A few days ago, Californians decided that GMO foods sold in the state don't have to be labeled as such. The state was being watched closely on this issue because had Californians vote for labeling, it could have pointed the future for the rest of the U.S.
Since the European Union decided to require labeling of both human food and livestock feed in 1998, many other areas of the globe have followed suit, including parts of Asia, South America, Australia, and Africa. Conspicuously absent are Canada and the United States.
What Are GMOs?
GMOs are genetically modified organisms or genetically engineered organisms grown for human or animal consumption. In layman's terms, it's the crossing of DNA material of one organism with another. So that tomato you bought for your kids' sandwiches may not be just a tomato — it might be a tomato with fish DNA. Your beef you bought for dinner may have bits of spider DNA in it, and so forth. GMOs have been in our food supply since the mid-90s — and some are now wondering if the rise in food-related disorders and autistic spectrum disorders have a correlation.
Why We Have GMOs
The quick and easy answer seems to be because we can. Fifteen years ago some doctors were extolling the praises of GMOs citing that since nutrition is often poor among lower-middle-class and less educated Americans, GMOs in, say, the corn supply were a good thing because they can inject green plant nutrients into starch based diets. Others proponents of GMOs regularly cite that GMO crops will and do use less water, are help solve world hunger issues.
Then there's the pesticide use. GMO crops reduce their reliance on pesticide because GMO plants kill the insects from within. What? Yes, when an insect goes to eat a piece of GMO corn, the kernel contains a DNA strand that explodes the insect's stomach and kills the insect. Sounds like the perfect solution to age-old problems that farmers have always faced, right?
Proponents of GMOs state that GMO rice, for example, will feed millions of starving people across continents because of GMOs being high yielding crops able to be grown in adverse conditions. Rice injected with nutrients, the argument goes, will stave off world hunger and malnutrition.
The problem seems to be summed up in one phrase — we don't know what we unleashed and what we are dealing with. Not unlike many other aspects of regulation today, the fox has been guarding the hen house. The FDA has not tested or monitored GMO use on crops because the chemical corporations like Monsanto that manufacture the GMO seeds have already deemed them safe. Remember a few years ago when it was found that USDA meat regulators were often ex-workers for meat corporations and suppliers?
Since no formal testing has been done, it means that all of us who eat GMO crops are effectively the science experiment. Perhaps we won't know for years what the repercussions are, but some researchers and pediatricians are starting to make some educated guesses.
GMOs and Children's Health
There's not a contemporary parent in the country that doesn't know a kid with autism, food allergies, leaky gut syndrome, or some other inflammation issue. Consumers and parents are now asking for studies to be done that will once and for all settle whether or not there is a link between GMOs and/or non-organic foods and the increase of ailments and disease contemporary American children are facing. Jeffrey M. Smith's new book (2007) and DVD (2012), Genetic Roulette, poses these questions at length and should be considered a must-see for concerned parents.
Anecdotally, children with food allergies, autism, and leaky gut syndrome seem to benefit from diets that are gluten-free, casein-free, and GMO-free. Pediatricians frequently put their young patients on GMO-free or organic food diets as a way to cut down and monitor exactly what children are consuming. Parents are reporting positive results. It is, of course, an open secret that the United States and Canada — two countries that have embraced GMO crops and have refused bans and labels of the crops as GMO — also have large populations of children with food allergies, autism, and leaky gut syndrome. Is there a link?
The official word from both the AMA and the CDC seem to be taking non-positions at this point, suggesting that pre-market testing is essential...but just suggesting doesn't make it urgent. Which leads us back to the beginning — to date, testing of GMOs for human and livestock consumption is encouraged but not mandatory for the American food industry. Does making something not mandatory ever really encourage testing?
There is hope for those parents not wanting their children to be the science experiment to end all science experiments. Shopping at your local co-op or health food market or growing your own fruits and veggies in the backyard ensures a better idea of what's on your own dinner table. Many companies voluntarily attach a Non-GMO label to their foods already.
You can actually shop for your family with this in mind and record your own results and monitor allergies, reactions, etc. on your own. Talk to your pediatrician as well.
While there are certainly many foods out there that are Non-GMO and Organic, there are also Organic GMOs. It's not mutually exclusive. Some of your big-name organic brands use GMOs in their products. It pays to be a savvy consumer.
Sites like Non-GMO Shopping Guide can help parents make clearer choices about putting GMOs into their families diet.
California's Prop 37
Even though California has voted it down, Prop 37 itself has helped start a conversation about food that most parents would agree we should be having — what's in our food and how does it affect our children?