Genetically Modified Foods: Pros, cons & how to avoid them
In the past few years, growing research into genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has revealed two ugly truths: GMOs are more widespread than we thought, and they are more harmful than we thought. Further, the vast majority of Americans have been eating GMOs for decades without even knowing about it. I want to bring this new research to you and cut straight through the confusion of GMOs—what GMOs are, what they do, and how to avoid eating them.
What are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)?
The process of genetic modification involves inserting a gene from bacteria or a virus into an organism where it would normally not be found. The purpose is to alter the genetic code in plants and animals to make them more productive or resistant to pests or farming techniques, like being doused with chemicals that would ordinarily kill them. For example, many soybeans have been genetically modified to survive being sprayed with weed killers that would destroy an organic soybean plant.
GMO foods first hit the market in 1996. Since then, most of us have eaten GMOs in many foods, from soybeans, beef, dairy products, corn, beets, sugar, cottonseed, and rapeseed, which is used to make canola oil.
According to the USDA, only 3% of planted acres of corn in 1996 were planted with GMO herbicide-tolerant corn. Today, it’s 89%. In 1996, GMO herbicide-tolerant soybeans were planted in 7.4% of U.S. farm acreage. Today, it’s 94%. Meanwhile, experts estimate that as much as 75% of the processed foods sold in this country contain GMO ingredients. I’m willing to bet that this is even higher.
Pros and Cons of GMOs
On the surface, strengthening soybeans for purposes of more widespread production and consumption seems like a win-win idea. But there are some very real concerns shared by top experts in the health, medical, and nutrition fields. I’ve created the chart below to help clarify some of the pros and cons:
|The Pros of GMOs
(according to GMO manufacturers):
|The Cons of GMOs
(according to unbiased research):
|Growing GMO plants is supposed to allow farmers to:
||The downsides of farming with GMOs include:
GMO advocates claim that since many plants already have the ability to produce their own pest repellents, GMO plants engineered to do the same are no different. This may not be true. Indeed, Mother Nature did give plants an ability to defend themselves from natural enemies, but we’ve been eating these plants for centuries. As a result, our bodies recognize these substances and are accustomed to dealing with them. But the GMO plant insecticides are new, and research into how our bodies are reacting to them is still new. And studies, so far, are showing scary results.
We have been unknowing and unwilling guinea pigs to a massive and potentially dangerous experiment. And studies are starting to indicate that pesticides (a term that includes herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides) from GMO plants can increase your risk of cancer, neurological diseases (like Parkinson’s), and a number of other very serious health concerns.
Another problem with GMO crops was discovered earlier this year, when an Oregon farmer found GMO wheat growing in fields where he had not planted it. Although that story is still developing, it appears that other GMO plants have also escaped into the nation’s farmland. If this cross-contamination continues, the consequences could affect the entire food supply.
Latest GMO Research
Also in 2017, the Food Revolution hosted the GMO Revealed Summit. Much of that summit (videos, speakers, information) is available online. I would encourage you to watch and draw your own conclusions. The panel of experts spoke about everything GMO-related and what it all distilled down to is this:
- Genetically modified food is not good for you. Period.
- Genetically modified food is unsustainable and is destroying the planet.
- Nearly all of the world’s food supply has GMOs in it.
- Billion-dollar food manufacturers have been hiding these harmful effects from consumers
Today, most people carry a heavy burden of toxins, ranging from plastics to heavy metals to compounds found in drugs and—nowadays—food and beverages. One of my major concerns about GMOs is that they could easily increase our toxic load, leading to even more chronic diseases including cancer.
New studies on the toxicity of various chemicals used to produce GMO products are not reassuring, either. One recent clinical trial, for example, found that glyphosate, a common herbicide ingredient used to grow GMO plants, caused human breast cancer cells to grow due to its estrogen-like qualities. Glyphosate, I should add, is deemed a carcinogen in California and is the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer products. The World Health Organization hedged slightly, calling glyphosate a “likely carcinogen.”
Another report from the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that exposure to glyphosate has increased by approximately 500% from 1993 to 2016. Glyphosate is sprayed on “Roundup Ready” crops such as GMO soy, corn, wheat and oats, which are central ingredients in nearly everything in the American diet. Even if you are eating a bread-less hamburger, that cow was likely eating GMO corn, and thus you are too.
Raising awareness is so important. So, here is some healthy advice about consuming GMO foods.
Increased risk of food allergies? YES!
Sometimes genetic components of one plant are added to another for some form of protective benefit or nutritional enhancement. But if you’re allergic to the source food, you may develop an allergy to the host food…where there typically wouldn’t be one.
For example, in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a protein from Brazil nuts was genetically added to soy beans for “nutritional enhancement”. Folks who were NOT allergic to soybeans, but WERE allergic to Brazil nuts had a reaction to the genetically modified soybeans…but not to the organic soy beans.
That means, even if you’ve been eating certain foods your entire life without a problem…genetic modifications could create new allergies that you might not expect. This can be especially dangerous for people whose allergic reactions are life-threatening.
And, although we can’t pin these statistics directly to GMO foods, the increased incidence of allergies between 1997 and 2011 coincides with the increased production and sale of GMO foods on a level that is a little too uncanny to ignore.
For example, in that time period, the prevalence of food allergies in children aged 0 – 17 increased by 50%…and the prevalence of skin allergies increased 69%.
Just one more reason to read labels and look for that non-GMO designation.
Are GMO Foods Safe?
The answer to that question ranges from “We’re not sure” to “Absolutely not!” Remember, there are millions of dollars spent trying to discredit unbiased research that attempts to show the short-term and long-term effect of GMO foods—not just the effects on our health but also on the environment.
For example, search for “GMO foods” and among top search results is a site (I don’t want to dignify it by posting a link) that is funded by The Council of Biotechnology Information, whose members include BASF, Bayer, Corteva (formerly DowDuPont), and Syngenta. Clearly, they have a vested interest in spreading disinformation.
No wonder so many people are confused about GMO foods. We’ve been lied to for decades by companies that have a financial interest in keeping the truth away from us. And they continue to fund campaigns to distort the truths that are finally bubbling to the surface.
The fact remains that there are no long-term studies demonstrating that GMO foods are healthy. But given the results of studies I’ve seen, I avoid GMO products whenever possible for myself and my family, and I recommend that you do the same.
GMO Food List
It’s safe to assume that it is standard procedure for major food manufacturers (General Mills, Tyson, ConAgra, Coca-Cola, Smithfield, Nestle) to use GMOs in their flagship products. Doing so allows them to produce more food for less, increasing profits and share prices. And they spend those profits lobbying politicians to look the other way as more negative GMO research comes to light but also to develop shady marketing campaigns that discredits those who try to educate you on the growing health hazards of GMOs.
So I want to give you advice on what you need to avoid and what to eat if you want to be GMO free. First, if a food does not say that it’s GMO-free, then it’s safe to assume that it has GMOs in it.
When I buy any of these foods I shop for organic versions, or varieties bearing a “Non GMO” label.
- Non-organic dairy products
- Soy in any form (oil, tofu, protein powder, meat substitutes, etc.)
- Vegetable oil
- Salad dressings
- Granola bars
- Chicken nuggets
- Yellow squash
- Anything containing high fructose corn syrup
- Bread and crackers
But, since the answer affects the health of nearly everyone in the nation, here’s my advice:
Eat organic produce, grass-fed beef, free-range poultry, and wild-caught fish whenever possible.
Yes, organic food, which has been grown without chemicals or growth hormones, does tend to cost a little more. But you can either pay a few cents more for organic produce, or you can pay a lot more for doctor visits, prescription medication, and hospital stays. Personally, I prefer to pay a bit extra for the peace of mind that comes with knowing my food is GMO free.
The debate over GMOs in my mind is is still just that—a debate. While there is still a lot of research to be done, it’s probably a better idea to avoid GMOs whenever you can.
- Thongprakaisang S, Thiantanawat A, Rangkadilok N, et al. “Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors.” Food Chemistry and Toxicology. 2013 June 10.
- Alavanja MC, Bonner MR. “Occupational pesticide exposures and cancer risk: a review.” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health: Part B: Critical Review. 2012;15(4):238-63.
- Koutros S, Beane Freeman LE, Lubin JH, et al. “Risk of total and aggressive prostate cancer and pesticide use in the Agricultural Health Study.” American Journal of Epidemiology. 2013 Jan 1;177(1):59-74.
- Roberts JR, Karr CJ. “Pesticide exposure in children.” Pediatrics. 2012 Dec;130(6):e1755-88.
- “Recent Trends in GE Adoption.” USDA. Published July 12, 2017.
- Weeks, John. “JAMA Report: Exposure to GMO-Associated Glyphosate, a Likely Carcinogen, up 500 Percent.” Published Oct. 26, 2017.
-  https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199603143341103 https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db121.htm
Disclaimer: Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Updated: June 25, 2020 Published: July 9, 2013