Huffpost Healthy Living
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Tana Amen Headshot

Frankenfoods: Do Americans Have a Right to Know What They're Eating?

Posted: Updated:

According to Yahoo Finance, "Sixty-four countries around the world, including Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Russia and European Union member states, have significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs." Yet in the U.S., there's fiery controversy about whether these frankenfoods should even be labeled, so consumers can tell what they're eating.

Last month, bipartisan legislation called the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act was introduced in both houses of Congress to require the FDA to clearly label GE foods. Its 22 sponsors in the Senate say that we shouldn't have to play a guessing game about what's on our dinner plate, especially if it might come from a science lab, and moms are entitled to make informed choices about what they feed their kids.

A $46 Million GE Food Fight

But even though 93 percent of Americans support such labeling, its proponents are facing a bruising food fight, given that the biotech and food industries have spent massive amounts of money to combat earlier GMO-labeling proposals. For example, California's Proposition 37 was narrowly defeated last year after such companies as Monsanto, Pepsico, and Kraft poured $46 million into lobbying against it, according to Maplight Voter's Edge.

All this raises a $46 million question: Why is agribusiness so determined to keep us in the dark about what's on our dinner plate or our kids' lunchboxes?

In a recent email to The Huffington Post, a spokeswoman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization reportedly contended, "Unfortunately, advocates of mandatory 'GMO labeling' are working an agenda to vilify biotechnology and scare consumers away from safe and healthful food products."

Is Genetically Modified Food Dangerous?

Many scientists and doctors, however, have raised alarming concerns. Based on several animal studies, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) warns that the risks of eating GM food may include "infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system."

The AAEM also warns that multiple animal studies have linked GE foods to specific disease processes, including immune system reactions associated with asthma, allergy and inflammation. Researchers have also reported intestinal damage in animals fed GM food, "including proliferative cell growth and disruption of the intestinal immune system," the AAEM report adds.

To date, no clinical trials have been conducted to find out how GE food affects people. On its website, Monsanto argues that "it is impossible to design a long-term safety test in humans, which would require, for example, intake of large amounts of a particular GM product over a very large portion of the human life span. There is simply no practical way to learn anything via human studies of whole foods."

Getting Fatter on a GE Diet

New research also suggests that GMOs may be contributing the obesity epidemic. As part of a long-term international study, Norwegian researchers fed one group of rats corn that had been genetically engineered for pest resistance, ScienceNordic reports. After 90 days, these animals were fatter than a control group that ate non-GE corn. The same thing happened when rats ate fish that in turn, had consumed GE corn.

The scientists then repeated the experiment with salmon and found that while those on a GE diet appeared healthy, they were bigger and ate more. They were also less able to digest proteins and showed intestinal and immune-system changes not found in the non-GM-fed fish. Subtle changes were also detected in other organs, including the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and reproductive organs.

The study also made another extremely disturbing discovery. "A frequent claim has been that new genes introduced in GM food are harmless since all genes are broken up in the intestines," researcher Åshild Krogdahl of the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science said, according to the Cornucopia Institute. "But our findings show that genes can be transferred through the intestinal wall into the blood; they have been found in blood, muscle tissue and liver in sufficiently large segments to be identified."

Are You Eating GE Food?

Currently, 75 percent of the processed foods on supermarket shelves contain GE ingredients, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) reports. Up to 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered, along with 91 percent of soybeans and 88 percent of cotton (cottonseed oil is used in many food products). The most common GE food is high-fructose corn syrup, found in hundreds of foods -- from breakfast cereals and soda to baked goods and even baby food.

If your family uses cereal, cookies, bread, margarine, frozen yogurt, crackers, hot dogs, mayonnaise, veggie burgers, baby formula -- or anything that contains corn or soy -- you probably have GMOs in your pantry and fridge right now, according to The Institute for Responsible Technology.

What's more, even though 91 percent of Americans oppose genetically engineered fish and meat, the world's first "transgenic animal" could be coming to a grocery store near you later this year. The FDA is on the verge of approving AquaAdvantage genetically modified salmon as safe for human consumption, with no decision yet about labeling.

Potatoes With Bacteria Genes

Unlike natural breeding methods used for thousands of years, GMOs are created by inserting DNA from another organism -- usually a totally different species -- into a plant or animal. In one example of these Frankenstein-like creations, an artificial combination of genes was used to develop corn that produces a pesticide called Bt toxin, AAEM reports.

Another type of GM corn, developed by researchers at Monsanto and Devegen, shuts off a gene required for energy production in corn rootworms, killing them in 12 days, according to MIT Technology Review. Other scary-sounding creations of the biotech industry -- not all of which are currently on the market -- include "potatoes with bacteria genes, 'super' pigs with human growth genes, fish with cattle growth genes, tomatoes with flounder genes, corn with bacteria genes, and thousands of other altered and engineered plants, animals and insects," according to the CFS.

If you're concerned about the potential risks of feeding your family food that might be laced with pesticides, bacterial DNA, a gene that's rapidly fatal to insects, or other stealth GE ingredients, I suggest the following precautions in my new book, The Omni Diet.

  • Limit your exposure to processed foods. Not only will you avoid GMOs, but you'll also cut down on potentially harmful chemical additives, salt and sugar.
  • Go organic. Not only are these products pesticide-free, but they also have strict production and labeling requirements that prohibit GE ingredients.
  • Look for the Non-GMO Project seal. Foods labeled with the "Non-GMO Project Verified" seal have been checked for risky ingredients by North America's only independent verification for GMO avoidance: the Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit that requires testing of all ingredients.
  • Buy locally-grown produce. Most GE food comes from large, industrial farms. By shopping at farmer's markets or a local food co-op, you can avoid GMOs and possibly save money.
  • Avoid high-risk ingredients. These include corn, soybeans, canola, cottonseed, sugar beets, and Hawaiian papaya. The Non-GMO Project has a free shopping app for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad that's searchable by brand name and product type.
  • Grow your own food. Planting a vegetable garden is fun for the entire family, and a great way to know exactly what you're eating.

For more tips on how to select the healthiest foods, become a conscious shopper, and for delicious recipes you can make today, check out my website. While you're there, sign up for my newsletter by clicking on the link in the upper right hand corner, and I'll send you tips every week that will support your new healthy lifestyle.

For more by Tana Amen, click here.

For more healthy living health news, click here.

From Our Partners