What’s the deal with GMO’s?

GMO Biohazard Corn


Dear Chef Christy,
I have been doing a lot of reading about GMO (genetically modified organisms) I have some friends who say don’t touch them and others say it is no big deal. What do you think?
Pat from Marietta, GA


That’s a great question, Pat. GMO’s are in the news a lot, and for good reason. They represent a major shift in our food sources that have the potential to create a lasting impact on our entire food supply. I find I have a hard time expressing how important this issue is.  It certainly is a ‘big deal’.

I have tried to break my answer down into a few key guidelines to help you make better informed decisions when you are buying your weekly groceries.

1) Food Labels 

  • Be aware of everything you buy. Always read labels. Food labeling standards in the US are great, although you might need a little education on deciphering the Nutrition Information panel and Ingredient Lists on the back of your favorite products.
  • Support food labeling laws, ESPECIALLY on new food products like GMO foods.

There is no legitimate excuse for legislation that outlaws labeling.

2) Know Your Food

  • Local farmer’s markets, community gardens, container gardening and local sourcing are great ways to know your food and how it was planted, tended, grown, and harvested.   Look for organic and natural farming techniques, even hydroponics and other sustainable agricultural practices used to produce your food.
  • Be prepared to pay a little extra.  Eating local, seasonal foods is the best way to maintain vibrant health. The added benefit is a reduction in doctor’s bills and medications that you take to get over being sick from eating crappy food.  Invest in your health and your future with better quality food.
  • When buying at the grocery, look for companies that label or restrict GMO’s.  Here is a list of companies and the retailers that carry them.

3) Eat Close to Nature 

  • Stick to foods that are in their natural, original form.  Whole grains, fresh vegetables, organically raised meats, eggs and dairy products.
  • Your herbs and your coffee are better if you buy them whole and then grind them yourself, so are your whole grains for that matter.  (You can even buy small counter-top mills for grinding your own grain in batches sized for individual recipes).
  • Your veggies contain more flavor and nutrients when you eat them fresh.  Flash-frozen is next best.
  • Shop the outside perimeter of the grocery store where the fresh foods are, and avoid the processed foods in the inner aisles.
  • Current organic labeling laws do not allow GMOs, so buy organic whenever possible.

Sure, working with fresh, whole foods takes a little extra time, but it is very manageable.  I am working on a cookbook called “Plan-Aheads” to address the kitchen habits that will help you work the extra prep time into a busy lifestyle.

Don’t let “I’m too busy” be an excuse that lets you eat foods that will ultimately damage your long-term health.

4) Check your sources

  • Most of the controversy over the topic seems to be coming from the manufacturers.  They are for them, virtually everyone else is against them.
  • The list of countries around the world that have banned GMO’s is extensive.
  • We don’t know what the long-term effects will be on humans  because testing has not been done.  Preliminary animal testing has identified multiple problem areas.
  • Lawsuits are being waged because GMO plants do not stay contained where they are planted and interact with other native species.
  • A rush-to-market attitude on approval leaves untested laboratory-created unknowns entering the food supply with no safeguards in place to prevent them from disrupting the natural food chain.

Any source that says GMO’s are ‘perfectly safe’ is just plain false.

I spend a lot of time telling people to pay attention to their food.  It is very important to fuel your body with wholesome nutrients that will keep you healthy.  I don’t think the importance of this particular area of food safety can be overstated, and I’m glad you asked.  I try to focus on positive news and tips that help you move forward, so I don’t get on a soapbox and rail against things very often, because I want to offer helpful information and not just add to the clamor and din.  I hope my suggestions give you some positive action steps to follow when you are making your next grocery run.   Be well!

5 thoughts on “What’s the deal with GMO’s?

  1. Pat Diamond

    Thanks Christy. I have been trying to eat better on my budget and my daughter was telling me about GMO’S I had never heard of them and looking for information about them and how to avoid them was confusing. BTW Georgia is one of the states that do not require labeling.

  2. Kytte

    This month’s Scientific American is the Food issue and it’s a good one. The article about GMOs is written by David H. Freedman who has been covering science, business and technology for 30 years.
    It’s a long article and there is much information so I’ll repeat some major points and if you would like, I will mail you the entire article.
    Ok, “Critics of disparage U.S. research on the safety of genetically modified foods, which is often funded or even completely conducted by GM companies such as Monsanto. But much research on the subject comes from the European Commission, the administrative body of the E.U., which cannot be so easily dismissed as an industry tool.
    The European Commission has funded 130 research projects, carried out by 500 independent team on the safety of GM crops.
    None of those studies found any special risks from GM crops.”
    “Opponents of genetically modified foods point to a handful of studies indicating *possible* safety problems. But reviewers have dismantled almost all of these reports. For example, a 1998 study by plant biochemist Arpad Pusztai, then at the Rowlett Institute in Scotland, found that rats fed a GM potato suffered from stunted growth and immune system related changes. But the potato was not intended for human consumption, it was, in fact, *designed* to be toxic for research purposes. The Rowlett Institute later deemed the experiment so sloppy that it refuted all findings and charged Pusztai with misconduct.”
    “Similar stories abound. Most recently, a team led by Gilles-Eric Seralini, a researcher at the University of Caen Lower Normandy in France, found that rats eating a type of GM corn contracted cancer at an alarmingly high rate. But Seralini has long been an anti-GM campaigner, and critics charged that in his study, he relied on a strain of rats that too easily develop cancer, did not use enough rats, did not include proper control groups, and failed to report many details of the experiment, including how the analysis was performed. After a review, the European Food Safety Authority dismissed the studies findings. Several other European agencies came to the same conclusion.”
    Alan McHughen, a plant molecular geneticist at U.C. Riverside, says “If GM corn were that toxic, someone would have noticed by now. Seralini has been refuted by everyone who has cared to comment.”
    “Opponents point out that the kinds of alterations caused by the insertion of genes from other species might be more impactful, more complex, or more subtle than those caused by the intraspecies gene swapping of conventional breeding. And just because there is no evidence to date that the genetic material from an altered crop can make into the genome of people that eat it, does not mean that it can never happen or that it has happened and we have yet to spot it.”
    “Many Moderate voices call for continuing the distribution of GM foods while maintaining or stepping up safety testing on new GM crops. They advocate keeping a close eye on the health and environment impact of the existing ones.
    Christy, I really would like to hear your feedback on the entire article, I really will be happy to mail you a copy or even send you a copy of the entire issue, it’s pretty cool. Thank you for letting me have the floor here on your blog!

  3. Fred

    Thanks ChefChristy,
    I think you’ve succeeded in adding to the INFORMATION without adding to the clamor. I hope that your understated approach helps reach more people who are really confused. One health point that I think bears mentioning is that when genes from one organism are spliced into the DNA of an entirely different organism the potential for UNPREDICTABLE allergies is increased. Without precise labeling, it becomes impossible for people with food sensitivities to know what they are putting into their mouths. Because the GMO makers have been so successful in preventing even the labeling here in the USA, we are forced to look for an Organic label OR better yet, know exactly where our food came from and the ethics of the farmers who grew, harvested, and processed it. Thanks for offering such a gentle introduction to an issue for which millions of dollars are spent on generating misinformation and controversy.

  4. Chef Christy Post author

    In one example of a study from the New England Journal of Medicine, genetically modified soybeans carried an allergen from the brazil nuts that were gene spiced into them, causing allergic reactions in test subjects. This could not have occurred in nature, and someone that has a deathly tree nut allergy (I deal with numerous people with those) would be totally unaware of this potential life-threatening ingredient. Labeling isn’t 100% of the answer, but it is a large part of the picture enabling those that are concerned to do due diligence. Here is a link to that study: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199603143341103


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