Are GMOs Healthy? – 80 Twenty Nutrition

Are GMOs Healthy?

GMO labelling on corn chips Photo credit: Luke P, Woods on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/woodslp/99081573/
GMO labelling on corn chips
Photo credit: Luke P. Woods on Flickr

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food supply are a hot topic in the news and are something my clients and their families ask about often. I was recently interviewed by the CBC about whether consumers should be worried about these foods from a nutrition point of view. You can read the article here. 

The short answer is that GMOs are just as nutritious (or sometimes engineered to be even more nutritious) compared to non-GMO foods. They are also considered to be safe according to Health Canada. That being said, there are other issues I am concerned about. Read on for the nitty-gritty:

WHAT ARE GMOS?

  • A GMO is a plant or animal that has had its genes changed or has genes from another plant or animal added to it. This is different than the type of crossbreeding that happens in nature because GMOs are made in a laboratory.
  • Health Canada reviews and approves genetically modified foods before they can be sold in Canada
  • Since 1994 over 81 GMO foods have been approved in Canada but only a few are actually sold. These include corn, soy, canola and sugar beets. Other GM foods are imported into Canada.
  • GM foods don’t have to be labeled in Canada or most of the US, but they are in Europe. Read about the recent battles to pass bills in Washington and Hawaii requiring labelling of GMO foods.

Pros

Drought-resistant maize developed for Tanzania. Photo credit: CIMMYT on Flickr.
Drought-resistant maize developed for Tanzania.
Photo credit: CIMMYT on Flickr.
  • Genetically modifying crops increases their resistance to pests, plant diseases, cold and drought and allows scientists to select which herbicides they are resistant to. This can help improve crop yields, which supporters believe will help us feed the growing world population
  • Some GMOs have been created so that produce will ripen slower/bruise less easily during shipping (although food that travels long distances will lose nutrients on its journey)
  • GM also used to maximize nutrients in a crop. For example, a strain of “golden rice” high in vitamin A was created to address blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency, a common problem in developing countries

Cons

Organic, local heirloom tomatoes showcase the wide genetic variety found in nature.
Photo credit: Austin & Zak on Flickr
  • Allergies: it is possible that adding new genes to a food could cause allergic reactions or may even create new allergens
  • Because GMOs have only been sold in Canada for a relatively short time (since 1994), there are no studies of their long-term effects on human health
  • GM seeds are patented which may increase seed prices making these crops too expensive for small farms and developing countries
  • Insects might develop resistance to GM crops, making pesticides less effective
  • Cross-contamination to other fields and crops
  • Some scientists believe variety of foods available to us may decrease as more farmers choose GM crops to increase their yields

Tips

If you are concerned about GM foods, here are a few tips to help you limit them:

  • Choose organic when possible (organic foods are not genetically modified)
  • Avoid processed foods with corn and soy ingredients. Use maple syrup, honey or cane sugar to sweeten instead of granulated sugar (usually made from sugar beets, a common GMO).
  • Buy directly from farmers if possible (visit a farmer’s market near you)
  • Plant your own garden (ask for non-GMO seeds. Most seeds will not be)
  • Contact companies to find out if they use GMOs as ingredients
  • Smaller food companies sometimes choose to label their products as GMO-free
  • If consumers demand that GMO foods be labeled, the food industry will respond to meet this demand. Voice your opinion. Contact food companies, Health Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency with your concerns 

FINAL THOUGHTS

In my opinion, GMOs are an area in which we should proceed with caution. While it is an exciting technology, the long-term effects on the environment and human health have not yet been established.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/marisseay/5561693715/
Protest in Washington against unlabelled GMOs.
Photo credit: Mar is Sea Y on Flickr.

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  1. I enjoyed reading this. As you say, there is a lot of noise out there regarding GMOs – and a lot of it smells of blind panic. It is kind of unusual to read a balanced view on the subject. While clearly there is plenty of reason to be concerned, about GMOs, there is potential upside as well. Just because something has been genetically modified doesn’t mean it automatically becomes toxic. Thanks for this post.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Mike. Many people are concerned about GMOs and with good reason, but the plain truth is it’s too early to know the impact on our health. I always go back to choosing whole foods that are as close to what nature intended as possible.

  2. Nice article. Love that you included both the pros and cons about GMO’s – it’s a balanced post. I agree with focusing on whole foods and your tips for limiting GMO’s.

  3. It’s great that you highlighted the potential benefits of GMOs despite your criticisms. I feel the same way you do about them but it’s hard to find people who will discuss the topic without being an extremist. Great post!

  4. Really interesting. I appreciate you sharing both the PROS and the CONS 🙂