Genetically Modified Foods: The Uninvited Guests at Your Dinner Table

A recent documentary entitled The Future of Food was shown in theaters around the country. It detailed how genetically modified (GM) foods are creeping into the food supply with the help of giant corporations like Monsanto and DuPont. Should you be alarmed? Is it true that the growing presence of GM foods affects our health and ultimately the environment, as the movie suggests? Here’s what you need to know.

Tampering With Mother Nature.
Whether called genetically modified, genetically engineered, bioengineered or biotech, the process involves taking a gene from one plant, animal or microorganism and inserting it into the DNA of another. The goal is to improve a certain characteristic of a food, for instance, to make it grow faster, resist disease, be more nutritious, repel insects or be more able to withstand harsh growing conditions.

The debate over whether any of this is necessary, helpful or even safe has raged for over a decade now. In Europe, it’s a volatile issue; labeling is mandatory in the European Union, while several countries have banned GM crops.

In the Mainstream.
Americans have not been as outspoken. Is it because GM foods are less prevalent here? Think again. Experts estimate that 70% of food products in the supermarket contain at least one GM ingredient, most commonly from corn, soy, cottonseed or canola. No one knows for sure, because foods sold in the U.S. don’t have to reveal whether ingredients are GM. Does it matter? It does if you believe in knowing what you put in your mouth.

One of the health concerns surrounding GM foods are worries about allergic reactions to new proteins created as part of the GM process. Most experts say there’s no evidence that eating GM foods poses a health risk. But many experts are concerned about the long-term effects of altering the genetic make-up of plants and animals—both on us and on the environment.

The chief concern is that genes from bioengineered plants or animals might inadvertently mix with natural genes, forever altering the planet’s ecosystem in ways that are impossible to predict.

What to Do.
First and foremost, don’t panic. Genetically modified ingredients have been in our foods for almost a decade with no obvious untoward effects. Still, if you want to opt out of GM foods—whether out of personal health concerns or concern for the environment—here is EN’s (Environmental Nutrition’s) advice:

Go Organic. As part of USDA organic regulations, certified organic foods may not contain GM ingredients.

Scan Labels for common GM ingredients like corn oil, corn syrup, corn starch, soy protein, soy oil, soy sauce, lecithin, cottonseed oil and canola oil.

Shop at supermarkets with a storewide policy against GM ingredients, such as Whole Foods, Wild Oats and Trader Joe’s.

Check out “The True Food Shopping List” from Greenpeace, a non-profit environmental advocacy group, at It’s an extensive list of foods with and without GM ingredients. Among those with a green light: Health Valley Granola Bars, Nature’s Path Honey’d Raisin Bran, Hain Wheatettes crackers and Garden Vegan Gardenburger.

Join the push for labeling. Write to your representatives in Congress about your labeling concerns.

Be more vocal. To help increase awareness of GM foods, check out action steps at The Campaign to Label Genetically Modified Foods at or 425-771-4049.

You can buy The future of Food DVD at ($30 including shipping) or at Whole Foods stores ($24.95).

SOURCE: Environmental Nutrition Volume 31g.