When it comes to nutrition and health, GMOs are one of the most debated topics. On one end, you will see movements around the world (especially in the USA) pushing for labeling and demanding for restrictions (bans) on growing and using GMOs because of their health and environmental risks. On the other end, you will see biotech companies marketing their GM crops as the solution to feed the world’s growing population.
Amidst all the black and white opinions, one thing we know for sure: GMOs are everywhere in our food system and are found in many products in the Lebanese market. This is why, Paty from Paty M’s Nutrition World, Nour from Nourish Body and Mind and I started a movement to spread awareness about GMOs and to push for their labeling in Lebanon.
From our belief that every human being has the right to know what is in their food, GMO Free Lebanon was launched.
What are genetically modified foods?
Humans have been ‘modifying’ foods for more than 2000 years, merely by selective breeding in which plants with naturally higher resistance to fungus and harsh environmental conditions were preferred to yield more crops. However, in 1946, scientists discovered that DNA can be transferred between different organisms and so genetically modified foods came to life. Hence the acronym GMO which stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. Other terms you might encounter are genetically engineered (GE) and genetically modified (GM) foods.
Genetic engineering allows scientists to cross species in laboratories to enhance certain traits not originally found in the plant. So plants can have DNA traits from bacteria, viruses and other plants or animals. For instance, a bacterial gene (from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt) is added to corn crops to make them resistant to certain insects. The insect dies within a few days after biting through the corn. Other crops are modified to carry their own their herbicide making them resistant to the spraying of the deadly chemicals which will kill every other weed or plant. These biotech crops are more commonly known as Roundup Ready as they are resistant to the herbicide Roundup. Both herbicide and GM crop are unsurprisingly produced by the same company, Monsanto. (2)
In 1994, the first genetically modified plants approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for marketing the in the USA was Flavr Savr, tomatoes with delayed ripening. However, in 1997 all Flavr Savr production was ceased yet the possibility of producing genetically modified foods literally genetically modified our current kitchens.
So are GMOs currently safe for consumption?
The USA and Europe (EU) have opposing positions regarding GMOs. While the US considers GMOs to be safe, the European Union recommends organic and non-genetically modified foods as the health and environmental risks of GMOs outweigh the benefits. This is why the EU forces stricter regulations on growing GMO crops and requires their labeling on products.
Most news about GMOs and their effect on health are kept on low profile; however, few studies have increased our alarm buds and forced us to place a huge question mark over any genetically modified food.
Few GMO side effects in animal studies
. Higher risk of infertility (4)
· Higher risk of stomach lining inflammation (4) and reduced digestive ability (5)
. Higher tumor risk (6)
· Higher liver, kidney pathologies (6,8) and toxicity and endocrine dysfunction (7,8)
· Higher death rates (6) as well as premature death (5)
. Increased allergen content in foods (5)
What foods have been genetically modified so far?
Around 70% of processed foods found in US markets have been genetically modified. There is currently no data in Lebanon regarding GMO distribution in the market. However, given that many well-known brands in the Lebanese market are imported from the USA, Canada, Australia, India, Mexico, China… and given the fact that Lebanon does not force labeling of GMOs, we are unknowingly consuming GMO-containing products.
· Soybeans (oils, lecithin, baby formulas, baby food… )
· Corn (high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, corn flour, glucose, fructose found in sweets, soda, snacks…)
· Canola/rapeseed oil
· Cotton and cottonseeds (oils)
· Sugar beets (could be labeled as ‘natural sugar’)
· Moreover, given that genetically modified crops (wheat, soy, corn) are fed to animals, especially cattle, these in return pass GMOs to milk, dairy, labneh, cheese, and meat
· Zucchini/ squash
· No GM animals have been approved for use, however, salmon was near FDA approval in December 2012
Why GMO Free Lebanon?
We started GMO Free Lebanon as we found a lack of awareness among the Lebanese about GMOs, their health risks, and their wide availability in the market.
Our goals are:
– To increase awareness and education about genetically modified foods
– To push for labeling of all products in the Lebanese market. We have the right to know what is in our food and we have the right to say NO to taking part in mass experimental trials. Without labeling, how can one trace the source of allergy, intolerance, sensitivity, illness or disease? And “where is the scientific evidence showing that GM plants/food are toxicologically safe?” (10)
– Demand banning of GMO foods when they are proven unsafe. GMOs are insufficiently evaluated. Longer and more detailed tests need to be done to protect human and animal health as well as our planet. (11)
So what can you do to protect your health and help out our cause?
-Like and share our Facebook page – GMO Free Lebanon – which will be a common platform for sharing evidence-based research and practical tips and tricks to help you make informed choices (even if you do not live in Lebanon, approving labeling/banning in one country will help raise global awareness towards the health risks and environmental side effects of growing and consuming GMOs).
-Know where GMOs are found and try to avoid them:
· Read labels carefully to detect ‘possible’ genetically modified ingredients
· Buy products that are certified as 100% organic or labeled as non-GMO
· Choose 100% Grass-fed beef (corn fed beef are having GMO corn for a diet)
· Try as much as possible to avoid processed foods and cook at home.
· Grow your own garden if you have the space.
References and related articles