EAT TASTE HEAL: An Ayurvedic Cookbook for Modern Living
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Why Buy Organic?
ayurveda 101
what's my dosha?
the six tastes
ayurveda detox
ayurvedic resources
why buy organic?
why buy organic?
genetic modification
food additives
refined foods
microwaved foods
water quality
cow's milk
healthy food resources

Genetically Modified Foods

Consider two potatoes side by side. The first potato is a large, fresh, organic variety. The second is also large and fresh, but a little different. Lab technicians inserted artificial genes into this potato, in order to create bacterial pesticides in each of its cells. After nibbling from this variety, beetles and other insects will die. The first potato is an ancient staple of agrarian life. The second is a technological creation. While the newer potato may sound less appetizing and even a bit frightening, this type of genetically modified food is entering our food chain at a staggering rate.

The genetic modification of food is a process in which genes from one organism are inserted into another, usually unrelated organism, in an attempt to transfer a desired trait. Foreign genes may derive from non-related plants, bacteria, fungi, insects, viruses, or animals. In 1996, genetically modified crops accounted for 4 million acres of farmland world-wide. By the year 2001, these crops accounted for over 100 million acres.

Today, five multi-national biotech corporations control more than 95% of the market for genetically modified foods. Despite claims by these companies that they are making foods healthier and more abundant, research has done little to support their claims. What we do know, however, is that these companies are profiting financially in a big way.

Genetically modified foods (or “GM” foods for short) go by a variety of different names. Some of these include “genetically modified organism”(GMO), “genetically engineered”(GE), and “transgenic.” The corporations behind these foods have pumped millions of dollars into marketing and advertising to improve public opinion about biotechnology, and what they call “genetic enhancements” or “genetic improvements.”

Genetically Modified Foods
The most common GM foods include varieties of soy, corn, cotton, and canola designed to withstand large sprayings of chemical herbicides. When using herbicides produced by the same company as the crops themselves, farmers have the ability to kill weeds without damaging their crops. Biotech companies state that these herbicide-resistant crops require less chemical usage than conventional varieties. Research suggests that farmers are actually spraying these crops with more herbicides. It may come as no surprise that the five leading biotech firms are also the world’s leading producers of herbicides and agricultural chemicals.

Other GM foods currently on the market include tomatoes, papayas, daikon, sugar beets, potatoes, yellow crookneck squash, zucchini, radicchio, and flax. The genetically-modified growth hormone, rBGH, is also widely used to increase milk production in cows. Dozens of other foods are currently in advanced stages of testing. These include salmon that grow four times faster than normal breeds, cantaloupes that ripen at slower rates (for longer shelf-life), and corn that produces pharmaceutical proteins for blood clotting medications and other drugs. These last “biopharmaceuticals” are among the most controversial uses of genetic engineering in agriculture, because of the ethical issues surrounding the insertion of human genes into food crops.

No long-term studies have been conducted on the physiological effects of GM foods on humans. In reality, the technology is too young even to begin to understand the health impacts of these foods. Scientists, however, have raised concerns regarding the creation of GM-related food allergens in the human body. In short-term studies, for example, GM corn has been shown to trigger mild allergic responses. Soybeans containing the genes of Brazil nuts have also triggered responses in people with pre-existing allergies to this nut.

On a fundamental level, we know that manipulating the genetic structure of food immediately alters billions of years of evolution. The question arises whether humans contain adequate blueprints from nature to digest and utilize these foods properly? Only time and further testing can truly determine the subtle effects of these foods on the mind and body.

The long-term environmental effects of GM foods are also unknown. In short-term studies, these crops are shown to cross-pollinate at rates nearly 20 times greater than conventionally grown crops. This means GM crops are more likely to spread their genes to non-GM varieties via wind, insects, or birds. Through cross-pollination, the genetic structure of a non-GM crop is permanently altered, thereby posing a threat to an entire species of food. Scientists have similar concerns regarding the threat GM fish may pose to natural breeds should one be mistakenly released into the wild.

Lack of soil biodiversity is another area of environmental concern surrounding GM foods. Similar to conventional farming methods, thousands of consecutive acres are being planted with the same GM crop. Couple these mono-crop practices with increased chemical spraying, and the threat to important soil bacteria and related organisms is greatly magnified. GM crops have also proven to kill non-targeted insects such as the monarch butterfly, indicating a threat to overall ecological diversity.

The United States is the most vocal supporter of GM foods in the world. It is estimated that over two thirds of the U.S. soybean crop and one third of the U.S corn crop is genetically modified. Further, nearly two thirds of all foods in U.S supermarkets may now be genetically modified, largely due to the fact that soy oil and corn syrup are two staple ingredients of processed foods. There are currently no labeling or safety requirements for GM foods in the U.S. One may, therefore, conclude that most Americans are unknowing participants in a massive experiment.

While the U.S. continues to support GM foods, over 30 countries around the world have turned their backs upon these foods. These include Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, North Korea, countries in Africa, most of the European Union, and additional countries in Asia. Citing insufficient research, many have banned all imports on GM foods. Others have implemented strict labeling standards for products containing GM ingredients. Developing countries such as Zimbabwe have declined foreign food aid due to the unknown effects GM crops may have on their own farming systems, public health, and ecosystem. Even in the U.S., many non-organic companies are now committing to 100 percent GM-free ingredients in their products.

At this point, you may be wondering how to avoid GM foods in your own diet. Under the new USDA organic labeling guidelines, organic foods may not contain any GM ingredients. Buying organically is therefore one way to avoid these foods. If you are not able to buy organically, then you can familiarize yourself with common GM ingredients and avoid these when possible. The biggest culprits include non-organic soy, corn, and canola products. With regards to soy and corn, watch out for these following foods and ingredients:

Soybeans: margarine, unspecified vegetable oils, soy oil, soy flour, soy protein isolates, soy lecithin, and textured vegetable protein

Corn: fresh corn, canned and frozen corn, corn sweeteners (including corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup), corn oil, corn flour, and corn starch

Today, the genetic modification of food is one of the most important issues threatening our world food supply. As biotechnology continues to advance, attempts to improve upon nature will also continue. Only by demanding safe, clean food can we ensure that long-term collective health wins out over short-term corporate profits.

© Five Elements Press