Farmers Market 101: What is a GMO?

There is plenty of talk about GMO’s lately, especially in relation to states trying to pass laws requiring labeling of them. Struggling with understanding GMOs? Here is a quick 5-point primer for you.

 1. What does GMO stand for?
Genetically Modified Organism

2. What does Genetically Modified mean?
This means a plant or animal has been genetically engineered using DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals (important to note that these are changes that could not happen in nature, which differentiate GMOs from traditional crossbreeding). For example, GMO scientists inserted DNA from an Artic fish into the DNA of a tomato giving the tomato an improved tolerance to cold temperature.

3. How did GMOs come about?
GMOs came about from chemical companies desire to sell more pesticides/herbicides to farmers by eliminating the fear of killing crops during application. Therefore, they engineered the crops to tolerate the direct application of herbicides and pesticides.

4. Why should I care about GMOs?
Health concerns. More than 60 countries have restricted or banned GMOs due to health concerns. There are no long-term health studies indicating their safety while growing evidence supports the connection between GMOs and health problems such as autoimmune diseases and cancer. The food industry (in the US) says otherwise but keep in mind that our FDA allows our food to be modified based on testing done by the same corporations creating them (huge conflict of interest).

5. How can I avoid GMOs?
It’s very difficult. Chances are when eating out at a restaurant, your plate is filled with GMO ingredients. The most common GMOs in the US are corn, canola, soy, sugar beets and cotton. In the US, GMOs are used in about 70% of conventional processed foods. Since labeling is note required, it makes it very difficult to avoid them. To date, every State ballot initiative to label GMOs has been defeated thanks to the financial backing from corporations benefiting from GMOs.

Practical Takeaways.
Although it may be time consuming, doing research is key. Labels such as Organic and the voluntary “Non-GMO” will let you know its GMO free. Otherwise, it’s best to buy from local farmers’ markets and small local companies. Eating local, organic vegetables and organic, grass-fed meat and poultry will keep you on the right track. We know that things can get expensive, so we always suggest to do the best you can within your means.

If you’re interested in even more reading and joining the Non-GMO Project, click here.