What’s the deal with GMOs?

GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms have been all over the media in the past month or so leading up to election day. Why? Much of the processed food in the U.S. is made of corn, soy, or other crops that have been genetically modified. In essence, a food that has been genetically modified means that its DNA has been manipulated in a lab or crossed with another species’ DNA to produce a crop that is resistant to pests like insects or worms, or weed killer.

A great example of GMOs is the agriculture giant Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn, soybean, canola, and sugarbeet products. Essentially, the DNA of these crops were modified to make the growing plants resistant to the weed killer Roundup. That means that farmers can spray their entire fields with the herbicide Roundup and the chemicals will kill the weeds and not the plants.

Unfortunately, we don’t know what the true long term effects of GMOs will be on the environment and ourselves because they haven’t been in use all that long (only since the  width=mid-1990’s). Also, there have been too few studies done to determine even the short term negative consequences of growing and/or consuming GMO foods so this topic is quite controversial. What we do know is that GMOs are incredibly pervasive in our food system. High fructose corn syrup is in the majority of processed food products and the vast majority is made from GMO corn. Corn, soy, canola, and sugarbeet sugar show up all over the place in grocery stores throughout the U.S.

So today, Californians are voting for the labeling of GMO foods on food products. If the bill passes, there will be huge ramifications for food manufacturers and the food industry as a whole throughout the U.S. since they will then be required to label all products containing GMOs as such. This would be an enormous undertaking and in my opinion, a great step forward in providing consumers (like you and me) with information about what has been done to our food prior to us purchasing it.

Unfortunately, Monsanto and a number of other food manufacturers have come together and spent $46 million dollars on a campaign to change Californians’ minds about the GMO labeling law. If they succeed, the bill will not be passed and consumers will continue to be in the dark about what is really in our food.

If you want to read more about both sides of the GMO argument, check out these links below:

Yes: Food labels would let consumers make informed choices


No: Labels on GM foods unnecessary; biotech crops are “safe”


As a Fort Collins nutritionist, I wanted to present both sides of the GMO story so you can make up your mind about GMOs and purchase your food accordingly. However, I can’t conclude this post without sharing thoughts of my own on the topic. If the whole idea of genetically modifying food scares you. . . it should! That is what is being done to our food and most consumers are not aware of it. This is why I firmly believe that GMO foods should be labeled properly so consumers can make their owns decisions about what foods they want to buy.

For now, GMO foods are not labeled in the United States but there are two things you can do to avoid them:

1. Buy organic fruits and vegetables and grains. Buy organic eggs, milk, and meat if possible, or buy grass fed eggs, milk, and meat to ensure that the animal products you’re consuming did not come directly from GMO corn and soybeans in the animals food. Organic foods by the USDA’s definition cannot contain GMOs. You are what you eat and. . . you are what you eat eats.

2. Shop locally. California produces a large percentage of food for the U.S. on large industrial agriculture operations. Chances are good that your local farmers markets or community supported agriculture farms grow crops free of GMOs. Growing GMO crops are very expensive since the GMO seeds and chemicals are patented and can’t be saved. If you’re not sure if something is organic or GMO, ask the farmer at a farmers market. They will be able to tell you exactly what they grow and likely their opinion on the matter since they are the ones growing the food.

Here are a few other resources if you’re interested in learning more about GMO foods:

Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful, A Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA) Discovery Guide

Seeds of Deception and Jeffrey Smith

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

Erin Harner

Erin Harner is an Integrative Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), author, and speaker based in Ithaca, NY. Erin melds functional medicine and culinary nutrition to help her clients uncover their unique diet and confidently cook healthy nourishing meals that meet the needs of their whole family. Learn about Erin's services and connect on Instagram.

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