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Five reasons you should be wary of GMOs

Our little Belle will be four in a few weeks. The time has passed in a joyous, sleep-deprived haze. Rare are the nights when we are woken repeatedly, but the work-life juggle often means laundry and lunch boxes at midnight. Fortunately I have never actually put laundry IN the lunch boxes but it's only a matter of time. Sock sandwich anyone?

So it was through bleary-eyes that I made a fundamental parenting error this morning. “What kind of birthday cake would you like?” I asked Belle. It sounds innocent enough, but I should know better than to ask an open-ended question when the reality is that I could make one that is round, or one that is square. I waited nervously as she thought about it, pondering over my mistake. Eventually, the answer was “I don't want a birthday cake mummy” (hooray!), “I would like a wedding cake!” (WHAT?) And of course, because I have working mummy's guilt and am far too indulgent, I agreed.

In an alternate universe, I would love to make Belle a birthday-wedding cake. There have been lots of requests I have had to say no to — a pony (“an alive one mummy”) and a remote controlled airplane being the latest. So I would love to be the one that makes this particular dream come true. However her big day arrives right in the middle of the Natural Kids summer camp — when I will be busy looking after other people's children (cue more guilt!). I am not sure I can assemble multiple tiers of sponge at the same time, or pass it off as a healthy activity. Fortunately for me, my lovely friend has stepped in to save the day. You know what tests the boundaries of friendship though? Asking your friend to produce a three-tiered birthday-wedding cake, and then adding “but is it OK if you make it dairy-free and organic?” But I am lucky. This girl gets my objections when it comes to chemicals and kids.

Maybe because I am immersed in it 24/7, but it still amazes me how many people aren't bothered by the chemicals. Red #40 in juice and Tylenol, Lake Blue in candy and toothpaste. Yellow #5 in Mac n' Cheese. Genetically modified ingredients in … practically everything. The exposure mounts up — especially in those little bodies. And the clues are there in the press and our newsfeed, but the issues are too big, complicated and contentious to really get to grips with. Some of the most confusing reads have been about GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), because the negative press sounds so alarming that it can't be valid now can it? If GMOs really were an issue, surely they wouldn't be allowed?

I read a really great article recently that summed up the GMO problem nicely in three points. I wanted to do something similar here so that if you don't know much about GMOs, you can get a good basic understanding of what the issues are. I can't reference all the studies here, but if you want to see the research behind these claims, then go to www.earthopensource.org for hundreds of pages of scientific review and referencing. If you're ready, then here goes:

1. You are consuming an awful lot of them.

There is a big difference between hybridisation (which occurs naturally in the wild, often “steered” by farmers) and GMOs which have been genetically altered in a way that does not occur in nature). Ingredients from GM crops are legally required to be labelled in over 64 countries, but not in the US (where the majority of food in Bermuda comes from). The most commonly genetically modified crops are: soy, corn, sugar beet, canola, cotton, alfalfa, zucchini/yellow squash and papaya. Soy, corn, sugar and/or canola are in practically every processed item you buy — you just don't know it. Giants in the American food industry are spending millions fighting off labelling reform, deliberately keeping their consumers in the dark.

2. It's a huge experiment.

There are no requirements for either research or safety guarantees. The impact of GM crops on human health is at best poorly understood and at worst, extremely damaging. A 2012 study on rats fed GM corn identified tumour growth and early mortality. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine denounced the use of GM food, stating “it is biologically plausible for GM food to cause adverse health effects in humans” noting links to thyroid cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, infertility and more.

3. They may be linked to food sensitivity.

Genetically modified corn has been engineered to produce an insecticide called Bt-toxin. This is embedded within the seed and grows within the plant. It kills pests by destroying the cell walls within the gastrointestinal system of the insect. As it's within the plant itself, it can't be washed off, meaning that as you eat your corn chips, tacos or anything else made with GM corn flour/oil/syrup, you eat it too. You may not implode (like the insects do) but early research suggests this may be linked to the massive rise in human food sensitivity/allergy (plus a host of other issues).

4. It's changing the face of farming as we know it.

If we continue as we are there won't be any non-GMO crops left. Cross pollination due to wind and insects is practically impossible to control. As it stands, 90 percent of corn is genetically modified. In addition, although pest-resistant seeds are marketed to farmers as a way of requiring less pesticide application, it's backfiring. American farmers are now fighting “superweeds” that are resistant to pesticides — seeing an increase of 25 percent in 2011 and 51 percent in 2012.

5. It's putting too much power and money in the hands of “Big Ag”.

Genetically modified seeds are easier to patent, so friends and members of “big agriculture” (think Monsanto) are able to have ownership of that particular plant, and everything bred from it. As the fields of smaller, independent farmers become contaminated by genetically modified patented seeds (due to cross pollination), Monsanto demands they pay their technology fee (the fee farmers must pay to grow Monsanto's genetically engineered products). These farmers then get forced out of the system — as they are unable to pay either the fee, or engage in a lawsuit with such an enormous company. Either way, Monsanto gets what it wants — monopoly, regardless of the ethical or environmental cost.

So what are you to do? If you are motivated by all this, then try and buy non-GMO where you can. That means either buying organic (which has to be non-GMO by default) or looking for the “non-GMO project verified” seal. These choices are usually more expensive (though are getting cheaper as they get more popular) so may not always be practical, but do what you can. It's always cheaper to drink water than a can of soda after all. Keep yourself motivated too — try watching the documentary Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives for a reality check!

The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the managing director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. For details, please go to www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda

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Published July 25, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated July 24, 2014 at 10:42 pm)

Five reasons you should be wary of GMOs

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