Apples This Rotton Don’t Grow on Trees – GMO’s and what they mean

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An Apple A Day

I’m sure we’ve all heard of GMO’s, or Genetically Modified Organisms – but how many of us really know what that means? I thought I knew, but even I had a lot to learn.

For those who don’t know, Genetically Modified Organisms are foods that have been scientifically ‘engineered’ to be “better”. And by “better”, I don’t mean better for us / the environment / the world, I mean better as in larger size, larger crops, and larger profits. Although cultivation and selective seed-breeding have been done for hundreds of years (taking the best of the best naturally occurring plants and replanting/reseeding them to encourage a faster and more productive evolution), GMO’s have gone beyond the bounds of nature, creating completely new breeds of ‘super’ plants. Making produce with a longer shelf life, and giving us things like corn that doesn’t need to be sprayed with pesticides – because it grows with pesticides already in it. I don’t know about you, but pesticides that can’t be washed off don’t sound very appetizing. On the flip side of that, as insects become more and more resilient, many crops are being engineered to withstand bigger and badder doses of pesticides, which can cause huge environmental damage to neighboring fields and greenery.

Apples this rotton
Snow White, anyone?

Of course, pesticides are only one of the many flaws of GMO’s. Some of the things that surprised me most in reading about them were how many foods these days contain such engineered health threats – I chose apples as a poetic theme for this post, but they are of little concern in the scheme of things. The big players in the GMO field are corn, soybeans, canola, cottonseed… ingredients and oils that are used in almost all packaged foods, making them nearly unavoidable. Not to mention that a huge percentage of those crops go to feeding our livestock, incorporating toxins into nearly all of non-organic meat products.

Another thing that caught my attention was that genetically modified foods contain significantly more allergens than natural, organic foods. This brings to mind a childhood friend who was ‘lactose intolerant’ (or so we thought) until he came to our house and drank glass after glass of our farm-fresh, unprocessed milk. And it makes me wonder about all of the people I know with an intolerance for soy – are these allergies from the beans, or from the chemicals used in making them?

As someone who tries to shop local, buy organic, and eat green as much as possible, this is a matter that really hits home for me… but it’s also a matter that concerns everyone. I am privileged to live in a household with a double income, and the freedom to shop at farmer’s markets and food co-ops, but even I can’t afford (won’t afford) to buy everything organic, or make everything from scratch. There’s a certain responsibility placed on consumers, as though we should be the ones to protect ourselves and make wise decisions, but how can we make an informed choice when products are purposefully kept such a mystery to us? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if there were a big sign pointing to all the foods we should avoid?

Well, that’s kind of what California is trying to do. They’re working to pass an act stating that all GMO foods must be labeled as such. And if California, a huge player in the countries economics, were to pass this law – well, the whole nation might just follow suite.
Specifically, farmers and environmental groups are fighting against a company called Monsanto Industries, with the goal to raise one million dollars in support of California’s Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. If they do, the money will be matched by, Lundberg Family Farms, Eden Foods, and Nature’s Path.
If you’d like to donate, click here: Money Bomb Against Monsanto. The deadline to participate is May 26th.

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In the hopes of being brief, I won’t go into a long-winded explanation of why this is so incredible important. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend you check out Small Footprint Family’s thoroughly researched post on the subject, here: Why Label Genetically Modified Foods.

Please take a moment to give it a read – I found it to be one of the most informative articles I’ve read on the matter. And remember, the deadline to participate in California’s campaign funds is May 26th!

In the meantime, I’ll continue to buy as locally and organically as I can. I truly believe that we deserve the right to control, or at the very least know, what goes into our bodies. Subterfuge in advertising is common place, but when it comes to lies about food and nutrition, it crosses the line from political into personal.

I’m happy to hear other thoughts and opinions on the matter, so feel free to post in the comments section below!


[Update] This just in, research suggests Monsanto herbicides are killing bees, which could lead to a huge decrees in crops due to lack of polination. Monsanto seems to be making a serious effort to cover up any evidence against them:

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30 Responses to Apples This Rotton Don’t Grow on Trees – GMO’s and what they mean

  1. Jen @ Juanita's Cocina May 19, 2012 at 1:33 am #

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I like to buy local, if possible, and as much organic material as possible.

    The sad thing is that in order to add security in fresh and organic produce, you have to sacrifice on the financial end of things. It is so much cheaper to buy nonorganic.

    I’m wondering if the day will ever come when demand will increase enough to lower cost so that fresh and organic foods will be accessible to all people.

    • Willow May 19, 2012 at 1:39 am #

      That would be my hope, as well – the bill in California is supposedly designed to not raise the price of food, which is something, but as you say organics are more expensive to begin with.

      I like to think that if GMO’s and such were labeled, there would be such a boycot on them that even non-organic companies would try to stop using them.

    • oldandgrumpy May 28, 2012 at 5:26 am #

      One of the worst ironies of the GMO issue is the fact that the mega farms and producers of these poisons are subsidized with our tax dollars, while organic producers are burdened with fees and stringent requirements to “prove” their claim of being organic. They must bear the cost of expensive testing that is obviously intended to place roadblocks in the path of Americans not wishing to participate in the grand food experiment as Guinea pigs. There has been a decades long tide swell of countries rejecting American GMO products and their creators. Perhaps this will reach our own shores as more Americans wake up to the harsh reality that all is not well with our food supply.

  2. D B May 19, 2012 at 3:03 am #

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I live in California but have only heard about this topic in passing. I will definitely be looking into this further.

    In my financial position, I’m forced to use bigger supermarket chains but would love to buy organic on a regular basis.

    • Willow May 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

      Indeed! I think many of us are – and even those who do have the money, sometimes there just aren’t good local or organic options. It still surprises me to hear of small town areas that only have one mega-mart, and nothing else. :(

  3. Dawn May 19, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    Thank you so much for writing so well about this important topic. California has one of the biggest economies in the world. If we can get GMO labeling passed here, manufacturers will have to label nationally because the cost of having special food packaging labels for just California would be too high.

    This is what happened recently with a type of caramel coloring in cola. California passed a ban on it because of its connection with disease, and so they pulled the ingredient out of Coke and Pepsi’s nationwide. Ditto when we require higher fuel efficiency standards.

    We really need everyone’s support on this. We can’t let Monsanto win again and continue to treat the nation like a bunch of lab rats!

    • Willow May 19, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

      Thanks, Dawn! That’s a good point, as well – a forced change in one place will create change everywhere else, as well.

      And thank you again – there was no way I would’ve been able to research and write such a thorough article as you did. I’m just happy to be able to share it with my readers!

  4. Kat May 19, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    Thank you for such an informative post. This is an important topic, many times we are not aware of exactly what we are buying when we’re not buying organic. I try to buy organic as much as possible as well, but like you said it’s not always possible.

    In EU there are very strict regulations about GMO’s – there is safety assessment for placing a genetically modified product on the market (case by case) and there are also labeling requirements. Individual EU/EEA countries can even choose to ban certain products completely. I do wish we had similar legislation (CA’s would be a big step, federal would be even better).

    PS – I liked the “may contain traces of fruit” bit on the label.

    • Willow May 19, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

      Indeed! I had heard that this was already happening in the EU, and I just hope the US takes more notice.

      As Dawn mentioned above, a win of California really is a win across the board – changing the labels in one place will almost guarantee a change everywhere else.

      And thanks – I actually made those labels a long time ago for an ‘apple that poisoned snow-white’ art project, which never got finished. They worked perfectly here! :)

  5. Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes May 19, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    Nicely done Willow – I too have always been a longtime supporter of local, organic food and farmers. Bigger, stronger, longer is not always better.

    • Willow May 19, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

      Thanks – the issue of GMO’s has been on my radar for a long time, but it’s nice to finally see something that might be done about it. I’m more than happy to spread the word. :)

  6. Eric M May 20, 2012 at 3:09 am #

    I refuse to get into a long drawn out argument over whether GMOs and biotech companies are evil, but
    1) letting third-wold countries feed themselves is a bad thing?
    2) is it better to have a disease resistant plant, or to spray it down with herbicides?

    Just like life, there are very few simple black and white issues. I don’t believe you can boil it down to a blanket statement that “all GMOs are bad.”

    Wikipedia has a bit more balanced look:

    • Willow May 20, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

      I agree with you 100% about feeding impoverished countries, but despite our (the US’s) great wealth of food, we’ve done very little about it. The US is extremely wasteful with food, and I personally believe that we could do more with less if we were wiser (or so inclined).

      And I’m all for plants that are disease resistant – GMing doesn’t have to be a bad thing, for sure – but the issue I noted with pesticides is that bugs are resilient little creatures that continuously adapt to what we throw at them, and now more than ever there is an overwhelming use of (spray-on) pesticides, which causes serious environmental damage and health concerns (note that there are no regulations on safety as of yet). The use of fewer pesticides (and herbicides) is by all means the goal, but I don’t see it as an issue that is anywhere near being solved.

      I’m not suggesting that the elimination of GM is the gateway into a utopian world, in fact I don’t think that at all – but as a consumer I would like be able to choose, or at least know, what I’m getting.

      It is absolutely crucial, though, that we look at all sides of this issue – I’m constantly learning new things and what I think or believe is by no means the right way or the only way. I want people to really think about this issue, and that doesn’t mean agreeing with me! Thank you for chiming in and speaking up!

    • Katie May 20, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

      I understand your concern as a consumer to have all of the information presented to you, so that you might choose an organic vs a different piece of produce. Your implication that GMOs are designed to contain the same chemical pesticides that would otherwise be sprayed on a crop is both an oversimplification, and just wrong.

      Take cacao (raw material for chocolate) as an example of a crop that would hugely benefit from genetic modification. Currently half of every annual cacao crop is lost, due to mold, insects, and other damage in the handling of the crop before it goes though processing to become cocoa powder. Current research in the genetic modification of cacao seeks to take traits from cacao crops that have shown natural resistance to pests and mold, and to trace the genes that enable these traits, then incorporate them into a strain of cacao that would have these resistant traits as a dominant feature. Genetic modification works much the same way that breeding does, but without the chance of offspring that do not carry the desired trait (if you are trying to bring out a trait that is recessive instead of dominant, or is something more complicated, genetic modification cuts out the many generations it would require to bring forth these traits).

      Genetic modification is not the only thing that the agriculture industry is working to promote. GMOs, in conjunction with better farming techniques, is a concerted effort to eliminate strong and dangerous traditional pesticides. Farmers are being taught to prune and plant in a more strategic way, to estimate loss costs before spraying to determine if it would really save the company in costs to spray the entire field for a small infestation, etc.

      Genetic modification in itself is not an evil practice. We have a quickly growing global population, and it needs to be fed. Traditional, organic agriculture has its place, and the fewer dangerous pesticides and herbicides used, the better, but before we go about damning an entire field of research and food production, we should try to be more informed, from all sides.

    • Katie May 20, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

      That was in response to WIllow’s reply, not to your own post. Sorry if it was confusing.

    • Willow May 20, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

      Great point – there is a lot of good that can come from this sort of thing!

      There are a lot of benefits and good uses for GMO’s, and what you talk about with the cocoa beans is, at it’s base, selective breeding with the help of technology – something I am all for.

      My concern is that much of the genetic modification is a bit of an experiment – there are a lot of unknowns, and certainly possible side effects, of altering the natural state of things, but it would seem (from a consumer’s standpoint) that there is little precaution being used before these products are placed on the market. Certainly, there is a point at which things need to be integrated into the main-stream, but again – all I ask is that it be labeled.

    • Anonymous May 22, 2012 at 11:52 pm #

      I hesitate to enter a discussion as emotionally charged as this one, but here I go, anyway….

      Comments about “feeding the world’s starving population” bother me. GMO is NOT being done out of the goodness of someone’s heart. It’s about profit, plain and simple. If you are one of those doing the research and development, please ask yourself if you’d be doing it without pay or for low pay. Would the people/corporations be paying you if the CEOs didn’t expect to make millions? Would you even have studied it in school if you didn’t think you could earn a decent living from doing so?

      Starving folks in Africa? If they benefit from GMO crops, it’ll be because well-off, well-fed people buy the crops and ship them out from the goodness of their hearts, but note that they’ll PAY for them. The patent-owners will NOT be contributing their efforts, nor will they be forgoing their patents for the benefit of mankind (think Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web).

      When profits are involved, safety is often compromised. Even honest scientists can be short-sighted (at best), or narrowly focused so as to miss (and erroneously dismiss) implications of danger. Think of “fracking” for example. How about tobacco? Gulf oil spill, asbestos, Bhopal (Union Carbide), DDT, Alar, Thalidomide and various other recalled drugs. , etc., etc.,

      No, I’m sorry — I really am — but GMO needs LOTS of testing and oversight, IMO. If even one example of kudzu-like invasion by an inadequately tested GMO crop happens, the results could be disastrous. No doubt most of GMO is safe, and some may possibly be beneficial, but the practice is fraught with danger. The very comments about how supposedly sillly it is to worry is sufficient evidence for me that cavalier attitudes are at work here. As they no doubt said when they built Fukushima: “Nothing can go wrong, can go wrong, go wrong, go……..

    • Willow May 23, 2012 at 9:04 pm #

      That would be my thought, as well – companies like this are more interest in profits than solving the world’s problems.

      And I’m certain there are benefits to the advancement of this technology, but I would feel a lot better about it if I knew there were some kind of safety regulations in place before it was thrown onto the market.

  7. Anonymous May 20, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    As someone who works with genetically modified organisms every day at work (plants modified to create noninfectious virus-like particles for use in vaccines, not for human consumption), I always want to immediately leap to the defense of science when I read things like this. It sounds scary and like REAL Frankenstein stuff, but GMOs are not so terrifying or mysterious after you take just a few college-level Biology/Genetics courses. The wealth of information on gene expression is very extensive (though there is plenty left to learn), and I know that scientists who work on these biotech projects wouldn’t allow their work to be used commercially if they thought it was unsafe, and not in the best interest of the public.

    That said, I agree that there is a dark side to the business of GMOs – legal stuff. Times when companies (such as Monsanto) have taken their gene patents too far come to mind. Also, this technology is relatively new and I completely understand why many people in the public wouldn’t trust it. So while I am 100% behind developing such technologies, I am also 100% behind labeling, so consumers who don’t feel comfortable with the idea of genetically modified foods have an easier time avoiding them.

    Thanks for your thoughts on the issue, and I hope we can make this change happen.

    • Willow May 20, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

      I like your stance, being both for the technology and also for labeling it.

      I don’t agree, however, that ‘scientists… wouldn’t allow their work to be used commercially if they thought it was unsafe’. As of now there are no safety regulations that I know of, and while the crops that are able to withstand mega-doses of pesticides won’t, themselves, hurt us, the pesticides very well may – and I don’t see a lot of caution in that area.

      I’m sure we (the public) have a lot to learn and understand still, and you seem to have a bit of knowledge on us. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – I’m glad to see people talking about this!

    • oldandgrumpy May 28, 2012 at 5:49 am #

      There is a 3000 acre field of rice in Kansas that contains genetic material from the “HUMAN KIDNEY”. It is not confined or restrained in any way from unintended exposure to domestic food crops. While this rice is not intended for human consumption, it is not exactly what I want cross pollinating with rice that is so destined. Containing 3000 acres is a costly prospect, but one that I think is essential for our safety. The only thing keeping this from happening is the profit motivation of American style capitalism that “MUST” place the safety of consumers and citizens in a low priority by it’s very definition.

      This is the fault of our legislators who we entrusted with safeguarding our society (which some believe is the only valid function of government). They have established rules that allow companies to skirt regulation and a responsibility to prove their products safe, as is required in the EU. This is why these companies operate unrestrained here, while not even being allowed to set up shop elsewhere.

  8. Courtney J May 20, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    Great post Willow. I am glad more and more people are coming forward to bring this issue to the forefront. It should be talked about and we should be seeking more info on the subject. I find that so many people just accept things as they are without questioning if “the norm” is good for us, for the environment and for society. I just watched a fascinating movie somewhat along those lines. It’s a documentary called Surviving Progress. I highly recommend it! :)

    • Willow May 20, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

      Thanks – I hadn’t heard of it, I’ll have to check it out. :)

  9. Vicky May 21, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Great post. Completely agree with you on all points. After reading several food related books (Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Dirty Life, Tomatoland) I’ve drastically changed my diet and food purchasing decisions. It truly is horrifying when you read into how food is grown, animals are fed slaughtered, etc – it just is truly unacceptable.

    • Willow May 21, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

      The way animals are fed/treated in another big issue, as well. Definitely something people should know more about.

  10. Unknown May 21, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    I Love that your taking steps to spread the word! I am a full supporter of Millions Against Monsanto, and am so happy the word is getting out. We are not science experiments!

    • Willow May 21, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

      Glad to get people thinking!

  11. oldandgrumpy May 28, 2012 at 5:58 am #

    Every food blogger, and every parent, should consider this TED TALK a “must see”. Really, anyone who eats should watch it.

    • Willow May 28, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

      Great information in those links, thank you for sharing! That Ted Talk is incredible.

      And I think a very important point you mentioned in your earlier comments (and noted in both of your links) is that other countries have banned these foods. Not just labeled, but banned, on the basis that they are unsafe. This isn’t just a tiny issue.

      Thanks again for your comments!

  12. Thea Morrell June 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    Amazing work, Willow – I’ve been a longtime supporter of local, organic food and farmers. I realized stronger and longer isn’t always better. I wonder if they use co2 boost on those plants.

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