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How Concerned Should I Be About GMOs?

Dec 3 2020
4 min read
Close-up of green crops on farm with mountains and blue sky in the background.

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, refer to living plants that have had specific changes introduced into their DNA using genetic engineering.

At Canyon Ranch, we feel that the potential risks to human health and the environment from GMOs have not been adequately studied. That’s why we don’t use genetically modified foods or ingredients in our kitchens.

During the process of genetic modification, genetic material is either introduced or removed, often using viruses or bacteria. The goal is generally to increase a crop’s yield by improving resistance to disease or pests, but any genetic characteristic like taste, size, texture, or nutritional value can be altered as well.

Most of the canola, corn, cotton (as cottonseed oil), soy, Hawaiian papaya, sugar beets, zucchini, and summer squash in our food supply are genetically modified (GM). According to the FDA, 94 percent of soybeans and 92 percent of corn planted in the U.S. are GM, and 95 percent of animals marketed for food consume genetically modified food.

Many organizations such as the World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Medical Association support the safety of GMOs. But a number of scientists and public activists have spoken out to shine a light on the potential risks for both individuals and the environment.

The potential risks of genetically modified foods are mostly related to the unintended consequences of fiddling with the genetics of what we eat, and include:

  • Toxicity: Some crops are genetically engineered to produce their own herbicides and pesticides in an effort to reduce the use of these chemicals in the field. This type of genetic modification has caused some to worry about the toxicity of those substances in the people and animals that consume the crops.

  • Antibiotic Resistance: Genetic alteration can add bacterial resistance to a crop, and there are concerns that new antibiotic-resistant bacteria may evolve.

  • Allergic Potential: Because DNA controls the production of proteins in a cell or organism, protein changes in a GM crop may trigger new allergic reactions. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that when a gene from a Brazil nut was inserted into soybeans, the protein responsible for Brazil nut allergy showed up in the soybeans.

Alteration of nutritional content – While altering the DNA of a crop may change one characteristic in a positive way, because DNA controls many factors, the crop’s nutritional value may be unintentionally altered.

On many occasions, GM crops have been found to migrate into nearby fields where they cross-pollinate with non-GM crops. While more than 60 countries require labeling of genetically modified foods, it is not required in Canada and only began in the United States in 2018.

Manufacturers in the U.S. will be required to label products containing GMOs by 2022, and will use the term “bioengineered” to do so. There are exemptions for smaller businesses and a higher threshold for contamination than in some other developed countries. The limited, or in some cases lack of, labeling makes it difficult for American consumers to avoid genetically modified foods if they choose to.

We encourage you to determine for yourself the relative importance of this issue compared to many others related to food and health. And although it may not be possible for you to avoid GMOs completely, you can lessen your exposure by following these tips:

Look at the PLU Code (a four- or five-digit number typically found on a sticker) on fresh produce and avoid codes beginning with the number 8, which indicates the food is genetically modified.

Explore the many brands that have GMO-free products at the Non-GMO Project.