They contain unlabeled genetically modified organisms (GMOs, aka Frankenfoods by critics).
A recent article in the Chicago Tribune says genetically modified crops are present in about 70% of all US processed food, making up 93% of all soy, 86 % of all corn and 93% of all canola seeds planted in our country.
Genetically modified crops grow from seeds in which genes from another source are spliced into the seed’s DNA.
The result is a plant that may contain bacterial toxins to protect it from pests. Or it might incorporate a substance rendering it impervious to herbal pesticides.
Only 23% of US women believe genetically modified foods are safe to eat.
Polls taken by the Pew Center, Consumers Union and Harris Interactive have had consistent results over the last decade: The vast majority of Americans would like to see genetically modified foods better regulated. And labeled.
Too bad. The US, unlike the majority of industrialized nations, does not require labeling or testing of GMOs used in its food supply. Fourteen states introduced legislation requiring GMO labeling, but the legislation has yet to move out of committee. Only in Alaska, because of its wild salmon industry, has a biotech seafood labeling law been passed.
So, many of us are unwittingly ingesting GMOs in the processed foods we buy. Protesters from the Organic Consumers Association even trashed some health food brands, including Tofutti, Kashi and Boca Burgers for the presence of GMOs. One of the nation’s top organic food retailers says that the presence of GMOs is so pervasive in processed foods that it can’t avoid stocking some of them in its stores.
GMO industry representatives insist labeling is unnecessary, citing a 1992 FDA statement to the effect that it had no reason to believe GMOs “differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.” The FDA has sanctioned the sale and planting of GMOs for 15 years, yet it has neglected to require even a minimal premarket safety evaluation of the foods.
Peer-reviewed studies in Environment International are split about fifty-fifty regarding the question of the safety or danger of consuming GMOs. But many of the studies finding no risk were funded by the biotech industry itself or its associates.
Though digestion is supposed to remove the GMOs from the body, this year Canadian researchers reported in Reproductive Toxicology that the blood of 93% of pregnant women and 80% of their umbilical cord blood samples contained a pesticide implanted in GMO corn by Monsanto. The report concluded: “Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the fetus, more studies are needed.”
Realistically, it doesn’t look like those studies are going to happen in the US, nor does it look like foods containing GMOs will be labeled as such. If you’re a consumer who prefers to err on the side of caution, what do you do?
The best suggestions the Tribune offers are checking recently published shopping guides offering vetted lists of products that do or don’t contain biotech ingredients: Non-GMO Shopping Guide, Greenpeace Shoppers Guide and an iPhone app from the Non-GMO Project.
It suggests looking for foods with the only third-party-tested verification program in the US, the Non-GMO Project Verified seal.
The final suggestion is to choose certified organic foods. Their certification states they may not contain genetically modified ingredients or feed for animals.
Personally, I prepare my meals from scratch and avoid as many processed foods as possible. Many of them are labeled as Processed. Check out American “Cheese.”
Again, it comes down to this: Our best defense comes from our carefully reading—and understanding—food labels.