Genetically Modified Foods (GMO) are much more common than many Australian consumers realise. Much of what we eat has been genetically modified, meaning that you have probably eaten some today!
Scientists are now able to isolate specific genes in food and can insert these into our food products to produce desirable traits, e.g. growing larger yields, more resistance to infection, etc. With growing debate on the advantages and disadvantages, GMO is growing to be seens as a dangerous interference wtih nature that threatens our health, bodies and ecosystems.
While some people do not care whether the foods they consume are genetically modified or not, others are deeply concerned about GM foods, their health and any potential negative effects to health or the environment.
If you do choose to avoid GM foods, you can look for labels that cite that your food is free of GM techniques, such as the Australian Organic logo.
Here are the top ten most common GMO products:
Of all crops, soy is the most heavily modified. Up to 90% of soybeans in the market have been genetically modified to be increasingly resistant to the herbicide RoundUp. This allows farmers to use more chemicals to kill weeds. Sadly, these chemicals are found on the food products we eat, meaning they get directly ingested into our bodies. Soy is used in many ways - from soybeans as a protein source to ingredients like soy lecithin and emulsifiers used to thicken and preserve food. It is also used in processed foods such as confectionary, breads, potato chips and as stockfeed for pigs and poultry. Choose soy foods like tempeh or tofu and read your edamame labels carefully, looking for organic and fermented products.
Corn is one of the most heavily modified crops. While most genetically modified corn isn't destined for human consumption, one of the biggest concerns in transgenic corn is the possibility of GM corn corrupting unmodified strains. Corn is wind-pollinated, which means that nearby fields can become unintentionally contaminated. GMO corn also has widespread use in cattle feed. Products containing corn include: beer, salad dressing, margarine, flour and anything that uses corn syrup. If you want non-GMO corn, look for the label Australian Organic to be sure you are guaranteed that your corn is not genetically modified.
Like most genetically modified foods, rice is being experimented on to make it more resistant to pests and is also modified to contain high amounts of Vitamin A. Three new genes are implanted: two from daffodils and the third from a bacterium. China leading the world in research, and even though a strain of pest-resistant rice has been approved in the United States, it hasn't yet been used by farmers. Since there's no widespread use of GM rice yet, it's not known what kind of side effects the strains could potentially introduce.
The use of potatoes as a raw material is rapidly growing. Most potatoes nowadays are used for something other than human consumption. Many of the other potatoes are fed to livestock, and the rest are for the alcohol and starch industries. Scientists are now beginning to make GM potatoes that are intended to be grown and sold as starch potatoes. For potatoes to eat at home, look Certified Organic produce.
Tomato was the first widespread genetically modified food available. In 1994, the Flavr Savr tomato was bred with a deactivated gene that kept the plant from producing polygalacturonase, an enzyme that's the starting point for rot. The tomatoes were a popular product for about four years, until the scientist who invented it went on television and expressed concern over whether the tomatoes could be carcinogenic. Other genetically modified tomatoes contained genes that made them resistant to antibiotics. After concern from doctors and the medical community, tomatoes are now genetically modified in an alternative way.
Canola oil, also known as rapeseed oil, is one of the most heavily used genetically modified crops. Rapeseed is modified to be more resistant to certain herbicides. This results in easier weed control, lower pesticide use and larger crops. Products that may contain GMO canola include: processed foods, chips, crackers, cereal, snack bars, frozen foods, canned soups, lollies, bread, hummus & oil blends. Make sure to look for Certified Organic logos on your products and when cooking at home, avoid canola oil and opt for healthier cooking oils like olive, grapeseed or coconut instead.
The ringspot virus was a big problem for the Hawaiian papaya industry for many years, until the 1980s, when they began to experiment with genetically modified versions that were resistant to the virus. Papayas have also been modified to delay the maturity of the fruit, giving suppliers more time to ship the fruit to supermarkets. Screen for papayas that are currently imported in the supermarket, however trails of GE crops are now being conducted in Australia.
Sugar beets are modified to be resistant to certain pesticides and are able to tolerate heavy crop sprays by farmers. Sugar beets are imported into Australia, most often they appear in imported processed foods. Products that may contain GMO sugar beets: biscuits, cakes, ice cream, donuts, baking mixes, lollies, juice, yogurt. Make sure you look for Certified Organic labels on sugar products and stay away from beets!
Genetically modified zucchini can be found in two different species. GM zucchini contains a toxic protein that helps make it more resistant to insects. Just like their other GMO counterparts, you won't be able to tell the difference between non-GMO and GMO zucchini. Look for Certified Organic fresh produce, most often found at health food stores or farmers markets.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetner that is about 200 times as potent as sugar. Although it's technically an artificial substance and doesn't occur in nature, aspartame is the result of a combination of two natural amino acids. Two different species of bacteria produce these acids, and in some cases, one of the bacteria is modified in order to boost the yield. There is some question concerning the safety of aspartame in the body, including its possible link to certain cancers.
Next time you’re shopping, pay attention to these 10 common genetically modified foods. This extends to consuming meats where the animal was fed genetically modified feed, as you are ingesting these same chemicals. Genetic modification affects not only our health, but the wider ecosystem as farmers are increasingly using herbicides and pesticides which damages surrounding environments. To protect your health from potential harm, and our environment, make sure you look for Certified Organic products that are guaranteed to be free from genetic modification.