By Lisa Gosselin, Editorial Director, EatingWell Magazine
Do you have any idea how much of what you eat each day has been made from genetically modified organisms? Though I try to eat organic, like most Americans I’ve been consuming genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified (GMO) foods for the past 15 years.
It’s hard not to: 70 percent of our corn farmland and 93 percent of soy farmland are planted with crops genetically engineered to resist pests and herbicides and increase crop yields. And in the next few years new science may provide genetically modified apples that don’t turn brown, rice that helps build up vitamin A, even an “Enviropig” which produces less phosphorus in its manure. Find out more about the latest news on these and more common genetically modified foods including tomatoes, canola and sugar beets.
And as early as 2012, you may be able to buy a GE super salmon that grows to maturity in just two years. As John McQuaid writes in his special report, “The Future of Food,” in the March/April issue of EatingWell Magazine, “As science. this is pretty cool.”
The science geek in me is intrigued by these new foods and wants to believe they will improve the world. Theoretically, genetically modified crops will allow us to feed more people more nutritious food, using less land and fewer pesticides or herbicides.
The health freak in me is encouraged by the fact that to date there has been no widely accepted scientific link between genetically modified foods and human health problems.
And the nature lover in me is cautiously optimistic: I’d like to think that genetically modified salmon, farmed in inland pens, might alleviate pressure on depleted wild stocks from both overfishing and the diseases currently being spread by salmon farms.
But that’s assuming all goes right. And that the businesses that own the rights to these projects act responsibly, keeping the health of both humans and environment in mind, and that there’s no harm done to organic farms or traditional fishing practices. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Last year a judge put a ban on planting genetically modified sugar beets, which a lawsuit brought by the Center for Food Safety and the Sierra Club claims can contaminate organic crops. That decision was reversed this past March. Now organic farmers are concerned that genetically engineered sugar beets as well as the new genetically modified alfalfa (approved, or ‘deregulated’) this past spring are going to contaminate non-genetically modified crops. And over the past few months rice farmers in five states have been reaching settlements with Bayer CropScience over an incident in 2006 when plots of Bayer’s experimental genetically modified rice contaminated their crops.
I am all for science and believe the mistakes or misconduct of some companies should not damn or disrupt all research, but they should make us pause and consider the potential long-term impacts. They should make us think more carefully about where our food comes from and how it is produced.
And consumers should have the right to know whether what they are eating has been genetically engineered or modified. At present, there are no laws requiring labeling, but there are three ways to know that your food is not genetically modified:
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Buy Organic: The “USDA certified organic” label is a guarantee the food you buy was grown or made without any genetic modification to its ingredients.
Look for the Non-GMO Label: This relatively new label is gaining in popularity (it’s now on more than 900 products, including much of Whole Foods’s 365 Everyday Value brand) and comes with a certification that the product is GMO-free, but not necessarily organic.
Choose rBST- or rBGH-Free Milk: Though cows are not (yet) genetically engineered, many are being injected with a genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) or recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) to boost milk production.
By Lisa Gosselin
Lisa Gosselin is the editorial director of EatingWell Media Group, publisher of the award-winning EatingWell Magazine, books such as EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners and EatingWell in Season: The Farmers' Market Cookbook, EatingWell.com and EatingWell Custom Publishing. She lives in Vermont, near EatingWell's headquarters and Test Kitchen.
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