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GMOs 101: What Are They and Why Should I Avoid Them?

By: Ashlee McNicol

Making healthy choices isn’t always easy. Working at a coffee shop, the temptation to add an extra pump of vanilla in your latte and eat sweets is there. I mean, why not? It tastes good, and it’s an easy breakfast. However, with the latest nutrition fads constantly in your face, there is a lot of social pressure to eat healthy and follow the rules that go with it.

Avoid BPAs.

Go gluten free.

Steer clear of dairy.

Count your calories.

Eat in moderation.

Stay away from sugar.

…But don’t do sugar-free either! 

AHH! Who else finds this confusing?

You’re often told what you should and shouldn’t do, but rarely do health fanatics tell you why you should or shouldn’t do something.

Today, we’re going to give you the “why” behind one of the biggest health concerns facing us: GMOs. At The Black Cup, we make great efforts to ensure that all of our products (even our milk!) are our organic and GMO-free. Avoiding GMOs is not just a fad. It’s meant to keep you healthier and keep the world around you thriving. We care about you so we’re here to give you the facts.

Let’s get to it.

So, what are GMOs?

According to the Non GMO Project, a GMO (genetically modified organism) is “a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using recombinant DNA methods, gene modification or transgenic technology.” 

Basically, GMOs are created when a gene is taken from one organism and put into another for a specific purpose. Many companies use genetically modified ingredients to combat disease, improve a food’s nutritional value, and make it more versatile to grow in diverse climate conditions. The Food and Drug Administration approves GMOs. However, that doesn’t mean they are good for you. In fact, GMOs prompt concern for people all around the world due to their impact on humans and the environment.

Currently, eighteen million farmers in twenty-eight nations grow GMO crops on 450 million acres of land. The United States and Canada currently allow the sale and distribution of genetically modified products. While not all products are labeled, most are labeled even though labeling is not required in North America. Many other countries around the world require labeling and prohibit growing GMOs altogether. For instance, the European Union prohibits cultivation but allows imports (a decision made surely to reduce the environmental impact). All products must be labeled as genetically modified there.

Where GMOs are found

Over 70% of packaged food in the United States contains GMOs. Next time you buy packaged food, take a look at the label. You’ll notice most packaged food includes ingredients that come from corn, soy, canola, cotton or sugar beet. Many of these crops in the United States and Canada are genetically modified.

GMOs can also be found in but not limited to:

-       Rice

-       Bananas

-       Potatoes

-       Tomatoes

-       Honey

-       Yeast

-       Apples

-       Meat

-       Eggs

-       Dairy

While some foods—such as meat or eggs—may surprise you since they come straight from the animal, if an animal is fed GMOs, the meat, eggs or dairy may contain GMOs too. GMOs aren’t just found in food, though. They can also be found in certain medicines, cosmetics, and vitamins.

Why you should avoid GMOs

GMOs are all around us. While the long-term health impacts are unknown, we advise you to be cautious about what you put in your body.

Here are some reasons you should steer clear from GMOs:

1.     Heavy Use of Pesticides: GMOs are a result of chemical agriculture, which means several chemicals will be used in working with them. Since GMOs came to be, the use of toxic herbicides such as Roundup has increased 16 times. Super weeds and super bugs have also emerged, and can only be killed by toxic poisons. (Source: Non-GMO Project) This puts your health at risk since these pesticides are in the air and can come in your food.

2.     Great Environmental Impact: GMOs were initially introduced to make crops more sustainable. However, it now impacts animals and their environment too. For example, due to glyphosate spraying, many bees and monarch butterflies are losing their natural habitats. It’s not always about what cultivating GMOs does now. It’s about what it will do in the future.

3.     Health Risks: While the long-term health effects of GMOs are unknown, some GMO studies show that they have led to illnesses due to the presence of certain ingredients. For instance, GMOs can cause food allergies due to cross-contamination, chemicals, and high-risk allergy ingredients such as corn and soy.  People are also more exposed to a harmful carcinogenic known as glyphosate, which puts them at risk for developing blood cancer.

While continuing to eat products with GMOs may sometimes seem like the easy choice, the impact GMOs can have is unhealthy. Consider making a few changes to remove them. The world will thank you for it!

How to verify something is non-GMO

Now that you know what GMOs are and where you might find them, you may be wondering how you can identify them in the store. Rest assured, we’re here to help. There are a few ways to tell if something is non-GMO.

-       A product is labeled Non-GMO Project Verified.

-       A product is labeled USDA Organic.

-       A product is labeled GMO-free.

-       A product is labeled 100% organic.

100% organic indicates that a product must be completely organic and contain no GMOs. However, if a product is simply labeled organic, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s 100% free of GMOs. A USDA Organic label permits products to be only 95% GMO-free due to cross-contamination with GMO ingredients that could potentially happen.

To get a product Non-GMO Project Verified, a company must go through several steps.  First, they fill out an inquiry form on the Non-GMO Project website. Then, they select a technical administrator, and sign the Non-GMO Project license agreement. After that, a product evaluation is completed with their technical administrator. Finally, they are able to promote the verification, which they must renew annually in case anything changes.

We hope this background on GMOs has helped you! Now that you’ve learned a little bit about GMOs and how they can impact your life, tell us – how do you plan to decrease GMOs in your life? Share in the comments below.

For more tips on keeping a healthy and happy life, like your favorite GMO-free, organic coffee shop on Facebook!