... and why buying organic could really be a case of life and death.
Upbeat disclaimer: this isn't my happiest post, but it is something I seriously believe in and want to share with you. Thanks for reading!
I recently had the privilege of hearing Jeffrey M. Smith speak at a conference on Natural Living. He is a consumer activist, politician, and founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology. He is also the author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette [absolutely worth a read!]. The IRT is a driving force in educating policy makers and the public about the dangers of genetically modified (GM) food. Their work spans health, the environment, the economy, and agriculture -- all huge things each of us should be concerned about. (After all, we only have one planet, there's only so much room to grow food, and the delicate balance of what we eat and where it comes from can be easily upset if we're not conscious of the effects of our buying choices.)
I was floored by the presentation I heard. As you know, if you've been following this blog for a bit, I am a strong believer in the power of good food and great choices on our overall wellbeing. I am proponent of eating locally and seasonally, of understanding where our food comes from, and of paying attention how the things we eat change us.
This was probably the best lecture I've ever heard specifically on GMOs, and I had to share some of the highlights with you all. This is an opportunity to make a powerful statement with every food purchase you make here on out. It's funny: I actually stopped into a grocery store on my way home from the conference and was so deeply inspired (and scared) by what I'd heard, I couldn't bring myself to buy the few things I'd come in for. More than ever, I exist with an awareness of just how important my food purchases are.
According to the IRT, "A GMO (genetically modified organism) is the result of a laboratory process of taking genes from one species and inserting them into another in an attempt to obtain a desired trait or characteristic, hence they are also known as transgenic organisms. This process may be called either Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification (GM); they are one and the same."
Genetically modified foods have a marked impact on unborn babies, children, teenagers, adults, the elderly, animals; truly, every organism on the planet, and the planet itself. They find their way into many processed foods - even some salts! - in a variety of forms. While corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets (not the ones we'd buy and roast, but the ones used as a sugar source) are the most common plant-based ones we consume directly, vegetables, fruit, alfalfa (hay fed to cows), fish, and livestock are also bred and modified to have more desirable traits. Monsanto (the corporate giant who controls the majority of the world's food production, and owns the patent on many seeds that many small farms 'must' use in order to sell their crops) has modified species of trees, mosquitoes, and fruit flies. It is even working on genetically modifying cattle so they lose their mothering instinct: this would make them more compliant in a factory-farm setting. [Playing God, much?]
Many crops have a pesticide function added to their genetic code to allow them to thrive and resist pestilence better. Sounds great, and like it would produce more consistent crop yield, until we consider that the pesticide remains in the plant's cells when we consume it, meaning we eat are eating an active poison.
[entirely sarcastic] Awesome.
Our planet is not designed to support unnatural species. These modified organisms cannot interact with the environment as their biologically whole counterparts do: what this means is we have an ecosystem that is quickly becoming overrun by creatures that won't be able to uphold the natural order that has evolved since the dawn of time. We can't expect the planet to thrive if robot bees are trying to pollinate fake flowers. The system will quickly crumble and our food supply (and entire environment) will be even worse off than it is now.
Below are some of the big takeaways from Jeffrey Smith's talk, which I hope provide some food for thought the next time you... think about food.
1. Studies have demonstrated that all of the following conditions improve when GMOs are removed from the diet: skin conditions, asthma, inflammation, digestive disorders, immune function, allergies, mood disorders, cognitive disorders (including persistent brain fog), Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, autism, and cancer.
2. The Bt toxin (a bacteria-producing gene inserted into the genes of corn, cotton, etc to promote resistance to bugs) creates what is comparable to a tiny spray bottle of poison in every gene in a plant. It is toxic even in small doses, and when inserted into plants this way becomes 20x concentrated. It is a known allergen and does not wash off of produce, no matter how hard you scrub (it is inside the plant). Bt, which can also be sprayed directly on a field, rips open the digestive tracts of insects to protect the plant. Because it persists inside the cells of the plant that we eat, there is danger that the toxin may also poke holes in the cells of the human digestive tract, causing gut bacteria, undigested proteins, and waste to enter the bloodstream. This condition, also known as 'leaky gut', is a symptom common to Celiac Disease, autism, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. (Seeing a connection?)
3. In the case of unborn fetuses, any GMO corn, soy, etc. entering its body via the mother can quickly get into its bloodstream. Babies don't have the same kind of blood-brain barrier as older children, so the toxin directly acts on the brain. Could this be why we see so many more instances of learning and cognitive issues with kids than we saw thirty years ago?
4. A study of hundreds of pregnant women in Canada showed levels of the Bt toxin in their blood, even when they'd avoided GMOs for the duration of their pregnancy. The reason the researchers posited for this was that the Bt (which is not destroyed during digestion) actually comes to inhabit the cells of the good bacteria living in the gut in the same way it lives in the cells of the GMO plant. By inserting itself into the existing bacteria, it creates something of a permanent Bt factory in the body, where gut flora continues to produce Bt long after the original food has been ingested.
5. There is a very distinct connection between the incidences of Irritable Bowel Syndrome/ other gastrointestinal disorders and the sale of GMO corn.
6. Roundup is the pesticide most commonly used in commercial agriculture. If you've ever heard the term 'Roundup Ready', this describes crops that have been genetically altered to be resistant to the pesticide. This means that when Roundup is sprayed on a field, it kills everything but the crops (the crops are of course damaged, less healthy, and less nutritionally whole because of this). There are some pretty scary side effects to Roundup:
- it has been linked to depression, ulcers, multiple sclerosis, inflammation, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, and endocrine [hormonal] disruption
- it contributes to overeating [see photo to the right] -- think of it this way: all of that great work you're doing to build your connection with food and attune to your body's signals might be for naught if Roundup is circulating in your body.
- it shuts down the intestinal villi (the little hairs lining the intestines which help us absorb nutrients from food)
- it is an anti-biotic, which means it also kills the good bacteria living in our guts (impairing immune function and resistance to disease)
- it prevents the body from absorbing manganese and zinc, two essential nutrients for growth and development
Roundup is also sprayed on innumerable crops as a ripening agent: this ensures they don't ripen too quickly during travel to supermarkets. This includes lentils, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, tomatoes, berries, and greens. Buy organic. Really.
7. Rats who were fed a diet of Bt, Roundup Ready corn had damage to their reproductive organs, and researchers noted higher rates of infertility (almost complete infertility in two generations) and low birth weight.
The bright green, thriving, shiny lining in all of this? We have a choice. Every time we make a purchase, we cast a vote for the world we want to live in. While it's true that organic often costs a little extra, I feel the investment is absolutely worth it. Every time we buy organic, we support the planet, we support the next generation, we support the future of our food system in a meaningful way. Plus, the tipping point of the market isn't far away: if more people commit to buying organic, the less expensive it will become and the more accessible it will be for every sector of our population.
You can vote a strong NO to GMOs by doing a few very simple things:
Read labels. In 2012, products with the Non-GMO Project label sold 15-30% more than products that did not. Have an eye out for the logos to the right: they mean that a product has met strict guidelines and does not contain or condone GMO growing.
Buy local. Get to know who grows your food by visiting a farmers market. Ask about their practices. Engage with them. Without farmers, we don't eat, GMO or otherwise.
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