There’s a worldwide conversation going on about genetically-modified foods (GMO) so the Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center asked Betty Murray, a certified nutritionist, author, speaker, Executive Director of the Functional Medicine Association of North Texas and founder of Living Well Dallas, to serve as the keynote speaker at the Virginia R. Cvetko Healing Environment Workshop on April 5. Here are her answers to some commonly asked questions about GMO’s.
What are GMOs?
Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are foods that have had their genetics altered to meet needs such as shelf life, bacteria resistance or ability to grow in harsh scenarios.
Where did GMOs come from?
Efforts were made to start producing foods at a faster rate and much lower cost than it would take to grow them organically.
In only five short years, nearly 100 million acres worldwide housed genetically-engineered seeds for human and animal consumption, only later to find that pests and bugs had adapted to the pesticides in the plants and have become resistant to the genetically-engineered toxins.
What has happened since?
To keep up with the quickly adapting pests, different combinations of toxins and pesticides were introduced into genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), and had some far-reaching implications in the human household, according to a study by the Institute for Responsible Technology.
“The goal is to have a higher yield, that means more food per square foot, and at a cheaper cost. But that’s not what’s actually happening. They’re having to spray more pesticides than they thought they would initially have to,” says Murray.
As food became cheaper to make and house, because of genetic alterations that made them more capable of growing in dire circumstances, food became more sought after—cheap food, that is.
According to Mother Jones, a nonprofit news organization that specializes in investigative, political, and social justice reporting, America spends less on food than any other country in the world.
As shocking as it is, research done by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a philanthropic organization focusing on global poverty, agriculture, health and education started by the former CEO and chairman of Microsoft, Americans spend roughly six percent of their total income on food in contrast to the United Kingdom, France, South Africa, Brazil, India and Kenya, Americans spend roughly six percent of their total income on food.
This is startling when you see that the average Kenyan spends nearly 45 percent of their total income on food. The embedded graphic below is from the Gates Foundation and can be found here.
Since there are no human clinical trials for genetically-modified foods (stated by Monsanto here) unlike the safety evaluations for drugs, some unpredictable side effects could emerge.
In the same time that genetically-modified foods became readily available, there have been some strong indications between a rise in certain illnesses, diseases, and cancers.
According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, some life-threatening food allergies could have emerged right around the same time as the widespread introduction of GMOs.
“The numbers suggest that GMOs didn’t hit the market until the late 1990s. In that same span of time, we saw an explosive growth of allergies,” says Murray.
Food allergies are triggered by the proteins inside these particular foods. For example, the proteins in peanuts are what trigger a peanut allergy response.
“Now, we’ve begun making new proteins that have never existed on this planet before,” says Murray.
When seeds are genetically modified, they are injected with bacteria-resistant DNA haphazardly and without unwinding the DNA strand. When this process is done to a variety of seeds, the reactions of the seeds can be different, according to Murray.
Are foods with GMOs labeled?
Because of the changes in labeling, some of the terms aren’t as clear as they appear to be. The term natural might be the most misleading of them all.
According to the Natural Products Association (NPA), the creator of the guidelines and certifications for natural labeling, a product must contain 100 percent natural ingredients and be safe and free of ingredients with any suspected human health risks. The term natural doesn’t exclude GMOs.
“Organic on the other hand, by nature of the term, means purchasing foods that are not GMOs,” says Murray.
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