Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are a hot topic in the United States and around the world. Many nations in Europe refuse GMO products from the United States, and the trend is continuing throughout Africa as well. Many people are against GMOs, and many don’t understand what they are. Basically, a GMO is an organism that’s been modified in the lab to introduce the DNA from another organism. This is usually done to create a pesticide-resistant plant, or one that can fight off a common parasite. While GMO products have been around for a long time, many people aren’t aware of what exactly they might be consuming that has GMOs in them, hence the ongoing efforts to introduce mandatory labeling in the United States.
It’s hard to picture honey as a GMO since it’s the product of bee regurgitation. But the bees have to get their pollen from somewhere, and in the United States pollen is gathered indiscriminately from GMO plants as well as those that are natural. Most often the plant is corn, which already has a problem with pollen drift and contamination. Bees all over the world collect pollen from various crops, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for honeybee farmers to guarantee that their products are non-GMO. Aside from the obvious consumption of honey itself, honey finds its way into honey-sweetened cereals, snack bars, bakery products, marmalades and jams, dried fruits, nuts, ice cream and various beverages.
Scientists are also working to genetically modify bees themselves. This is being done for a number of reasons and transgenic bees aren’t currently being used to produce honey, but it could happen soon.
Some health-conscious folks steer away from red meats and towards soy products. Why not? They can make a soy bean into a turkey, or so they say. The United States’ soybean crop is 93% GMO. These crops are predominantly herbicide-tolerant, which allows farmers to spray their crops to eradicate weeds while allowing their commodity to remain unscathed.
You may not think that soy makes up a large part of your diet, but it’s actually the second-most grown crop in the United States and it finds its way into a lot of different products. Soy and soy-derived oil is found in all kinds of chips, whole wheat breads, crackers, cookies, frozen pizzas, cereal bars, condiments such as mayonnaise, granola bars, and the obvious choices such as soy milk, soy sauce and tofu. Given that only 7% of soybeans grown and harvested in the United States are non-GMO, the chances that you’re ingesting GMO soy are very high.
Many sugars are derived from GMO — most predominantly, the sugar beet and sugar cane that’s farmed in the United States are GMOs. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) deregulated the growing of the “Roundup Ready” variety of sugar beet. This has allowed farmers across the United States to switch to this herbicide-resistant species of sugar beet created by the Monsanto Corporation. As of 2012, GMO sugar beets made up approximately 90% of all sugar beet growth in the United States, which means that any sugars derived from those beets and placed into your favorite products contain GMOs.
It’s difficult to isolate all of the products that use granulated sugar, the type of sugar derived from both sugarcane and sugar beets. If a product lists sugar instead of the more popular high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), there’s a 90% chance that it’s derived from a crop of GM sugar beets.
We know what you’re thinking — you don’t eat cotton. Well, you shouldn’t be eating cotton balls or nibbling on your shirts, but cotton does have other uses. GM cotton makes up approximately 90% of all cotton planted in the United States, and those crops yield both the white, fluffy stuff and cottonseed. Cottonseed is used to make cottonseed oil, an extract that’s been added to the food you eat for well over a century. In the United States, it’s primarily used in salad or cooking oil, which makes up about 56% of all cottonseed usage in the nation. An additional 36% is used for frying foods, like French fries and potato chips.
If you think that you’re avoiding foods made with cottonseed oil, you may be mistaken. In the United States, the following products contain cottonseed oil more often than not: crackers, pretzels, chips, sunflower seeds, graham crackers, pancake mixes and even some forms of cosmetics. Not that you should be eating those.
6. Canola Oil
If it’s fried, it’s possibly been bathed in boiling-hot GMOs. Canola oil, the choice of most restaurants these days, is based on a GM crop. The thoughtfully named rapeseed that provides canola oil to markets in the United States consists of crops that are 90% GMO.
GM rapeseed is so widely used it’s contaminated the wild in parts of North Dakota. This has become a problem for those farmers whose 10% of crops are not GMOs. Since the wild strain of the plant has been invaded by the GMO version, the two have begun to compete and cross-pollination has resulted. This allows for the crop to evolve in the wild, away from the eyes of scientists. Since most GMO crops are regulated in some way, this can create problems.
There are a lot of products that use canola oil, and by extension almost certainly contain GM rapeseed: peanut butter, frozen potatoes (French fries, hash browns, etc.), salad dressing, chocolate syrup, rye bread, citrus-flavored sodas, pretzels, mayonnaise, salsa, some cereals, chips, crackers, granola and cereal bars, margarine and movie theater popcorn.
In 2014, the USDA approved a new form of GM potato for the American market that reduces the amount of acrylamide when the tuber is fried. Acrylamide is a chemical that’s believed to contribute to cancer that’s formed during the frying process. Additionally, the new spuds are bruise-resistant, which makes them more profitable in the long run. The product is intended for the fried potato market of French fries and potato chips.
The interesting thing about these GM potatoes is that they’ve been modified with the genes from other species of potatoes, not from other organisms altogether. This type of genetic modification is intended to appeal to people who would prefer to avoid GMOs altogether by bridging the gap between the so-called “Frankenstein crops” and cross-pollinated ones. These aren’t the first GM potatoes to hit the market, but they are the first that have appeal to the public in both the United States and possibly the European Union as well due to its potential cancer-fighting trait.
In the case of the papaya, genetic modification may have saved the species from eventual extinction. The papayas you’re eating, if it was grown in Hawaii, is almost certainly a GMO. Throughout most of the twentieth century, papaya trees were severely affected by papaya ringspot virus (PRSV), and by 1960 almost all papaya production had to move from the island of Oahu to Puna to escape the disease. Unfortunately, by 1992 PRSV had caught up with the plants in Puna and the crops were severely threatened. By that time a resistant strain of papaya had been cultivated in a lab, but it hadn’t been introduced in Puna until it was too late. By the late 1990s, the newly-manufactured GM crop of papaya had undergone extensive testing and had proven to survive and yield enough fruit to be profitable, and thus the papaya was saved.
Most people who aren’t involved in baking things don’t think about yeast much, but it’s very prevalent in our lives. Even if you abstain from eating bread, yeast is a necessary ingredient in the creation of alcohol via malolactic fermentation. The Wine Institute provided a statement that GMO wine yeast, called ML01, shouldn’t be used in making wine, but the Wine Institute isn’t a governing body and can only make suggestions to the industry.
Because it isn’t regulated, ML01 is probably used to make the wine you might enjoy sipping, or guzzling from a box (we don’t judge). According to an article in the Vancouver Sun, “If you drink red wine from the United States or Canada, there’s a good chance you’ve tried ML01 wine already.”
Scientists at the University of British Colombia created ML01 to help people with migraines and hypertension. Many people get headaches from drinking red wine, and the aim of the new organism is to put an end to that. The most interesting aspect of the research and development of ML01 is that unlike other GMOs it’s designed to directly benefit the consumers and not the producers, although those categories can overlap.
Let’s be realistic here — smoking is terrible for your health. You know it. We know it. Regardless, it has been and remains one of the biggest cash crops in America, and about 90% of the tobacco grown in the United States is genetically modified.
Tobacco suffers from some very deadly pests, so scientists and farmers have been working to create a pesticide-resistant form of the plant for a long time. The most dangerous bug for the crop is the tobacco budworm, which lays its eggs inside the plant and makes it difficult to kill the larvae. To modify the plants, “Scientists in labs are injecting or infusing the genes of bacteria from other living things into the seeds of the tobacco plant you are smoking. GMO tobacco has ‘built in’ pesticides and herbicides, built right into the DNA of the plant.”
1. Dairy Products
In 2010, scientists successfully modified cows so they could produce milk that would be safer for children to consume. Approximately 2-3% of infants are allergic to cow’s milk, which is the base of most infant formulas. Allergic reactions in milk have been linked to the existence of beta-lactoglobulin (BLG), which has been isolated from a single tailless cow found in New Zealand. Through the use of cloning, researchers were able to inject cow ovum with the genetic code of the tailless cow, making the future offspring hypoallergenic as well. If you think that’s something, scientists are working hard to create cattle that produce milk more like that of a human!
These ideas aren’t on the market yet — the GM cows and cow-derived products you’re eating are coming from animals treated with a genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBHG), which is used in dairy farming in the United States to increase a cow’s milk production by approximately 10%. The use of rBHG is common throughout the dairy industry, so pretty much anything dairy has a bit of GMO in it somewhere. That means that butter, milk, ice cream, cheese, and everything else lactose-tolerant people love is likely filled with GMOs.