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GMOs… Are They Really Harmful To My Health?

Genetically modified organisms, GMOs, GM foods… terms we likely come across in any typical grocery store visit. These are also terms that can strike concern and even fear in the minds of the typical consumer.

But, could this be due to a lack of understanding about this biotechnology, or could GMOs actually be harmful to our health?

Let’s splice up the facts and see what we can unearth… 

GMOs: What Are They… Exactly?

What results in a genetically modified organism (GMO) is when the genetic material (DNA) of an organism (i.e. plant, animal or microorganism) has been altered in a manner that doesn’t occur through a natural reproductive process and/or natural recombination – in other words, its genes have been artificially manipulated. 

Around since the mid-1990’s, genetic engineering technology allows individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, but also between unrelated species. [1][4] 

There are several GM crops that are being used as food sources, and while in some instances the product is directly consumed, in most cases, GM crops are sold as commodities and are then further processed into food ingredients. [2]

However, more recently, GM animals have hit the market and are now approved for use as food. For example, a genetically engineered Atlantic salmon was released in Canada in 2017 and is now being sold to consumers. Apparently, it grows twice as fast as its non-GMO counterpart! [3]

Did you know? That 90% of all crops grown in Canada are genetically modified and an estimated 75 – 85% of the food available for sale has at least one GM ingredient. [4]

What’s the point of creating GMOs?

The World Health Organization (WHO) says, “GM foods are developed – and marketed – because there is some perceived advantage either to the producer or consumer of these foods. This is meant to translate into a product with a lower price, greater benefit (in terms of durability or nutritional value) or both.”

The Living Non-GMO Project says, “Most GMOs have been engineered to withstand the direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. However, new techniques (such as CRISPR, RNAi, ODM) are now being used to artificially develop other traits in plants, including resistance to browning in potatoes, and to create new organisms.”

While there are directly consumable crops like alfalfa, canola, corn, papaya, potato, soy, sugar beets and zucchini – the bulk of GMOs being produced are used to make animal feed or automobile fuel.  

However, when GMOs are found in food for human consumption, it’s usually from processed filler ingredients (of little to no nutritional value) such as oils, sugars, preservatives and emulsifiers. Examples are corn starch, corn syrup, soy lecithin, citric acid and maltodextrin. [5]

What Are The Health Implications of Genetically Modified Organisms?

There’s an increasing public hunger for safety information on these foods as more and more GM products pop up in our grocery stores.  

The concerns are mostly focused on how they may affect the environment (e.g. engineered genes escaping into wild populations and the effect on biodiversity) and/or how the GM food may affect the consumer – and more specifically, the effect on our health. [6]

Should I just avoid GMOs altogether then?

A survey of over 1000 Canadians found that 37.7% believe GM food is safe to consume, while 34.7% believe it’s not safe to eat and the remaining 27.6% didn’t have an opinion on its safety.  

The majority of respondents did agree, however, that GM food products and ingredients should be clearly labeled so that consumers are better informed when they make food purchases. [4]

The New York Times reports that, “in the decades since the first genetically modified foods reached the market, no adverse health effects among consumers have been found. This is not to say there are none, but as hard as opponents of the technology have looked, none have yet been definitely identified.” 

Adapted from Harvard University: 

After more than 20 years of monitoring by researchers around the world, many of the suspicions surrounding the effects of GMOs on organ health, allergenicity, our offspring, and our DNA has been addressed and tested.  

GMOs have been found to exhibit no toxicity, in one generation or across many. Each new product will obviously undergo careful analysis and assessment of safety, but it appears that GMOs (as a class of food) are no more likely to be harmful than traditionally bred and grown food sources. [6]

The WHO also adds that, “No allergic effects have been found relative to GM foods currently on the market.” 

However, if you ARE still concerned about consuming GM foods, be sure to look for the Non-GMO Project Verified butterfly logo and label on packaged foods. 

FYI – As a single-issue organization, the Non-GMO Project only evaluates products for GMO avoidance, and the term “non-GMO” should not be confused with a food being labeled as “organic” or one that uses the words “artificial” or “modified” in the ingredients list. [5]

What do you think about genetically modified foods and ingredients ending up on your plate?  

We thought that your feelings might be a little spliced on this topic, so we’re serving up a savory gluten-free, corn-free snack idea to chew on while you’re mulling it all over 😉 

RECIPE 

Homemade Tex-Mex Tortilla Chips

(Gluten-free, corn-free and perfect for Tortilla Soup too!) 

Ingredients 

3 large gluten-free brown rice tortillas

1 Tbsp virgin coconut oil (liquid)

½ tsp ground coriander

¼ tsp chili powder (no salt added)

¼ tsp Celtic sea salt or Himalayan pink salt

Zest from 1 fresh lime (about 2 tsp; wash rind first)

Optional: couple of pinches of cayenne pepper powder to kick up the spice a notch! 

Preparation 

Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare lime zest.  

Stack tortillas neatly, and cut into the chip shapes that you want.  

In a bowl, mix together all ingredients except tortillas. 

Add in tortilla chips, and gently “massage” the spice mixture with clean hands to evenly coat both sides. (You can also use a pastry brush to coat both sides of your chips – but it’s much easier to do with your hands!)

Lay out chips on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets (not touching, single layer) – or bake in 2 batches on a single sheet.  

Bake for 8 – 10 minutes – and be very careful not to burn! Remove from oven and allow to fully cool and harden slightly more.  

Enjoy with your fave Tex-Mex dip (helloooo guac!) or crunch up into a bowl of homemade Tortilla Soup – and don’t forget the cilantro!

REFERENCES 

[1] World Health Organization (May 2014) – Frequently Asked Questions on Genetically Modified Foods 

[2] STUDY: Journal of Food Science Technology (December 2013) – Genetically modified foods: safety, risks and public concerns—a review 

[3] Canadian Biotechnology Action Network – GM Animals 

[4] Financial Post (May 2018) – Canadians Deeply Divided Over Genetically Modified Food, Study Says 

[5] Living Non-GMO (by the Non-GMO Project) – Frequently Asked Questions 

[6] Harvard University (August 2015) – Will GMOs Hurt My Body? The Public’s Concerns and How Scientists Have Addressed Them 

[7] The New York Times (April 2018) – Are GMO Foods Safe?

CropLife Canada https://croplife.ca/facts-figures/gmos-in-canada/