Hello friends! I want to go over a term that has stirred up a lot of fear over the last several years: GMOs.
As people become more interested in healthy eating, they also grow more concerned about ingredients, food additives, and GMOs. In fact, a survey done in 2018 showed that nearly half of the participants thought that GMOs are worse for one’s health compared to non-GMO foods.
Now, when you are seeing “GMO-free” foods advertised in the grocery store, it can be easy to wonder “Should I be eating this? Is this safe for me? How do I know?”
I know you are confused, do not worry. You are not alone. That’s why you have me, your oncology dietitian, to break down the science so that you can feel CONFIDENT in your food choices once again.
What even are GMOs?
I always find it interesting when some of the biggest opposers to GMOs don’t even know what GMO stands for or what it means. GMO means Genetically Modified Organisms.
If you break it down word by word, it means: a living thing (organism) that went through some changes (modified) in their DNA (genetically).
Why Use GMOs
Now it may seem scary to think of someone messing around in the DNA of an organism and then putting it in our food supply, but it is not that crazy of an idea. In fact, genetic engineering has been done for thousands of years.
Long before the age of modern technology, farmers would crossbreed their plants and animals in an attempt to transfer desirable traits from one organism to another. That’s one reason why we have our different dog breeds like dachshunds and poodles, for example.
Back then, this process would not necessarily give you the right mix of desired traits, so it was a bit of a gamble. Current technology makes this practice much easier and more efficient, resulting in a more predictable end product.
- Produce certain flavors
- Decrease the need for insecticides
- Increase the amount of crop for farmers
- Help crops endure drought conditions
- Enhance nutritional content
- Eliminate browning and bruising (which reduces waste)
GMOs: Myths vs Facts
MYTH: GMOs Cause Cancer
Currently, there is NOT SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE linking GMO foods as a known carcinogen. Following strict food lists to eliminate GMO foods from your diet may lower your total fruit and vegetable intake.
As your cancer dietitian, I want you to be focused on ADDING fruits and vegetables, not taking them away. Remember that a diet HIGH in plants is recommended for cancer prevention.
MYTH: All of Our Foods Contain GMOs
Only 10 plants are approved for genetic modification!
- Rainbow papayas
- Sugar beets
- Summer squash
Although You can find also find GMOs in products that contain these foods as their ingredients, such as soybean oil, corn syrup, and sugar, not ALL foods contain GMOs.
MYTH: GMOs are not safe
In order for an organization to release genetically modified crops into the market, they have to go through strict testing in both the lab and field to make sure the product does not cause harm to people, animals, or the planet.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration), USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), & EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) all heavily regulate the use of GMOs to ensure they are safe.
Some people claim that GMOs do not have the same amount of nutrients as non-GMO foods; however, years of research suggests that there is not a significant difference in the nutritional content between these two groups.
MYTH: GMOs are only in food
Although you can definitely find GMOs in some food that we eat, GMOs have other uses!
Did you know that a type of insulin is a product of genetic engineering? Those with type one and advanced forms of type two diabetes require this medicine to live. Previously, we used to get insulin from the pancreas of animals. Although it saved many lives and helped those with diabetes, some people experienced allergic reactions. In the late 70s, scientists created a type of insulin using yeast and bacteria, and it is still used today!
Prior to current technology, pests could easily wipe out entire fields of this crop: a problem for both small- and large-scale farmers. Genetically engineered cotton, however, contains the genes from a microbe that kills these nasty pests. An additional bonus is that since the crop is pest resistant, the farmer can use less pesticides!
MYTH: Unlike all other seeds, GMO seeds cannot be saved
If you save GMO seeds and replant, then you would be guilty of violating intellectual property rights, since organizations produce GMO seeds through years of hard work and research. It would be kind of like plagiarizing. In other words, it’s stealing from the scientists that produced it. Monsanto has sued farmers in the past for reusing their seeds. Besides, farmers would not want to reuse the seeds anyway since they are not guaranteed the same product from the next generation of seeds.
You also cannot save hybrid seeds. Researchers produce these seeds using a different type of genetic modification. In order to make the hybrid seeds, scientists have to take the male part of a plant and breed it with the female part of another plant. The resulting fruit will have a combination of desirable traits from the two different parent plants. The seeds that come from that hybrid fruit, however, will yield unpredictable results that are usually not desirable.
In both situations, it makes the most sense for farmers to buy the seeds each season since they get a better yield and a more desirable product!
MYTH: GMOs are bad for developing countries
Many developing nations struggle with high levels of food insecurity, which can lead to birth defects, poor immunity, and shorter life spans. GMO products are definitely not the only answer to solving world hunger. Different organizations must also address food access, reducing food waste, and food delivery systems, but GMOs can play a supporting role in this complex issue.
The use of GMO products not only provides food to developing communities, but it also gives small-scale farmers a source of income since they can then sell the additional plants. There are also projects that focus on increasing the nutritional content of staple crops like cassava, bananas, and rice, which can help reduce nutritional deficiencies!
MYTH: GMOs increase the use of chemical sprays
Since genetically engineered crops can be resistant to certain pests, farmers can use less pesticides! This can be better for the environment, and it can help farmers save money. In fact, a meta-analysis on the effects of genetically modified crops showed that the use of GMOs reduced pesticide use by nearly 40%. That’s nearly half as much!
There are several organizations and individuals who demonize the use of GMOs, but a large body of evidence suggests that they are safe and may provide some benefits! As your oncology dietitian, I want you to choose fact over fear when it comes to making your food choices!
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- Atske S. Public Perspectives on Food Risks. Pew Research Center Science & Society. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2018/11/19/public-perspectives-on-food-risks/. Updated November 9, 2022. Accessed February 7, 2023.
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. How gmos are regulated. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/agricultural-biotechnology/how-gmos-are-regulated-united-states. Updated August 3, 2022. Accessed February 8, 2023.
- 10 myths about gmos. Alliance for Science. https://allianceforscience.org/10-myths-about-gmos/. Published August 12, 2021. Accessed February 3, 2023.
- Are gmos safe to eat? GMO Answers. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2022, from https://gmoanswers.com/are-gmos-safe-eat
- Other lifestyle risks. American Institute for Cancer Research. https://www.aicr.org/cancer-prevention/healthy-lifestyle/other-lifestyle-risks/. Published December 13, 2022. Accessed December 31, 2022.
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. GMO crops, animal food, and beyond. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/agricultural-biotechnology/gmo-crops-animal-food-and-beyond. Updated August 3, 2022. Accessed February 7, 2023.
- The History of a Wonderful Thing We Call Insulin. ADA. https://diabetes.org/blog/history-wonderful-thing-we-call-insulin. Published June 1, 2019. Accessed February 7, 2023.
- Klümper W, Qaim M. A meta-analysis of the impacts of genetically modified crops. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(11). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111629
This blog is not intended as medical nutrition therapy, medical advice, or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation or recommendations from your medical professional.