Believe in making informed choices about the food you put on your table? This October is Non-GMO Month, a campaign to protect your right to know whether or not what you’re eating contains genetically modified ingredients.
What does GMO mean?
Humans have been tinkering with the plants we eat for thousands of years. It’s how the foods you love made it on to your table, from corn and tomatoes to wheat and kohlrabi.
Genetic engineering is different. While the technology can serve as a way to shortcut the time-consuming process of traditional cross-breeding, it also breaks down barriers in ways that nature never could. GMOs can contain genes from not just other species of plant that would never naturally cross-breed, but animals, bacteria or viruses.
Supporters of genetic modification argue that GMO crops increase yields and reduce the use of pesticides, making them an important weapon in the battle against world hunger. But many consumers remain concerned about the potential risks GMOs pose to our health and our environment.
Why should we care about GMOs?
Though there is not yet any evidence that the GMOs released so far pose a risk to human health, plants are living things that continue to change and evolve long after they’re released into the environment. That means the plant you tested might not be quite the same a few years down the road. The science of genetic engineering also means that each GMO is totally different than those which came before, and could therefore pose a new risk.
This might not be so scary if there was a stringent process for assessing those risks and making sure GMOs are safe before being released into the environment, but right now there’s no FDA testing for genetically modified foods. Despite that, over 60 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves in the U.S. contain genetically modified ingredients like soy, corn, or canola – which means you’ve likely been eating GMOs for years without even knowing it.
It’s not only our health that’s potentially at risk. It’s also our planet. Many GMOs are engineered with pesticide-resistant genes, which increases the use of herbicides. That means more chemicals dumped into our soil. Others are developed to be naturally antibiotic, which potentially increases the risk for frightening “superbugs” to evolve. These insects or diseases resistant to the immunities engineered into these crops could wreak havoc with the world’s food supply.
A way forward.
Many families might look at these risk factors and choose to steer clear of GMO foods. But right now, there’s no legal requirement for food producers to label products with GMO ingredients. Twenty-five states are currently working on laws that would ensure GMO foods are properly labeled, including New Hampshire, but so far only Vermont has succeeded – and is being sued by packaged food industry groups.
Support the fight for labeling in New Hampshire by visiting NHRightToKnowGMO.org. In the meantime, avoid processed snacks, cereals and meals, which often contain GMO corn or soy. For a list of confirmed GMO-free options, see the Non-GMO Project’s list of Verified Products. As often as possible, opt for fresh local produce and whole foods. Organic farmers refuse to grow GMO crops, using sustainable approaches to controlling weeds and fighting diseases. By feeding your yourself and your family locally and organically, you’ll be making a better choice for both your health and the environment.