30 Jun Why Should We Be Concerned with the Rise of Genetic Modification in our Food?
It is especially tricky to debate the safety of genetically modified food on the human body, as it is so new we don’t really know the long-term impact; but there is very serious contention around GM, and that alone deserves our attention. The environmental damage caused by genetic modification is pretty clear however, and you have a right to know what is going on.
What we know about the effects of GM food on human health:
1. The European Union has banned GMOs, as have Australia, Japan, the UK and two dozen other countries that recognise that a lack of long term studies and testing may be hiding disastrous health defects. So if countries are banning GMOs, then I think it’s not unreasonable for households in South Africa to follow suit.
2. When trans-fats were first introduced companies could not move fast enough to get them into your shopping bags and it is only decades later that this once novel food has been proven to be extremely unhealthy. Many scientists are worried that the genetically altered foods, once consumed, may pass on their mutant genes to bacterium in the digestive system. How these new strains of bacteria may affect our body systems’ balance is anybody’s guess. The thing is that there is a lot of “smoke” and when profits are involved I get concerned with the information being given. Think about the fact that it took 50 years of court battles for the Tobacco industry to admit that smoking could cause lung cancer…
3. When genes are more diverse, they are more robust; this is why a pure-bred dog tends to have more health problems than the dear old mutt. Plants with reduced genetic diversity cannot handle drought, fungal invasions or insects nearly as well as natural plants, which could have dire consequences for farmers and communities depending on GMO crops for survival.
4. Genetically modified foods have not been proven to be safe. Whilst there are studies being done to prove that they are safe, so too are there studies showing that they can have severe health affects, especially in giving rise to tumors. There are signs along with these studies that all is not well. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) urges doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients. They cite animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. Human studies show how genetically modified (GM) food can leave material behind inside us, possibly causing long-term problems.
5. The pesticides used on genetically modified food are also showing up in studies to be harmful. Research from Canada (the first of its kind) has successfully identified the presence of pesticides associated with genetically modified foods, in maternal, fetal and non-pregnant women’s blood. They also found the presence of Monsanto’s Bt toxin. The study was published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology in 2011.
6. Although inconclusive, there are studies and concerns about the increase in Celiac disease with the rise in GM food. The Institute for Responsible Technology is a world leader in educating policy-makers and the public about GMO foods and crops; a recent study of theirs links GM foods to five conditions that may either trigger or exacerbate gluten-related disorders, including the autoimmune disorder known as Celiac disease.
The Facts about the Damage by GM Policy & Crops to Our Environment:
1. More GM Crops = More Pesticides
Pesticides are being used to control GM crops. The good thing about designing a plant with an insecticide gene is it eliminates a lot of unwanted bugs. The downside is that only the strongest insects survive, resulting in a new class of superbugs resistant to both the crops’ implanted toxins and spray-on chemicals. As a result, farmers are forced to use even more chemicals to combat these superweeds. According to the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe, GM crops cause herbicide use to increase 25% per year. What sometimes confuses people and the data, however, is that farmers may actually experience a lower need for chemicals in the first few years of growing a GM crop. Yet, once the pests and weeds develop immunity, farmers have little choice except to spray ever-increasing amounts of herbicides and pesticides – raising their own operating costs and pollution levels.
2. We Can’t Live without the Bees & Butterflies, BUT we Can Live without GMs
One of the advertised benefits of GM foods is they are pest and weedkiller resistant, which supposedly leads to greater crop yields. Unfortunately, the method GMO companies use to pest-proof their crops is also suspected to kill vital beneficial bugs, like bees and butterflies. The thing is that if we don’t have bees, we don’t have food. Insect pollination supports one-third of food crops (with honeybees responsible for 80% of that number). Thus, instead of solving food shortage problems, GM foods may actually make things much, much worse.
3. GM Regulations are making Life Difficult for Private Organic Farmers
The farming process is a fundamentally simple cycle: Farmers plant the seeds, grow the crops, harvest these crops, and then gather seeds from their crops to plant the following season. However, GMO companies like Monsanto are depriving farmers of this last crucial step; then they raise expenses even further, forcing the farmers to continually buy the premium-priced GM seeds with every new season. In fact, the Bowman v. Monsanto court case revealed that US farmers growing Monsanto crops are not legally allowed to harvest the seeds for later use. This case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and despite the public outcry around it, the 70-year-old farmer who had purchased and used second-generation Monsanto seeds was unanimously deemed guilty of patent infringement. By preventing farmers from harvesting seeds like this, big GM corporations like Monsanto could eventually take total control of the world’s seed supply and prices. Right now, over half the world’s seed market is controlled by just 3 major companies; and of course this has caused prices to skyrocket. (For example, the average cost of planting an acre of soybeans has risen by a mind-boggling 325% since 1995!)
4. Once We Go GM, We Go GM for Life!
One of the major problems with GM crops is they are difficult to contain, which means they are nearly impossible to get rid of. This works well if you own the GM seeds and can sue neighbouring farmers for using them or selling them – which is exactly what Monsanto has done to canola farmers. Complicating matters further, farmers often buy “commodity” bags of seeds that come from a mishmash of sources – including GMO farms. So, if a farmer plants a Monsanto seed that was randomly mixed in with the rest of the bag, and later harvests more seeds from the plant, he can be sued for not paying royalties to the GMO giant. This is exactly what happened to Vernon Bowman in the Bowman v. Monsanto case. Monsanto are a clever bunch are they not?
5. Biodiversity is the Essence of Life
Industrial farming is detrimental to biodiversity; big agricultural businesses clear the land of all native plants, to focus on producing only 1 single type of crop. And GM farming methods make things even worse, because all the plants within the species of crops they grow come from 1 modified source plant; simply put, they’re genetically identical. These unvaried crops are particularly vulnerable to damage by climate change, diseases and pests. That means a major threat to our food source – the very thing that GM companies insist their methods are designed to protect us from. And GM doesn’t just affect plant biodiversity; as we mentioned, beneficial insects like bees and butterflies are already being harmed, while harsh herbicides are causing population declines in amphibians, birds, marine ecosystems AND beneficial soil organisms.
6. GMOs do NOT Increase Yields; they Work Against Feeding a Hungry World
Whereas sustainable non-GMO agricultural methods used in developing countries have conclusively resulted in yield increases of 79% and higher, GMOs do not, on average, increase yields at all. This was evident in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2009 report Failure to Yield ― the definitive study to date on GM crops and yield. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, authored by more than 400 scientists and backed by 58 governments, stated that GM crop yields were “highly variable” and in some cases, “yields declined.” The report noted, “Assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable.” They determined that the current GMOs have nothing to offer the goals of reducing hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods, and facilitating social and environmental sustainability. On the contrary, GMOs divert money and resources that would otherwise be spent on more safe, reliable, and appropriate technologies.
7. Government Oversight is Dangerously Lax
There is money to be made in the short-term by colluding with the large GM companies. Unfortunately our Government has one of the most lax policies and control towards GM crops in the world. South Africa is the only country in Africa which is commercially growing a staple food of its population – white maize – in a genetically modified form. South Africa is also one of only 7 developing countries worldwide which are growing genetically modified crops for commercial purposes. We import and export genetically modified maize as animal feed. Disturbingly, yellow maize has entered the human food chain in the form of cornflakes – a product that Zambia recently had burned because of possible GM contamination. Why is our Government not showing the same level of concern?
But, your voice can make a difference!
As consumers, we have the power to “vote with our feet” and stay away from GM brands. If even a few of us start rejecting brands that contain GM ingredients, they’ll become a marketing liability, and soon enough food companies will simply kick them out.
We can see a clear example of this in the European market; in 1999, a high-profile GM safety scandal started making headlines, and this was the tipping point that alerted enough consumers to reject GMOs. In the US, consumers started boycotting GM bovine growth hormone, and now major companies like Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Dannon, Yoplait and many major America dairies have banned the use of the drug in their products.
So What Are Faithful to Nature Doing About GMOs?
Because there is currently only 1 GMO certification body in the world (The Non-GMO project in the USA), we can unfortunately not guarantee that our products are absolutely GMO-free, because very few of them are certified as GMO free; very few in the world are. (This is why it is so important to sign petitions and do what you can to put pressure on the Government for better GMO labelling on all products).
However, you can expect the following from all products sold on Faithful-to-Nature.co.za:
We do not sell any products that we suspect or are aware contain GMO ingredients and if information ever comes to light that the product may be compromised in this way – we will remove the product immediately. We do not support the use of GMOs and will always strive to be at the forefront of how to best manage the infiltration of GMOs into our products.
PLEASE NOTE: Any product labelled as Non-GMO indicates that its manufacturing process is designed to avoid GMOs, but consumers should be aware that GM contamination is possible due to natural pollen movement, weather events, seed contamination, or human error. Hence there is no guarantee such products are 100% free of GMOs.
We can also share the following guidelines with you on avoiding potentially GMO contaminated products:
- If a product is certified organic by any EU or US body, you can be sure of there being less than 0.9% GMO in the product. (The 0.9% exists because trace elements of GMO can be found everywhere due to natural causes like the wind and rain contamination.) This is for instance how all the Good Life Organic products claim to be GMO-free – because they are certified by EU standards.
- Certified organic products are not allowed to contain any GMOs. Therefore, when you purchase products labelled “100% organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic ingredients,” all ingredients in these products are not allowed to be produced from GMOs. For example, products labelled as “made with organic ingredients” only require 70% of the ingredients to be organic, but 100% must be non-GMO.
- Companies may voluntarily label products as “non-GMO.” Some labels state “non-GMO” while others spell out “Made Without Genetically Modified Ingredients.” Some products limit their claim to only one particular “At-Risk” ingredient such as soy lecithin, listing it as “non-GMO.” For instance, Health Connection has begun labelling their products that contain GMOs and we will ensure that we do not sell these.
Most GM ingredients are in products made from the “Big Four:” corn, soybeans, canola, and cottonseed. Here is a list of high-risk GMO ingredients to avoid – some of these are found in our products, and you can see which products contain them by typing the ingredient into the search bar:
- Corn: (Also labelled as corn flour, corn meal, corn oil, corn starch, corn gluten, corn syrup.) Can also be found in sweeteners such as fructose, dextrose and glucose, and in modified food starch. NOTE: The corn-based product most difficult to avoid is high fructose corn syrup. It is included in a large percentage of processed foods and baked goods, not to mention soda. Any food label with “corn” anything on it should be avoided unless it states it is 100% organic. Popcorn is an exception, as there is currently no genetically engineered popcorn on the market. Do avoid the kind with artificial butter flavor however, as the flavoring is likely to have genetically modified food in it. If you like, melt a little real butter (or coconut oil!) to sprinkle on your plain popcorn.
- Soy: (Also labelled as soy flour, lecithin, protein, isolate, isoflavone.) Some of these soy-based ingredients can be found in products of ours that are NOT 100% certified organic, and whilst we don’t believe that they contain any GMOs, as then we would not sell them, we cannot guarantee it. So avoid these products if you would prefer, by keeping an eye out for the ingredients on our ingredient list, or typing the ingredients into our search bar. Also ensure that soy-based products such as tofu, soy milk, edamame and the like carry a food label stating they are organic, to be sure they don’t include GM foods.
- Canola: (Also labelled as canola oil or rapeseed oil.) Canola oil, made from the rapeseed plant, comes almost certainly from genetically engineered crops, unless the item comes from the EU, where no genetically modified crops of rapeseed exist. It is used extensively as cooking oil and in margarine; but it’s not a healthy oil, due to its high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, and because, like other polyunsaturated fats, it goes rancid easily when heated.
- Cotton: (Also labelled as cottonseed oil.) Cottonseed oil is a primary ingredient in shortening, vegetable oil and margarine, none of which are healthy fats. It is also used extensively in processed foods such as potato chips and other fried snack foods.
- Dairy: To boost milk production, some farmers inject cows with the genetically engineered hormone rBGH or rBST. They also may be fed genetically modified food in the form of feed and hay unless the product specifically states that it is organic. Look for products that advertise themselves as rBGH- or rBST-free.
- Sugar beets: There is no way of knowing if a product labelled as containing “sugar” comes from only sugar cane, or if it also includes sugar derived from beets, as labelling is not required. To avoid beet sugar, look for products labelled as being made with evaporated cane sugar, 100% cane sugar, organic sugar, agave or coconut blossom sugar. Additionally, GM sugarbeet sugar recently entered the food supply. Look for organic and non-GMO sweeteners, candy and chocolate products made with 100% cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, agave or organic sugar, to avoid GM beet sugar.
- Avoid sweeteners that use aspartame: Aspartame is derived from genetically modified microorganisms and is the sweetener used in products such as NutraSweet® and Equal®. Artificial sweeteners in general are worse for your health than sugar and should be avoided whenever possible.
- Buy fruit juices that are 100% juice: Most fruit juices, apart from papaya, are not from GM foods, but the sweetener used in many fruit juices (and sodas as well) is high-fructose corn syrup, which is almost certainly from genetically modified corn.
- Animal-based products: We would suggest you keep your intake of these to a minimum and only support local organic farms that you yourself can verify and at best confirm by a visit, that the animals are not fed any nasties.
You may find the following information useful:
- We are in constant communication with our food suppliers around the use of GMO in their products and all of them maintain adamantly to not support this use of GMOs – as you would expect.
- Orgran have a process whereby they manage that all ingredients used are GMO-free.
- Health Connection has begun labelling their products that contain GMOs and we will ensure that we do not sell these.