The Breakdown on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)

Whole Foods has received a lot of acclaim recently for announcing that it will be the first grocery store chain in the US to require labeling for Genetically Engineered (GE) foods. But don’t run out to your local Whole Foods quite yet. This change won’t take place until 2018. 

While Whole Foods has taken an important first step toward identifying genetically modified foods in its stores with clearly marked labels, this is not a new idea. The topic was first broached as early as the 1970s. A few decades later, a member of congress tried to pass legislation requiring GMO labeling. It stated that foods that were “materially changed” should be labeled because the public had “the right to know.” The bill did not pass due to overwhelming opposition from both government and industry, including the Food & Drug Administration. Proposition 37, an initiative that would require all genetically engineered  foods be labeled, met similar resistance in November 2012. 

Why exactly all the resistance? If you ask me, the reason for the lack of transparency in marketing GMO foods is pretty simple. As stated by Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, if foods are labeled as genetically modified you may choose not to buy them, and that would have a huge negative impact on the food industry.

Another concern is the debate regarding the safety of ingesting GMOs. Genetically engineering ingredients are produced by inserting genes, generally from bacteria and viruses, into plants and animals in order to alter their genetic makeup. For instance, salmon has been engineered to grow larger and mature faster, cattle has been altered to exhibit resistance toward mad cow disease, and enzymes have been removed from tomatoes to avoid softening. 

Most studies have found that GMOs are safe and nutritionally equivalent to their non-GMO counterparts (not healthier!). However, a recent study conducted on 200 rats clearly demonstrated that higher intake levels of GMO corn (Roundup-resistant developed by Monsanto) induced severe hormone-dependent mammary, hepatic and kidney disturbances. Potential additional health risks linked to eating GM-containing foods include exposure to new allergens as well as the transfer of antibiotic-resistant genes to gut flora. Needless to say, more research remains to be done in this field. 

The lack of comprehensive labeling makes it incredibly difficult to be a smart consumer. Nonetheless, there are steps you can take to decrease your exposure to GMOs and play an active role in improving our food industry: 

  • Demand the government allow labeling of GEs and GMOs
  • Look for non-GMO labels
  • Choose organic, especially when buying conventional corn, soybean, and canola. 90% of these products are genetically altered.
  • Support smaller, local health markets instead of big industries. 

Whole Foods has taken an important step in the right direction concerning GMO and GE labeling, and hopefully others will follow. Because after all, we absolutely have the right to know what kind of food we are putting in our bodies.  

Written by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RD, CDN


Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review. Food and Chemical Toxicology.
Safe Food by Marion Nestle
What to Make of the Scary GMO Study? Food Safety News. 
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Transgenic Crops and Recombinant DNA Technology. Scitable by Nature. 
Health & Wellness. What’s the big deal about GMO foods? 

Edited by TCabrarr

Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr