GMO – Genetically Modified Organisms

GMO’s and all the talk we hear about them as consumers can be quite overwhelming, and even scary for some.  Understanding what they are and the potential risks they cause to our health is probably going to be an ongoing argument.  As a consumer, it is our personal responsibility to inform ourselves, and make educated choices based on our personal beliefs.  For me, and my health, I refuse to take risks, it means too much too me.  My personal opinion is just that and everyone is entitled to their own.  I delayed posting this article that our staff member Ana wrote only because I do not want to open this to argument, I merely want to present information gathered. So please read if you choose to, but I encourage you to also investigate and form your own opinion.

Photo courtesy of taken by tiverylucky
Photo courtesy of taken by tiverylucky

Genetically modified organisms, colloquially referred to as “GMOs”, are organisms whose genetic material has been altered through genetic engineering. The genetic material is artificially manipulated by merging DNA from different species. In Canada, the terms genetic engineering (GE) and genetic modification (GM) are both used to describe this recombinant DNA technology. The consequences of this relatively new science are unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.

Four GM crops are grown in Canada: corn, soy, canola and white sugar beet (for sugar processing). GM crops imported to Canada include cottonseed oil, papaya, squash, and milk products. Many of these items appear as added ingredients in a large amount of the foods we eat. For example, genetically modified corn and soy masquerade under many names. As a result of this, GMOs may be hidden in common processed food ingredients such as: Amino Acids, Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrins, Molasses, Monosodium Glutamate, Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), Xanthan Gum, Vitamins and Yeast Products, among many others. By familiarizing yourself with the many aliases for corn and soy, you will more easily be able to avoid these hidden GMOs.

Photo courtest of
Photo courtesy of

GM crops and foods have been steadily promoted as a way to produce higher yields by reducing pesticide use, making farming easier and more profitable. However, evidence refuting these claims has been showing up through scientific research and real-world farming experience. The evidence shows that GM crops have not increased yields or sustainably reduced toxic chemical inputs. The argument was that farmers would increase yields and decrease costs through these pesticide and herbicide resistant crops. Instead, the extensive use of these chemicals has resulted in bugs and weeds becoming increasingly resistant to them. This leads to an increased use of both chemicals. Increased use of the chemicals equates to an increased cost to farmers, increased damage to the environment and increased health concerns. Below are just a few other common beliefs linked to GMO foods from “GMO Myths and Truths: An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops and foods” by John Fagan PhD, Michael Antoniou PhD and Claire Robinson MPhil.

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of


Myth: GM foods are safe to eat

Truth: Studies show that GM foods can be toxic, allergenic, or have unintended nutritional changes.

Myth: Many long-term studies show GM is safe
Truth: Few long-term studies have been carried out, but some show unexpected toxic effects.

Myth: GM foods are rigorously assessed for their ability to cause allergic reactions
Truth: No thorough allergenicity assessment is conducted on GM foods.

Myth: GM animal feed poses no risks to animal or human health
Truth: GM feed affects the health of animals and may affect the humans who consume their products.

Myth: Genetic engineering will deliver more nutritious crops
Truth: No GM crop that is more nutritious than its non-GM counterpart has been commercialized and GM is not needed for good nutrition.

There are many reasonable ways to avoid GM foods:

  • Eating certified organic food is a great way to ensure you are sidestepping the GMOs. Genetic modification is prohibited in organic farming, including feed for the animals. They are not fed GM grains like corn or soy, therefore also allowing for organic dairy, eggs and meat.
  • Avoid eating processed foods with corn, canola and soy ingredients.
  • Buy cane sugar to avoid eating sugar from GM sugar beets.
  • Assume that if it isn’t labeled GMO-free that it contains GMOs. But be careful- look for products that are Non-GMO Project verified. While you may see other claims regarding GMO status (e.g. “GMO free”), these are really not legally or scientifically defensible, and they are not verified by a third-party. The Non-GMO Project is the only organization offering independent verification of testing and GMO controls for products in the U.S. and Canada
  • Avoid corn, soy, and canola that are not specifically labeled as non-GMO.
  • Cook from scratch using ingredients rather than eating foods that contain ingredients (processed foods, etc.).
  • Buying organic can be a little pricey at times- combat this by using every single edible part to make your food dollars go further.
  • Shop local & get to know your farmer!

The Non-GMO Project has created a database for finding and searching products that have been verified as compliant with the Non-GMO Project standard. The resource can be accessed here. In addition to using this resource, be sure to check food labels for this label to ensure you are avoiding GMOs.

Article written by Ana Dueck