GMO vs. Non-GMO foods – To eat or not to eat!

by Helen

I hope you have a chance to read my nutty 10 years foods journey – from rice to paleo and anything else in between post. I love food and all kids of foods. Though I am not the world greatest cook, but I can make a decent meal.  No one who ate my foods had to make a dash to an emergency room for stomach pump yet. Well, if they did, they didn’t tell me. I used to eat out quite a bit, but I also have a budget hawk maniac as a sister, and she made me do a personal budget and commit to balance it. The cruelty of that woman! In order to balance my budget, I had to cut down on my restaurant spending quite aggressively. Did I mention, she is mean and discipline about budget? And I now live in her basement, so she has a good idea of what I spend on. Dictatorship and big sister watching is the system that I now live under.

But getting back to the foods, I have been cooking a lot more and paying more attention to the type of produces that I eat because my body is very fickle about what it has to digest. Having to spend a lot more time at the grocery stores, I have come to notice that more and more produce (especially process foods) have non-GMO label. Couple weeks ago, I found myself staring at four different brands of non GMO soya source on a Korean grocery store. What? When did my people care about non-GMO food?  It got me curios and thinking about GMO and non-GMO. So, I started browsing the internet and talking to couple of nutritionists whom I know. I am a bit neurotic. When an idea got into my head, I have to get to the bottom of it. And this GMO and non-GMO thing really bothers me because my rocky relationship with foods.

So, what does GMO stand for?

It is called Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). In a nutshell, the DNA of the plants has been modified to introduce new features. What? The food scientists modified the DNA of my foods? Eh…How? Well, they can change the plant’s DNA by:

  • Traditional crossbreeding techniques
  • Using chemicals or radiation to change the plant gene
  • Cut and paste a gene from an organism (plant or animal) with the desired characteristics and insert it into the genome of the plant or animal that needs to be “improved”

Say what? Inserting, replacing gene? They made my foods into Frankenstein? I dug deeper and it turned out crossbreeding is common in agriculture. Phew! Most of apples are hybrids. There were no Honey Crisp, Fuji, Gala before, but thanks to the crossbreeding, we now have a lot more apple varieties to enjoy.  So how do food scientists genetically modify the DNA of a plant? First, they identify a characteristic or gene in a plant that they want to improve, then they look for the “enhancer” gene or characteristic in another plant that they can cross breed with. Then, they complete the process of crossbreed in a lab. Now, some GMO foods have great results. Look at the amount of apple varieties that we now have as a result of crossbreeding, a great story of GMO.

But when crossbreeding goes bad, it is really bad. A 2012 study identified cross breeding as a main cause for the tasteless tomatoes that we all consumer today. The scientist started to mess around with tomato’s DNA because they wanted to improve the tomatoes appearances by making it looked more round, firm, plum and red. Seriously? I personally prefer odd looking heirloom tomatoes over the perfect looking ones any day. I am all for individualism. A little character goes a long way for me. Evidently, that was not the food scientist’s preference. Their actions have unintended consequence. Good intention (I assume) doesn’t always equal to good outcome. When they modified the tomatoes’ DNA, they inactivated the gene that producing sugar and flavour of the tomato. The result is perfectly gorgeous looking tomatoes without taste.

Darnation! What right do these guys have to destroy the nature’s taste?  Have you ever bitten into a non-GMO tomato or commonly refer to as heirloom? I did. First, an aromatic and floral scent invades your senses, and then follows by a juicy, sweet and slight tang explosion in your mouth. Oh man! Heirloom tomato’s taste is divine. It is a beautiful fruit. But that isn’t the taste you get from a non-GMO tomato isn’t it? That’s the cost of having gorgeous looking tomatoes: No taste, no scent. That’s a case of GMO went bad!

The most common GMO method is gene alteration. Scientists do this by changing the DNA sequence of a living thing. The top GMO crop is corn. FYI! 85% of corn crop grown in US are GMO. There goes my sweet corn obsession and the sad story of corn begins. Non-GMO corn attracts lot of insects. Insects love corn, and farmers have lost many corn crops due to insect’s damage.  The scientists were quite clever in solving this problem but they weren’t clever enough. They took the insect resistant gene from other crops and literally injected the gene into corn’s DNA.  More seriously, they also altered corn’s genetic to be resistant to herbicides. Herbicide is a chemical that Roundup uses to make weed spray for your lawn.  Now, I want you to picture this: you are eating corn that that has been sprayed with 5, 10 or maybe 15 rounds of weed spays Roundup.

How does the weed spray taste?

Yuck! Disgusting? Yes, and not that tasty. Not to mention the potential damage to your organs that can be caused by a chemical that potent and strong enough to kill weeds. Can your liver, lung, stomach handle it? Depend on how much, how long and how frequent you eat corn, the amount of herbicide (weed killer spray) accumulated in your body can be very substantial. Eating weed killer spray is bad enough, but the worst new is the potential risk of eating a crop which gene sequence has been altered.

To this day, there has been very little research on what has done to other food/plant gene within that sequence.  No scientist seems to want answering the question: what are the side effects of GMO foods? Allergy? Cancer? Must we wait another 50 years for scientist to figure it out? I don’t know about you, but I want the answer now.

Growing up, it was rare for me to know someone who had nut allergy. Well, I am a Vietnamese born and peanut is used in 80% of our cooking. Now most of my acquaintances and friends have some sort of allergy. I know someone who is allergic to cilantro. Herb? What has this world come to? Karen couldn’t bring a cake to the little monster (my niece) birthday at her kindergarten because her classmates have nut, egg, and dairy allergy and gluten intolerance. These are 5 year old kids and the adults around them are constantly on the lookout for allergic reactions. When did our kids have this much allergy? Don’t get me start on the rise of cancer.

Let change the topic before my blood pressure starts to rise. How can you tell which produces are GMO and which are not?

Currently, US and EU require food producers to have appropriate non-GMO label which is really good news for consumer. The label below is a common one that you will see on US non-GMO products.  All organic produces are non-GMO because they require having organic certification. So if you are unsure, stick to organic foods. We Canadians are not so fortune because Canadian government doesn’t require non-MGO foods to label but I see a lot of Canadian producers adopt the US and EU non-GMO labeling which is really good news for me and my fellow citizens.

The crazy thing I found is: even organic and non-GMO foods are not 100% safe due to pollination. Yep, this is sad news. How you ask? Images this, two corn farms situate next to each other.  One has only non-GMO crop and the other grows GMO corns. There is no Chinese wall between these two farms, so when the wind starts blowing (which is a regular occurrence in nature), the wind will carry the pollen from one field to another. It is not like the non-GMO farmer can stop the GMO pollen to enter his non-GMO field. Even if he has a giant net between the two fields, Mother Nature will work her magic and pollination will occur. In addition, the GMO farmer will likely uses spray and or other pesticide which will eventually sip into the water stream in the ground. The odd of this contaminated water getting into the field next door is very high. Now, you can see why it is not 100% guarantee. It is a known issue that farmers can’t solve for.

So, which crops are most likely GMO? Well, here are the top seven GMO crops in US:

  1. Corn – 85% of corn grown in US are GMO
  2. Soy
  3. Yellow Crookneck Squash and Zucchini
  4. Alfalfa
  5. Canola
  6. Sugar Beats
  7. Yep, cows are often given rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) to increase milk production

Nothing is sacred anymore. Even the poor cows are not safe! The Canadians have less GMO offenders. We have the Fab 5:

  1. Canola
  2. Corn
  3. Soy
  4. Sugarbeet
  5. Alfalfa

If you are interested, below are the top imported GMO foods that sold widely in Canadian supermarkets:

  1. Papaya – produce in Hawaii
  2. Squash/Zucchini – produce in US
  3. Cottonseed Oil – produce I US, India and China
  4. Atlantic Salmon – in 2014 the world’s first GM food animal was sold in Canada from Panama
  5. Milk – produce in US

Its not all bad.

Now that I sufficiently scare you of GMO foods, it is only fair that I also point out that there are advantages to genetically modify the crops. Honestly, it was started with good intention and the scientists were not mad or cruel. But, we human just can’t seem to help ourselves in pushing boundaries with Mother Nature. No wonder she is pissed at us. I would too. Still think that climate change is not real? I digress. So here are some good things about GMO foods:

  • Increase crop yield so less people will go hungry
  • Lower food price so more people can afford to eat
  • Increase shell life so produces can last longer
  • Could potentially increase the amount of nutrients as additional genes can be injected into the DNA

Like I said, this whole GMO madness stared with good intentions to reduce human hunger and save lives. The tragic occurred when we didn’t do our due diligent and understood the consequences of our actions before embracing GMO foods. So, I would like to encourage you to do some research, look at your personal budget and decide carefully what produces to buy the next time you shop for foods. You are the boss of your gorgeous body and you should take care of it.

Before I end this post, I want to post a thought provoking question to you. When I discovered these facts about GMO foods I was adamant that we should advocate ending GMO food production.  Karen and I debated about this (which we often do). Karen said that we shouldn’t. She agreed that GMO foods can be potentially harmful for human consumption because there are just too many unanswered questions but GMO food is cheaper and can last longer compared to non-GMO ones. In certain part of the world where the choice is between having GMO foods and go hungry, GMO food can be the answer.

Wealth and affordability allow us to make the choice between GMO and non-GMO foods, but for many this is not a choice they can afford. And this is a sad reality in this world. I hate to admit this, but the budget hawk had a point. I hate her logic reasoning sometime. Anyway, I really don’t know the right answer on this and I am very interested to hear your thoughts. I think this is one of those no right or wrong answer. Let me know.

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1 comment

ergfir nolikz January 9, 2019 - 5:32 pm

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