GMOs and Veganism
GMO stands for genetically modified organisms.
I know this is a very controversial topic, so I just want to state that this blog post will neither be in favor of GMOs, or against them. I will simply be presenting you with facts about how GMOs relate to veganism.
I’ll be discussing both the pros and cons of GMOs.
This can be a confusing topic, after all, it is a relatively new technology. Hopefully, these facts will help you make an informed decision about whether or not you wish to consume genetically modified foods.
Again, this blog post will be neutral and I kept an open-mind while writing it.
What are GMOs?
GMOs can either be called genetically modified organisms, or genetically engineered organisms (GEOs). Some people even refer to them as Frankenfoods.
According to the European Union, the official definition of a GMO is “an organism, with the exception of human beings, in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.”
Genes are altered in a laboratory. This usually consists of inserting or injecting genetic material into a specific organism without natural methods (no mating, breeding, or reproduction).
Naturally, you can breed two different plants together to pick and choose certain traits that the offspring will have.
With GMO’s, you just insert that trait directly into the organism.
Two Types of GMOs
GMOs can be categorized into smaller subcategories. The two main categories are transgenic organisms and cisgenic organisms.
Transgenic organisms = GMOs that contain the DNA from another species.
Cisgenic organisms = GMOs that contain DNA from the same species. Cisgenic GMOs are typically regarded as being safer and less risky.
Are GMOs Legal?
The answer to this question depends on where you live in the world. For example, in the European Union, it’s illegal to relate a GMO into the environment on purpose. Any foods that contain more than 1% of GMOs must be labeled by law. (Source)
This is very different from the United States, where GMOs do not need to be labeled. You might see many companies have a logo on them that says “non-GMO,” however, you won’t see products being labeled as containing genetically modified organisms.
Most Popular Foods That are Genetically Modified
Did you know that around 70% of the food in American grocery stores contain GMOs? Corn is one of the most popular ones. Unless you are specifically buying organic corn, it’s likely that all corn in the grocery store is genetically modified.
Some other popular GMO foods include soy, cotton, canola, and sugar. 80% of these foods are genetically engineered. Tomatoes, potatoes, wheat, and rice are other popular foods that are typically genetically modified.
Are Animals GMO?
One argument that I sometimes hear about veganism is that it’s not healthy because we are eating more foods that contain GMOs. This actually isn’t true.
Every single animal in factory farms (pigs, chickens, turkeys, cows, fish) have been genetically modified. They have been modified to grow quicker (so they can go to the slaughterhouse sooner). Turkeys and chickens literally grow so fast that their legs can’t even support their bodies and they can’t walk.
Dairy cows have been modified so that they produce way more milk than they ever naturally would. Hens have had the same thing done to them so that they lay more eggs than they ever would.
Therefore, if you eat meat, dairy, or eggs, you are eating genetically modified organisms.
Also, all animals in factory farms are fed unnatural diets of genetically modified corn and soybeans, so even the food they eat (and they eat a lot of food) is GMO.
Why are GMOs Used?
There are many arguments for GMO use, and right now I’ll explain a few of them. Many farmers use GMO technology to help develop crops that will produce a higher yield, using less fertilizer. GMOs are also used to give more nutrients to a specific crop.
An example of how GMOs are helping to provide more nutrition is through one GMO food which you might have heard of, it’s called “golden rice.” This rice is enhanced with vitamin A, so it helps to reduce vitamin A deficiencies in developing countries.
Many people claim that GMOs can solve world hunger because they produce higher yields, but I just want to point out that the majority of GMO crops are grown to feed livestock, so humans can then eat the livestock. In my opinion, a better way to solve world hunger would be to use that land space to grow edible crops for humans to eat, instead of livestock.
GMOs are also used to create plants that have more resistance to weeds, pests, and other diseases. For example, 88% of the corn, and 94% of the soy that is grown in the United States has been genetically modified so that it’s either herbicide resistant, or insect resistant, or both (Source).
GMOs are also used to give foods a longer shelf life. They can even make crops more resistant to harsher weather which would make them easier to grow in less than ideal growing climates.
In terms of environmental benefits, GMO crops usually require fewer chemicals and machinery to take care of.
Arguments Against GMOs
Now that you know a few of the reasons why GMOs are used, here are some arguments against them.
The main argument you will hear when it comes to GMOs is that they haven’t been around long enough for us to know the long-term health effects of consuming them. After all, GMOs have only been around since 1996.
GMOs lead to more monoculture, which is the act of growing one single crop (such as corn or soybeans) over a very large area. This is bad for biological diversity. Instead of having natural plant diversity, monoculture consists of rows and rows of crops that are completely identical, basically clones of each other.
Another argument against GMOs is that it’s simply not natural. For example, scientists are transferring genes not only from different species, but even across entire kingdoms. They do this by inserting animal genes into plants. These genotypes would never happen naturally. The results of this science are way more unpredictable than crossing similar things such as a Gala apple with a Red Delicious apple.
Some people experience negative allergic reactions to GMO products.
One of the biggest controversies about GMOs is how in places like the United States, they aren’t labeled.
Whether or not you agree with GMOs, I believe they should be labeled so consumers can make their own decision about whether or not they want to buy these foods.
GMOs & Animal Rights
If you care about animal rights, GMOs can definitely raise some concerns. Before GMOs are introduced, they are almost always experimented on animals. There have been so many studies done on rats where they feed them excessive amounts of GMO foods, causing them to get liver cancers and huge tumors.
GMOs are also tested on animals just to determine their overall safety. Even experimenting on animals themselves to patent genetically modified animals is a concern in itself. When you patent an animal, you are viewing them as property rather than a living being.
The FDA requires that food additives must be proven to be safe. Even though there are no specific tests, the FDA offers guidelines for toxicity studies. In these guidelines, it includes testing on both rodents and also non-rodent animals, which are usually dogs.
Long-term tests and studies mean more and more animals suffering in scientific labs.
How to Know if Something is GMO?
Even though genetically modified foods aren’t labeled, there are still ways to find out whether or not a food is genetically engineered.
The absolute best way to ensure that you aren’t purchasing GMO foods is to buy food that is organic. In North America, foods that are 100% organic are legally not allowed to contain GMOs.
You know how fruits and vegetables come with stickers and a PLU code? You can sometimes use these codes to figure out if a food is GMO or not.
If the PLU code is a 4-digit number, the food is conventionally produced (not organic). It may, or may not be genetically modified.
If the PLU code is a 5-digit number that starts with an 8, it’s always genetically modified. However, not all GMO foods will have a PLU code, because it’s not mandatory to provide a PLU label.
If the PLU code is a 5-digit number that starts with a 9, it is organic, and it is not genetically modified. (Source)
If you are buying packaged foods (such as snacks, granola bars, tortilla chips, etc), the best way to know if something contains GMOs or not is to look for a non-GMO or GMO-free label. It used to be rare to find products with these labels, but they are becoming more and more common. Especially if you go to a health food store or check the “natural” area of your grocery store, you will find some items with this label.
Best Ways to Avoid GMOs
If your goal is to avoid GMOs, I’d really recommend shopping at farmers markets. This way, you can ask the farmer directly if their products contain GMOs, and the vast majority of them don’t.
Shopping locally at farmers markets is always great for the environment and can help lower your carbon footprint.
In addition to checking labels, buying organic and looking at PLU codes, another great way to avoid them is to grow your own food.
Even if you just have a small balcony, you can grow plants in containers that are typically genetically modified such as tomatoes and potatoes. When you buy seeds, make sure they are organic and not genetically modified!
I hope this blog post opened your eyes to GMOs and educated you a bit more about them. I did lots of research throughout this blog post to determine my own personal stance on them.
When it comes down to it, I avoid GMO products whenever I can, but since they are in so many products they are sometimes unavoidable.
What are your thoughts on GMOs? Do you consume them? Do you try to avoid them? I would love to hear your opinions and experiences in the comments!