This weekend marks the 20th birthday of the GMO age – or at least, the government sanctioning of it. Dan Quayle, VP for George H. W. Bush, announced the government’s new policy on GMO foods in a press conference this week in 1992. The FDA’s policy asserts that GMO foods are “substantially equivalent” to traditionally bred crops and therefore require no additional regulation. Despite the fact that the USA is one of the only developed nations to not label GMOs, and the fact that citizens everywhere are clamoring for a right to make informed decisions about what to feed their families, twenty years have not made much change in the government’s view on GMOs. And thanks to president Obama, it looks like change is still a long time coming: Obama appointed Michael Taylor, former Monsanto lawyer, the deputy commissioner of foods for the FDA. It almost makes me want to brave the political arena just so I can have that position and actually put it to good use.
(For a great article on the history of GMOs and the politics surrounding them, read Dave Murphy’s article in the Huffington Post.)
In celebration of the GMO anniversary, let’s boycott them! Here’s a list of the most common GMOed foods. Though I often buy conventional produce when I can’t find organic, these veggies are on the no-exceptions list. Many of these GMOed crops also get heavy doses of other chemicals such as pesticides or antibiotics, so I definitely stick to organic with them.
Corn – Though regular corn is grown largely for livestock feed, it still enters our bodies when we eat their meat. High fructose corn syrup can also be made from regular corn. And hfcs is in almost everything Americans consume. Unfortunately, corn is one of the most heavily GMOed crops. It’s engineered to be pest resistance, but because they’re wind pollinated, the GMO crop can infect nearby crops, spreading its nasty seeds. (Random farm fact: I saved some corn seedlings that we thinned out to plant in my yard, but my boss told me that corn must be planted in 8×8 plots because they’re wind pollinated. If you plant less than that, just pollinate them yourself. Take the tassel from the top and rub it over the stalks.)
Sweet corn – Many sweet corn varieties are genetically modified to produce their own insecticide. The FDA admitted that thousands of pounds of genetically engineered sweetcorn have made their way into the human food supply chain, even though the produce has been approved only for use in animal feed. Recently Monsanto said that about half of the USA’s sweetcorn acreage has been planted with genetically modified seed.
Cotton – It’s considered a food because the oil can be consumed. The introduction of genetically engineered cotton plants has had an unexpectedly effect on Chinese agriculture. The so-called Bt cotton plants that produce a chemical that kills the cotton bollworm have not only reduced the incidence of the pest in cotton fields, but also in neighboring fields of corn, soybeans, and other crops.
Dairy – About 22 percent of cows in the U.S. are injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH).
Honey – Honey can be produced from GM crops. Some Canadian honey comes from bees collecting nectar from GM canola plants. This has shut down exports of Canadian honey to Europe.
Meat & Eggs – GMO feed, antibiotics, hormones… Just remember that anything that goes into your meat goes into you.
Papaya – The first virus resistant papayas were commercially grown in Hawaii in 1999. Transgenic papayas now cover about three quarters of the total Hawaiian papaya crop. Monsanto donated technology to Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, for developing a papaya resistant to the ringspot virus in India.
Potatoes – Potato beetles are nasty little pests – at the last farm where I worked, we would spend hours going over each plant, squashing bugs and eggs – and so potatoes are GMOed to resist them. For potatoes are important to more than just the food industry; they are used to make starches for cleaning and vodkas for enjoying in delightful summer drinks.
Rapeseed (aka Canola) – Canola is modified to be resistant to certain herbicides so that less weed control is needed, and less weeds also means less pests. An interesting aspect of genetically modified rapeseed is that it produces one of the main pollens used to make honey (10 Common Genetically Modified Foods).
Rice – Rice is often genetically modified to contain high amounts of Vitamin A., as well as for pest resistance. Considering rice is the staple food for over half the world’s population, keeping rice clean is pretty important. Rice containing human genes is to be grown in the US; rather than end up on dinner plates, the rice will make human proteins useful for treating infant diarrhea in the developing world.
Soybean – Along with containing enough estrogen to act as birth control, soy is the most heavily modified crop worldwide. In 2007, more than half of the world’s soy was made up of genetically modified strains (10 Common Genetically Modified Foods). That’s a pretty horrifying figure when you consider that soy is also the most used additive – it’s literally in everything we eat in America. Oh, and it’s also used in a ton of pharmaceuticals. It’s modified for several reasons: to increase its resistance to pests or fungus, its vitamin content, or its fat content if its being fed to livestock.
Sugar – Most sweeteners come from corn syrup, but table sugar is either sugar cane or sugar beet. And GMO sugar beet, along with a growing number of frankenfoods, has just been deregulated in the US.
Tomatoes – The tomato was one of the first widespread genetically modified foods available in the United States. In the early ’90s, a variety of tomato was bred to not produce polygalacturonase, an enzyme that’s the starting point for rot.
Vegetable Oil – Most generic vegetable oils and margarines used in restaurants and in processed foods in North America are made from soy, corn, canola, or cottonseed. All of which are on this list.
Vitamins – Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is often made from corn, vitamin E is usually made from soy. (Genetically Modified Food)