Examining GMOs and Supporting a Ban in California
“Non-GMO” is a term that you’ve probably been hearing a lot about these days, as genetically modified foods have become yet another issue we have to be aware of when we are making decisions about what we eat. While GM foods have been accepted by some based on the idea that if the new food is ‘substantially equivalent’ in composition and nutritional characteristics to an existing food it must be safe, there is research that should have us rethinking this approach.
One study by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has found a more than causal association between GM foods and adverse health effects such as infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen, and gastrointestinal system.
These aren’t minor side effects that must be accepted, but concerning responses to a relatively new technological approach. As such, we should be researching everything related to GMOs closely rather than brushing concerns away.
Natural breeding processes have been used for thousands of years to encourage crops to take on positive behaviors, increasing the harvest or making them more hearty. But there is a big difference between this ancient method and today’s GM breeding.
Craig Holdrege, director of The Nature Institute, explains that the most critical difference is that natural breeding crosses “only organisms that are already closely related—two varieties of corn, for example—whereas, in contrast, GM breeding slaps together genes from up to 15 wildly different sources.” In modern GM breeding, scientists make a GM plant by isolating DNA from many different organisms and recombining them biochemically in the lab to make a gene construct made up of DNA from 5-15 different sources. While the evolutionary roots were once respected, GMOs now are based on an approach that feels free to take any gene from any species and splice it into a crop.
One example of a genetically modified food that artificially combines genes occurs when the pesticide Cry1Ab protein (commonly known as Bt toxin) is inserted into the DNA of corn. This transferral is random, and the consequences can differ with each insertion. The plants that have taken up this introduced gene are then allowed to develop and to grow food. This results in foods that have been all genetically modified at the single cell level, increasing pesticide presence in crops but also introducing a completely foreign, unnatural chemical into the DNA makeup of an essential crop. Sure, it may be more resistant to bugs, but at what cost?
The Prevalence of GMOS
Genetically modified foods have only been used commercially for about ten years, yet can already be found in 80% of conventionally processed food and in more than 85% of crops like canola, corn, cotton, soy, and sugar beets. So it can be incredibly hard to avoid foods containing GMOs.
In fact, while many restaurants and markets are actively seeking to eliminate GMOs from their ingredients, it has become increasingly hard to find the resources to do so. Saturn Cafe is actively seeking to source all of our ingredients from local producers that are organic and non-GMO. But it’s not an easy task.
Still, in 2015 a record number of U.S. farmers switched to growing non-GMO crops, with some seed companies seeing a 50% increase in sale of non-GMO seeds. And this change was largely due to an increased demand on the part of the consumers. That’s right, you. That means that the more we as customers call for sustainable practices and production practices that are not harmful, the more likely we are to effect change. Vote with your dollar, let your voice be heard.
It’s time to expand the dialogue surrounding GMOs and let decision-makers know that we aren’t willing to accept minimal research or allow huge companies like Monsanto to steamroll attempts to pull back from GMOs before it’s too late.
California is currently working towards change! So far, five counties along California’s northern coast have passed bans on growing GMO crops, and this November, Citizens for Healthy Farms and Families has succeeded in adding an initiative to the ballot that would ban GMO crops in Sonoma County as well. If you’re a resident of Sonoma County, take a stand against GMOs and add your county to those who refuse to accept genetically modified food. California is home to dozens of growers, farmers markets, and organic dairies, but it can be impossible for farmers to protect their crops from cross-contamination that happens once genetically modified seeds are introduced to the area. Help farmers protect the organic certification and reputation they have fought for and ensure the availability of non-GMO foods for Northern California and beyond.
In the meantime, make your voice heard with how your money is spent. Shop purposefully, and purchase items that are labeled non-GMO or Certified Organic, as anything organic is inherently not genetically modified. Avoid the US crops that are overwhelmingly modified, such as soy and corn, unless you are confident that they are non-GMO.
Health benefits are only one of many reasons to support a ban on GMOs, in addition to the increased use of herbicides, lack of government oversight, harm to the environment, and the fact that GMOs contaminate any area they touch, including as far as their seeds can travel. There are many ways innovations in technology have helped us improve the way we produce food, but the Frankenstein-like science of gene insertion should no longer be allowed to pretend it is one of them.
Wherever you live, and whatever is most important to you, register to vote so that you can make your voice heard this November and in every election afterwards!