Should You Avoid GMO Foods?

November 29, 2021

They say a picture is worth a thousand words

...but sometimes a picture needs only to convey a few in order to get its point across. The label for “Non-GMO” foods, with its pretty butterfly gently positioned on a green blade of grass in the foreground of a pleasant blue background, does this nicely. In a simple picture, it cries “nature! natural! better!” GMOs have become a point of debate in the public sphere - some people think it’s unnatural and therefore harmful, while others aren’t convinced. As it stands today, there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence to suggest that eating GMO foods has any downsides to one's health, but the fact of the matter is that people still look to non-GMO foods as a healthier option and therefore look to the Non-GMO Verified label as a marker of trust.


What are GMOs?

GMO is shorthand for genetically modified organisms. The first word, gene, refers to the strands of DNA within the organism that tells it how to grow and develop. Modified indicates that there has been some alteration or change made. Lastly, the word organism refers to any living thing. Many people take organisms to mean just plants, but this also includes microorganisms like fungi and bacteria.

Simply put, these are living species that have had one or more of their genes altered in order to alter their end result. Genetic modification is widely used in medicine and is responsible for the development of many life-saving treatments, most namely the diabetic drug insulin. In terms of agriculture, scientists genetically alter plants to make them more resistant to pests, to enhance the size or taste, and increase their overall yield.

Although humans have been modifying genetics for centuries, through methods such as selective breeding, it’s only recently that people have been specifically targeting certain DNA strands in order to create change, and this has some people concerned. In a survey conducted by the Hartman Group,  46% of people said they actively avoid GMO foods and of those people, 70% of them stated “health & wellbeing concerns” as their reasoning.

What does Non-GMO mean?

So if you’re someone who fits into that 46% avoiding GMOs, then the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label is what you look for in stores. What does this label mean, really? Allow me a moment to don my Captain Obvious cape before I tell you this: the “Non-GMO” label simply states that the product sold was grown/made using non-GMO seed/ingredients. Duh, right? Okay, taking off the cape. Unlike the USDA Organic seal, there is no government-regulated body that oversees the labeling of Non-GMO. The Non-GMO Project is currently the only third-party verification process available in order to attain the “Non-GMO” stamp of approval - a process that is much quicker and less intensive than something like the USDA Organic certification. Here’s the rub with Non-GMO Verified foods though, the label tells you what it doesn’t allow - GMOs, but it says nothing of what it does allow. 


What does Non-GMO NOT mean?

So most people are avoiding GMOs because they feel non-GMO foods are better for their health - got it. Within that rationale must live the assumption that non-GMO foods carry less of a health burden than, well, other foods, right? Well, let’s take a look at what is actually still permissible within the Non-GMO verification criteria.


The use of synthetic pesticides - synthetic pesticides are widespread among conventional agriculture. They are used to help prevent pests from decimating entire fields of crops and ensuring that the farmers can grow their plants and make ends meet - this is good. There are, however, numerous correlations between the synthetic residue left on these crops after harvest and different diseases like leukemia and lymphoma - that’s probably not good. 

The application of synthetic herbicides - Roundup, or glyphosate, is a sort of agricultural boogie-man for many people. Glyphosate is the main herbicide used in large-scale agricultural operations to help prevent the spread of disease in crop fields. It is also accused of being responsible for the growing rates of autoimmunity and neurological disorders, incidences of breast cancer, as well as being blamed for many other health problems. If there were a “MOST WANTED'' list for synthetic chemicals - glyphosate’s face would absolutely be plastered on every street corner. Unfortunately for those putting their trust in the Non-GMO basket for their health and wellbeing, The Non-GMO Project has no rules against the use of glyphosate or other synthetic herbicides that freak out the public.


Sewage sludge - Yeah, you read that right - sewage sludge. Conventional crops can be fertilized using “biosolids”, which are literally treated waste from sewers. Whatever gets flushed down the toilet, runoff from industry, waste from hospitals, these all fall under the category of “biosolids” and get mixed into the soil of many conventional crops. Sounds pretty shitty (excuse the pun). Sewage sludge fertilizer doesn’t just sound nasty, it’s also proven to be a bit...dangerous. Residue from the sludge accumulates on the ground and has proven deadly to cows grazed on fields where the residue is still present. Now you’re not a cow, but you are a mammal, and if these residues are harmful to something with 4 stomachs, it’s probably not something you want in your body either. Sorry folks, but Non-GMO Verified foods are still given the green light for sewage sludge fertilization. 


Also allowed under the Non-GMO umbrella is the use of antibiotics and growth hormones, artificial colors, preservatives, artificial flavors, synthetic fertilizers, and residue from hexane used in processing. Non-GMO Verified products certainly exclude GMO ingredients, but as for the other 700+ chemicals used in conventional agriculture, well they’re still on the menu (and maybe your food). If you were looking to The Non-GMO label as a way to miss out on all the free additives to your food, sorry. There is good news, though! The USDA Organic seal does ensure that your food is free from everything listed above. USDA Organic also inherently means Non-GMO. So if you are trying to avoid all of the riff-raff of chemicals and synthetic agents, Organic is where you want to go - not non-GMO.

Our favorite workaround to all of the uncertainty with food production is to buy direct! Shop small, look for your local farmers and find a source you can reliably trust. Ask questions of the ones growing your food, see what they use, and get their take on the matter. At Fulcrum Farms we relish the opportunities to be transparent with our process - we do everything we can to supply the highest quality foods for our veterans and our community. We don’t hate GMOs, but what we do detest is the misleading ways these labels convince the public of false truths. No matter what you choose for yourself, GMO, non-GMO, Organic, whatever - we want you to know what you’re getting and make sure you get what you deserve - the truth!

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