by the same biotech companies that are trying to commercialize these crops, which the FDA only reviews. And there’s no way that these companies would lie to us about their findings, right? Considering they have never run studies on human consumption of GMO food, they might be able to avoid an inconvenient truth. One need only look at the sharp increase in childhood asthma, obesity and even cancer in recent years. As younger generations have encountered GMOs in their diet for the majority of their life, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest a connection.
And how about those tests on animals?
In 1998, a Hungarian-born nutritionist and biochemist named Arpad Pusztai was conducting a research project funded by the UK government, aiming to prove GMO foods are actually safe. As part of the project, separate groups of rats were fed organic potatoes and GM potatoes. What Pusztai found was that the rats that were fed GM potatoes developed potentially precancerous cell growth in the digestive tract, livers, testicles and damaged immune systems.
What’s even more concerning is that the FDA division of anti-infective drugs appears to have previously had serious concerns over the use of GMOs. In her book, “GMO TOXIC TABLE – An Introduction to the GMO FOOD Disaster – A Crime Against Humanity”, Jean Wayne includes a revealing quote from the FDA-obtained documents that became public following a lawsuit. It reads:
“IT WOULD BE A SERIOUS HEALTH HAZARD TO INTRODUCE A GENE THAT CODES FOR ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE INTO THE NORMAL FLORA OF THE GENERAL POPULATION.”
Essentially, there were very real concerns from these scientists that the antibiotic resistant marker gene could transfer to disease-creating bacteria in the soil or gut, making the bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Other feared side-effects from GMOs included toxins, allergens, new diseases as well as nutritional problems-not to mention the potential impact on agriculture and the environment.
Even so, the FDA chose to ignore the advice of their own scientists, and allowed GMO foods on to the market.
Is there anything that can be done to combat the presence of GMOs in our food?
There is no doubt that the fight to identify, label and place restrictions on GMO production is gaining momentum. Sixty countries around the world (including the entire European Union) have placed significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs. This includes the labeling of food that contains GMOs-though this isn’t the case in the US. However, that could change soon. Right to Know GMO, a self-described grassroots coalition with members in 37 states, counts 26 states that have introduced labeling bills. In Washington State, a referendum on GMO labeling (titled Initiative 522) is scheduled for November. But rest assured, major companies that profit from the sale of GMOs, such as Dupont Pioneer, Bayer CropScience and the Grocery Manufactures Association will use all of their resources to prevent this from happening. Last November, a referendum in California failed 53-47 after the biotech industry spent nearly $45 million on opposition ads.
Obviously, these companies have infinite resources and will fight to retain a major source of their revenue. Of course, this all depends upon the American people continuing to buy the food they engineer.
So, even though the amount of money that the biotech industry is throwing around may seem insurmountable, the answer is actually quite clear: If enough shoppers stop buying GMO brands, the food industry will kick out genetically modified ingredients-dealing a crippling blow to the companies mentioned above.
Jeffrey Smith, author of the book “Seeds of Deception”, summarizes this all nicely:
“Stopping GMOs is simply a numbers game. We need about 5% of US shoppers-15 million people or 5.6 million households-to chose healthier non-GMO brands in order to generate a non-GMO tipping point. It’s just a matter of reaching enough people.”
With the CrossFit community growing exponentially, we can certainly do our part to help tip the balance.
How to avoid GMOs
USDA regulations require that foods labeled with the USDA Organic seal contain 95-100% certified organic ingredients. However, even the non-organic ingredients cannot be produced from GMOs.
Amongst other things, this prohibits the use of antibiotics and synthetic hormone use in meat and poultry and requires 100% organic feed for livestock.
Avoid At-Risk, Processed Foods
Corn, Soy, Canola, Cotton, Sugar Beets, Hawaiian Papaya, Dairy, Zucchini and Yellow Squash top the list of GM foods. Most consumers eat GM foods through processed foods that contain either corn or soy. It is estimated that 80-90% of processed food in the U.S. contain GMOs.
Look for the Non-GMO Project seal on products
The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization committed to providing consumers with clearly labeled and independently verified non-GMO choices. Projects that carry the Non-GMO Project seal are independently tested for GMOs.
Visit nongmoproject.org to learn more.