It's Not Easy to Live GMO-Free
By Chaelan MacTavish
you have to know what a GMO is. It's a Genetically Modified
Organism. What does that mean? It means something that nature
made and man manipulated is going into your belly. What does
it do? Who knows?
Monsanto, the country's leading biotech company, developed
a soybean to be genetically resistant to its weed-killer Roundup,
so that farmers may use liberal sprayings on their crop without
fear of damaging their soybeans. A strand of foreign DNA was
inserted into the soybean DNA, in order to give it this resistance.
Three years ago, however, Monsanto announced that the DNA
of their soybean had "changed." On either side of the inserted
strand, the chromosomes of the original soybean were changing.
Monsanto offered no explanation, and we were assured by the
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (a former CEO of Monsanto) that
this posed no risk whatsoever to human consumption.
If there is no risk, why are so many countries around the
world banning GMOs from being allowed over their borders?
The bald fact is, we don't know if there is a risk or not.
We don't know what genetic modification will do to the original
plant, or to the animals that consume it. This is an extremely
new science, and many leaders around the world are not willing
to gamble the health of their populace on slightly cheaper
A poignant example is the country of Zimbabwe. Because of
the decades-long famine in Africa, the U.S. Congress has decided
to send humanitarian aid packages to the continent every year.
Two years ago they sent millions of dollars worth of corn
to Zimbabwe. The ship was stopped at the docks, and a port
official asked for documents that would certify the cargo
as being genetically unmodified. The ship's captain had no
such documents, and did not know where the corn originally
came from, or from what seed stock it was grown. The Zimbabwe
government courteously thanked the captain for his time, told
him to go home, and to take his corn with him. A poor starving
country turned down tons of free corn because - well, they
didn't know what it would do.
In restaurants in the European Union, one may notice while
scanning the menu that an occasional small "gm" note will
be stuck to the side of certain dishes. This is because it
is required by law to label any dishes or foods that may contain
genetically modified ingredients. Living in Europe, it is
relatively easily to live GMO-free. You simply read the labels
and eat what you want.
In America, it is much more difficult. If genetically modified
foods are labeled, Monsanto argues, their sales would go down.
And since there is no conclusive evidence that GMOs can harm
you in any way, there is no legal basis for doing something
that would negatively impact their sales. Any motions to make
GMO labeling mandatory have been killed in committee (by senators
or representatives whose campaigns were heavily funded by
agribusiness), and referendums to do so have been met with
multi-million dollar advertising campaigns. In Oregon last
year, a public referendum to label GMOs went on the ballot;
every newspaper and commercial break extolled the bill as
unfair to America's farmers, with personal quotes from rural
Oregonians who feared being put out of business should this
bill pass. The bill failed, and the huge Agribusiness giants
in the Midwest (that are the primary growers of GM crops)
were safe from having us know who grew their food.
Difficult it is, to live GMO-free, but not impossible. While
35% of our domestic corn crop is genetically modified, as
well as 69% of the domestic soy crop, there are still organically
grown foods, as well. The booming organic industry, estimated
to top $15 billion dollars this year worldwide, is addressing
the needs of a large segment of consumers who have begun to
question what they are eating. Popular health-food chains,
such as Whole Foods, Nature's, and Wild Oats, now have customers
ranging from the barefoot hippie, to the soccer mom, to the
retired civil servant. Many people are opting to put tastier,
healthier organic food on their table - and a rebellious few
have taken the extra step to eliminating GMOs from their diet
But the difficulties in eating GMO-free are subtle. In America,
unlike the rest of the world, being "organic" doesn't necessarily
mean being GMO-free. The new FDA rules say that you can label
a product as "organic" if only 95% of all of the ingredients
are certified organic. Soy lecithin and corn starch are such
a small amount of the ingredient batch that almost every organic
product on the shelves contains them in a non-organic form.
For people who want to ease all GMO foods out of their diet,
it usually takes about two years. If there were labels on
all of our foods, telling us whether they contained GMOs or
not, it would be simple. However, it takes a fair amount of
detective work to really know what you can and can't eat.
Most all the food in the grocery store that comes in a box
has corn starch, canola oil, or the dreaded emulsifier: soy
lecithin. Many boxes of organic toaster waffles and bags of
organic chips still have tiny amounts of corn or soy in them,
without the *organic behind their listing. As a result, many
budding GMO-freers start eating healthier, learn how to cook
rice, and plunk down the cash for a vegetable steamer.
What people find most difficult is eating out. In any given
restaurant, you have absolutely no idea what quality of ingredients
are being used to make what is on your plate. It is a safe
bet, however, that a restaurant will not take the care that
you use in your own kitchen. Most restaurants order their
food from large companies like Sysco, who deliver food wholesale
all around the country. If they aren't the biggest purchaser
of Agribusiness crops, then I don't know who would be. Sysco
makes its money because it can deliver food to restaurants
cheaper than a restaurant could buy it for anywhere else.
Agribusiness makes money because they are so huge and have
so much supply that they can sell for extremely cheap prices
to edge out competition. Restaurants make money because they
can buy cheap food from Sysco.
Someone eating GMO-free usually begins by taking things
out of their diet in stages; first fast food, then packaged
foods with GMOs, then non-organic meat, then beer and wine,
and lastly, eating out. This last step is usually the hardest,
and shows the greatest commitment for one's own body, by being
unable to go out for a bite with friends, or stopping to pick
up dinner on the way home from work, to make food that you
know is safe in your own kitchen.
Eating at home, all the time, with only organic food will
definitely increase your grocery bills; but if you don't go
out to eat, it averages out quite nicely. It is definitely
cheaper to get all your food from a grocery chain like Albertsons,
but the higher prices of organic food is what food really
costs. To grow an ear of corn, get it to the farmers market,
and to your plate, it costs twice as much as what a corporate
chain would charge to get it from a subsidized Agribusiness
farm onto their shelves. But that food isn't really food -
its profit margins.
Try an experiment for yourself to see. Buy an organic apple,
and a conventionally grown apple. Take a bite of one, and
a bite of the other. You will see that one of them will taste
like an apple. Ask yourself what the other one tastes like.
Eating organic in the United States is extremely difficult.
But, as more people make the shift to all organic food, it
will steadily become easier. Already there are all-organic
restaurants in New York and San Francisco, and there is even
a fast-food chain in Maine that is 100% no-GMO organic. There
are rumblings to open an all-organic café here in Santa Fe.
And, of course, the fight for mandatory labels still goes
In capitalism, capital is what counts. If you would like
to see more organic foods in your community, vote with your
dollars, and start buying all organic. The businesses will
follow, and eating GMO-free will soon be as simple as looking
on the label.