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.
- 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
- 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
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
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.