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Jan 27

Oils and GMO: GM-NO!

It’s become a bit of an invasive term these days: GMO. It seems to appear everywhere and it places it wasn’t found before: cooking shows, mainstream magazines, daily news broadcasts. What is a GMO as it pertains to food? Should it concern you? How can it influence a healthy diet? I just had to know…so I researched until my curiosity was satisfied and now I will share what I’ve discovered with you!

This exploration was a bit of a horror movie. As frightening details and pictures emerged, I found myself peeking through my fingers as I clicked on links and saying things like “no…way…they can’t…omg they did.”. Here are the quick and filthy facts:

  • GMO stands for “genetically modified organism”. This is an organism of any sort that has had it’s genetic material altered in some way through the introduction of DNA molecules from another organism. DNA is responsible for many of the characteristics in an organism, so by introducing new DNA, these characteristics can be altered. Since the late-1990s, this practice has become common for many farmed plants species.
  • Why are GMOs desired? Let’s look at this from the perspective of a farmer. The battle against weeds and various insect pests is ongoing, time-consuming, and often futile. Pesticides and fungicides are often applied to prevent infestations and allow the desired crop to grow strong and healthy. Previously, pesticides had to either be painstakingly applied, avoiding the crop and targeting weeds only, or applied across the board to all plants, but often with devastating effects on both the desired crop and the weeds. Enter GMOs. They seemed the perfect solution—and for this purpose they are. The practice of genetic modification allows for the insertion of DNA into crop plants that is resistant to specific pesticides. That means the pesticide can be sprayed on both the genetically modifed crop, without any negative results, and on the weeds, with devastating results. Crop plants grow big and strong while weeds die off, allowing farmers to spend less time selectively spraying crops and reducing the crops lost to an overgrowth of weeds or pest infestations.
  • Ok, so great! What’s wrong with that? More food for everyone…right? Well, yes…in a way. More food indeed, but at what cost? Unfortunately, new research is indicating that genetically modified plants can have detrimental effects on our health (see list of relevant references, below). For example, GMOs also alter the bacteria in our digestive tracts, allowing genetically modified DNA to be constantly reproduced by those bacteria. Genetically altered DNA travels through the intestinal wall into organ cells, causing detrimental changes to those organs. Further, many of these effects are unknown because consumption of genetically modified plants hasn’t been happening for long enough for the long-term health effects to be properly studied.
  • What’s next? GM crops are now being created to provide “healthier alternatives” to non-GM crops. One example of this is soybean oil, which is now being produced with soybeans higher in healthy monounsaturated fats. As you know if you follow this blog (http://illumineat.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/why-oil-part-two-oil-belongs-in-a-healthy-diet/), monounsaturated fats are fantastic for your health, however it’s important to remember that there are many non-GM plants (and oils) that you can consume to get the benefits of heathy fats. Currently, the most common GM oils are canola, corn, and soybean. Try consuming olive, flaxseed, and hemp oils cold over salad, or mixed into any cooked grain dish, and coconut oil is one of the healthiest cooking oils available!
  • Why isn’t the government doing more to protect us? Yes, that is the question isn’t it? And like many complicated questions, there are many answers. European governments require GMO food items to be labelled as such, which at least allows the consumer to know what they are buying and many hope the Canada and the US follow suite. However, according to Wikileaks, some governments may actually be pushing for GMO crops. Others state that companies like Monsanto, who provide many genetically modified seeds, have close ties with the government.
  • So what can you do? Be vigilant in your research if you want to avoid GM foods…corn oil is particularly difficult to avoid, but in Canada and the US companies are not allowed to label their foods 100% “organic” if they contain genetically modified ingredients, so always buy organic, when buying items containing, soy, corn, and canola.
  • For more information, be sure to check out the illuminating documentary by Jeffrey Smith “Seeds of Deception”. Not for the faint of heart, but, in this as in everything, knowledge is power.

Some things to keep in mind… The top most commonly genetically modified foods, apart from corn, soy, and canola oil, are potato, tomato, cottonseed il, sugar beets, salmon, zucchini, papaya, raddichio, and squash. Also keep in mind that cows, pigs, chicken, and sheep are often fed corn or soy, meaning that meat from these animals contains genetically modified DNA. Another reason to go organic!

 

References

1. Netherwood et al, “Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract,” Nature Biotechnology 22 (2004): 2.

2. Ricarda A. Steinbrecher and Jonathan R. Latham, “Horizontal gene transfer from GM crops to unrelated organisms,” GM Science Review Meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh on “GM Gene Flow: Scale and Consequences for Agriculture and the Environment,” January 27, 2003

3. Netherwood et al, “Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract,” Nature Biotechnology 22 (2004): 2.

4. http://gmo-journal.com/index.php/2010/06/18/next-generation-gm-soybeans-from-dupont/

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