The promise of GMOs is alluring for many. We were all told that genetically modifying crops would make them immune to weed killers and pests, leading to an abundance of foods that would solve our world hunger problems. We were also told that these crops would require fewer pesticides and herbicides, but is this true? Did genetically modified crops live up to their promise?
In this week’s House Call, I address a question tweeted to me by Christina, who asks “What is your view on GMO foods?”
For anyone who has never heard of a GMO before, it stands for genetically modified organism, which means any organism that has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.
Growers turn to genetically modified crops to address their challenges with insects or weeds that affect their yield and their bottom line in the long-run. Or, so they thought.
We now know from recent reports and studies that genetically modified foods do not meet their promise of increased yields and decreased use of pesticides; in fact, the opposite might be true. In 2016, The New York Times released an extensive examination in which they compared two continents – North American (which embraces genetically modified crops and Europe (which banned them). What the researchers found was that there was no difference in crop yield, and the U.S. growers saw a 21 percent increase in herbicide use with the introduction of these crops.
One measure, contained in data from the United States Geological Survey, shows the stark difference in the use of pesticides. Since genetically modified crops were introduced in the United States two decades ago for crops like corn, cotton and soybeans, the use of toxins that kill insects and fungi has fallen by a third, but the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21 percent.
By contrast, in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage — 65 percent — and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent.
Well, that seems to settle that argument.
I believe that GMOs are bad for the environment. They are creating super-weeds and super-pests, leading farmers to use more pesticides and herbicides. Perfect example: Monsanto’s Roundup which has been proven to be carcinogenic, negatively impacts farming communities, wildlife, our food and our health because of the toxins they leach into the fields, ground water and food.
It’s important to educate ourselves on how our food supply is manipulated. Just think: 64 countries have mandated transparency in labeling genetically modified foods or GMOs. Why, then, doesn’t the U.S.? I’ll give you one big reason: lobbyists – specifically Big Food and Big Ag lobbyists. The U.S. government policy appears to be “approve first and question later.” Trans fats are a great example. Trans fats killed hundreds of thousands of people before they were banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2013 – 50 years after researchers found them to be harmful.
Even though there was a nationwide push to label all GMO foods, the labeling will not be easy to understand, and many of us can still be tricked into purchasing products containing GMOs. We need to properly label genetically modified foods. Clear labeling will deliver multiple benefits. It is essential for tracking the emergence of novel food allergies and assessing the effects of chemical herbicides applied to genetically modified crops. It will respect the wishes of a growing number of consumers who insist they have a right to know what foods they are buying and how they were produced. Genetically modified crops are now the agricultural products most heavily treated with herbicides and that may pose risks of cancer. We need clear, easy-to-read labels that any third grader can understand.
It’s estimated that about 75 percent of the food in our supermarkets contains genetically modified ingredients. The top four to look out for are:
- Field corn and corn-derived ingredients
- Soybeans and soybean-derived ingredients
- Vegetable oils
For more information on these items and other foods that might be genetically modified, visit Environmental Working Group’s website.
Personally, I don’t think there’s enough information out there about what GMOs are doing to our bodies and our health. The research and studies that are available are not making a positive case for these foods. Why take any chances with your health? My biggest piece of advice for avoiding GMOs, and really all processed and packaged foods, is to eat real, whole, organic foods. If it says organic on the label, it’s automatically GMO free.
Now I want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on GMO foods? Leave a comment on my Facebook page, and if you liked this video, share it with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter. Also, tweet me your questions (@MarkHymanMD), and maybe next week, I’ll make a House Call to you.
Wishing you health & happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD