June is National Fruit and Vegetables Month, so what better time to take a closer look at one of the greatest debates among farmers today: Which is better – Organic or Genetically Modified Organisms? You might be the sort of shopper that instinctively bypasses the organic section because it appears to be “overpriced” compared to the regular products you’re used to. Or you may be the type that immediately buys everything organic you can get your hands upon because it sounds healthier for your family. Then there are the modified fruits and vegetables… are they “Frankenfruit” or are they the solution to world hunger and more humane pest control?
Genetically Modified Foods
It’s believed that roughly 45% of corn and 85% of soybeans in the US comes from genetically modified sources. Estimates ranging from 70 to 75% of all food found in local supermarkets are believed to contain some form of genetic engineering.
What’s The Appeal of Genetic Modification?
Researchers hope genetic modification will do the following:
- Create disease, insect and drought-resistant crops.
- Produce larger and more attractive produce or organisms.
- Reduce allergies for crops like peanuts.
- Add nutrients to common foods for more value.
- Address world hunger by creating higher crop yields.
What Is The Difference Between Genetically Modified And Non-GMO Foods?
Genetically modified organisms are a class of food designed for human or animal consumption that uses science to tamper with DNA and genes in ways that do not occur naturally. Genes can be transferred from one similar organism to another or from species to species. In some cases, genetic modification may be used to enhance the nutritional content of food, but in others, genetic engineering disrupts the metabolism of an organism and reduces the nutritional content of food. You can consider white bread, pasta, flour and rice as a form of genetically modified food, since it is refined in a factory. When this refining occurs, it strips the food of all its beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids.
Why Does Non-GMO Cost So Much More?
Certified organic food does not use any genetic modification. Organic costs more because:
- Organic farmers don’t receive federal subsidies.
- Organic farming requires more oversight and is more labor intensive.
- Organic farms are smaller and do not enjoy benefits from economies of scale.
- More organic produce may be damaged since no chemical pesticides are used.
What Are The Dangers of Genetic Modification?
- Genetic engineering can unexpectedly transfer pan-allergens, making people suddenly allergic to foods they never were allergic to before. For example, if a protein is isolated from a tomato and moved to a fish, a person with one allergy may be allergic to both foods.
- Many genetically engineered foods contain less nutrients or anti-nutrients that actually reduce a food’s nutritional content. One example is soybeans, which contain 38 percent more Kunitz Trypsin Inhibitor – a known allergen and anti-nutrient.
- GMOs may transmit toxins and increase one’s cancer risk. Several studies indicate that modified potatoes and corn causes a whole range of maladies in the test rat population, including weakened immune systems and issues with the brain, kidneys, thymuses, spleens and gastrointestinal tracts.
- The use of pesticides has increased over the years, due to the transfer of insect-resistant genes from genetically modified foods getting into nearby weed populations. Many weeds require the use of specific pesticides to be eradicated. There is some fear that GMOs will result in “super-bugs” or “super-plants” that are resistant to all pesticides.
- It’s feared that GMOs can make people more resistant to antibiotics. Scientists use marker genes for antibiotic resistance to see if their gene transfer has been successful. The problem is that this technique may also create antibiotic resistance in humans.
Why Is It Better To Purchase Non-GMO?
The average shopper can be easily confused by the value of GMO products. Genetically modified strawberries might look so much larger and redder than their organic counterparts. Genetically modified milk may be much cheaper to purchase. However, many families are choosing not to purchase GM food due to health and environmental concerns. This month, hundreds of French protestors demanded that genetically modified foods be labeled as such.
What Are The Detrimental Health Effects of GMOs?
- A 2010 study by the International Journal of Biological Sciences found that three varieties of Monsanto GM corn caused liver and kidney failure.
- A suppressed 1998 study by the Institute of Nutrition of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences discovered that GM potatoes led to the development of cancer in rats.
- The American Academy of Environmental Medicine believes that GM food is linked to “infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.”
How Are GMOs Bad For The Earth?
- Accidental crosspollination can affect neighboring crops with unknown consequences.
- Toxins from GM crops end up in streams, causing unanticipated problems for fish. The natural insecticides in GM crops may also harm good garden insects and disrupt the entire insect food chain.
- Crosspollination may make it impossible for organic farmers to exist without their products being contaminated.
- What if tampering with plant DNA creates a superweed that pesticides cannot destroy?
Organic foods are some of the most desirable in the current foods market. In fact, one-quarter of Americans choose organic food each week because they don’t want synthetic chemicals hormones or pesticides coming in contact with their edibles. They like to imagine their food frolicking in wide open spaces, eating healthy organic grain and being treated holistically for their ailments before they are slaughtered and sent to market.
What Is Organic?
For the discerning and slightly indecisive shopper, the produce section can be agonizing. The tomatoes may both look juicy, plump and red… but one is labeled “organic” and the other is not. They both have vitamins, nutrients, minerals and antioxidants. Which is better?
Conventional farmers may are allowed to use any means necessary to keep bugs, rodents, fungus, weeds and plagues away from their crops, including FDA-approved chemical pesticides. By contrast, organic foods farmers use natural means like predatory insects, birds or traps to deter pests and natural manure or composting to encourage plant growth. They rotate crops and mulch to manage weeds.
How Is Organic Good For The Environment?
Farming organic foods decreases the pollutants in our groundwater and creates richer plant soil, says the Organic Trade Association. It’s also believed that the absence of pesticides allows plants to produce more natural vitamins and antioxidants… but how? According to Alyson Mitchell, Ph.D., an associate professor of food science and technology at the University of California – Davis, the difference in soil fertility is really what yields better produce with organic foods. “With organic methods, the nitrogen present in composted soil is released slowly and therefore plants grow at a normal rate, with their nutrients in balance,” Mitchell explains. “Vegetables fertilized with conventional fertilizers grow very rapidly and allocate less energy to develop nutrients.”
Is Organic Really Healthier For Me?
- A 2010 study conducted by the University of Aix-Marseille for the French food agency (AFSSA) and published in the journal Agronomy for Sustainable Development says that organic food IS healthier. Authors found that organic fruits and vegetables contained more: minerals (especially iron & magnesium), higher levels of antioxidants (phenols & salicylic acid) and double the amount of phenolic compounds (which is good for anti-aging and cellular processes). Also, organic vegetables were found to contain 50 percent less harmful nitrates. Only 6 percent of organic produce tested positive for any pesticide residue.
- A 2010 WSU study of organic vs non-organic strawberries found that organic strawberries were much healthier, containing: increased antioxidants, vitamin C, phenolics, phosphorus and potassium. The plants themselves had fewer instances of fungal rots even though no fungicides were used. In a blind taste test, participants overwhelmingly chose organic strawberries as the victor.
- On the other hand, a 2007 study from the University of Copenhagen looked at carrots, kale, peas, apples and potatoes and found there were no more nutrients in organic produce than non-organic produce.
- Yet, that same year, an EU study indicated that organic potatoes, kiwi fruit and carrots were higher in vitamin C. Organic spinach and cabbage had higher levels of minerals and antioxidants, the study found.
- In 2011, Doctor’s Data Laboratories studied organic vs. non-organic foods and published their findings in the Journal of Applied Nutrition. According to the study, organic foods have up to 90% more nutrients than non-organic. They tested everything from apples and pears to potatoes and corn. They said organic foods contained: 58.6% more Magnesium, 62% more Zinc, 62.5% more Calcium, 125% more Potassium, 137.5% more Magnesium and 177.5% more Manganese.
- A 2005 study conducted by Newcastle University’s School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the Institute of Agricultural Sciences looked at how an organic diet affected the health of mice. Mice fed organic diets slept better, had stronger immune systems and were slimmer than rats fed with comparable conventional food.
Can I Trust Organic Labels?
You can bet your bottom dollar that food marketers KNOW people will pay more for “organic” products because they see greater value there. Therefore, you’ll see everything from “95% organically produced” and “100% organic” to “made with organic ingredients” (which implies 70% organic) and “all-natural.” Be aware that there is only ONE official label – the “USDA Organic” label, which means the products have been government-certified.