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Genetically Modified Foods: 4 Reasons to Celebrate Non-GMO Month

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Did you know that October is the first official Non-GMO Month? This month, retail stores nationwide will celebrate the consumer's right to be informed of foods and products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

What exactly are GMOs again?

GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms, are products of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE), which creates new combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes by combining DNA from one species with DNA from another. The result: new organisms that do not occur in nature.

GMOs are often not labeled as such. In many developed nations, GMO products are heavily restricted or banned altogether because they have yet to be proven safe for people's health and the health of the environment. However, in the U.S. there is a dearth of public awareness of the potentially harmful repercussions of GMO products.

To honor Non-GMO Month, the Non-GMO Project is launching the "Non-GMO Project Verified" seal, which will help consumers make knowledgeable food choices. To earn this seal, food manufacturers will be required to follow rigorous standards and undergo extensive testing. To date, nearly 900 products have been verified and more than 580 natural food stores nationwide, including Whole Foods Market, will participate in Non-GMO Month.

In addition to celebrating the new "Non-GMO Project Verified" seal, here are four more reasons why you should celebrate Non-GMO Month this October and empower yourself to make the right decisions for you and your family.

1. Human Health

Currently, seed companies prohibit independent research with their products, leaving very little empirical data available. Therefore, there are many unanswered questions regarding the potential harm of GMO consumption, including side effects, toxicity, allergies and long-term health consequences.

2. Environmental and Animal Health

Genetically engineered crops can cause a variety of destructive problems on the surrounding environment. Farmers who use GMO crops can spray their fields to kill everything growing in the area except the specific GMO food crop. The increased use of pesticides and herbicides often leads to superweeds, which then become resistant to the same pesticides, creating the need for stronger, more toxic pesticides (that can leach into our food and water sources!). We don't have a way of predicting the effect that using GMOs can have on the ecosystem as a whole.

3. Moral and Ethical Concerns

Some people question whether genetically altered crops and species threaten and violate the natural order of an environment. Also, genetic modification may involve the creation of foods that are prohibited by certain groups (e.g., the use of animal genes may conflict with some religions, as well as the diets of vegetarians and vegans).

Some GMO companies offer GMO foods as a solution to world hunger and nutritional deficiencies, arguing that genetically modified products are more readily available. However, none of the GMO products currently on the market offer enhanced nutrition, drought-tolerance or any other consumer benefit. In fact, GMOs may add to food problems in developing countries by increasing dependency on the patented and privatized GMO manufacturers. Traditional farmers in these countries cannot compete with the cheaper prices and higher production rate of GMOs damaging individual and community livelihood.

4. Labeling Concerns

Whether you decide to limit or restrict your consumption of GMO products, the right to know what is in our food is important. Research has shown that many Americans would choose not to have GMO products if aware and given the choice. According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 87 percent of people believe GMO foods should be labeled, regardless of whether they were willing to consume those products.

When shopping for food, it's a valuable practice to stop and ask yourself the basic question: Where does it all come from? It's time for us to be food detectives.

Here are a few ways you may be able to consume fewer GMO products:

  • Buy produce and other food items from farmers' markets.
  • Start conversations with the people selling your food to get more information.
  • Grow your own food in a garden at home or join a community garden.
  • Join a corporate garden or co-op to know where items are coming from.

Non-GMO Month is being celebrated this October (the official day was Oct. 10). Let's all become more aware of the products and foods that may contain GMOs and, as consumers, make the most informed decisions.

To help you choose the right foods, check out the Non-GMO Project's iPhone App Shopping Guide and the Non-GMO Shopping Guide.

Joshua Rosenthal is the founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the largest nutrition school in the world, offering online nutrition education.

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