Genetically Modified Organisms: An Update

Genetically Modified Organisms: An Update

An alarming action has taken place that may take the citizens’ rights to knowing what is in our food and what our food is made of. In the recent Codex Alimentarius Conference, the negotiators representing the US were pushing an agenda that would eliminate the clear labelling process of indicating genetically modified organisms (GMO) in foods.

A GMO is created when genes are extracted from one species to be inserted in others. A gene consists of a short sequence of DNA cells – which are the basic “building blocks” of living organisms, operating in networks. This process is called either genetic modification or genetic engineering. Often, crops are genetically modified to withstand the chemicals of pesticides or insects (herbicide-tolerant soybean or insect-protected maize are common GM crops).

The World Trade Organization forbids countries from banning GMOs. However, in Europe there are strict measures of restricting GMOs by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The US government is taking a stance that GMO’s are not any different from naturally grown foods. Studies on effects of genetically modified foods on human health are often inconclusive or contradictive – some find little to no difference in genetically modified crops and conventional ones. But there is growing evidence that genetically modified foods may be linked to new food allergies. In 1989, there was an outbreak of Eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS) caused by a genetically modified supplement L-Tryptophan that resulted in disabilities and death. The outbreak was at its highest in October 1989, and was quickly dissipated after the FDA recall of products containing more than 100 grams of L-tryptophan, including baby formulas, protein supplements, and other special dietary foods. In 1991, when Britain started importing genetically modified soybeans, soy allergies increased by 50%. Often, products containing GMOs have new forms of protein in them, which may trigger allergic reactions. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies are still growing and changing.

In the U.S., the most commonly found genetically modified crops include soy, cotton, canola, corn, sugar beets and Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%). There are also smaller amounts of genetically modified zucchini and yellow squash. Quest brand tobacco is also genetically modified. Because soy and corn are one of the most common produce that are genetically modified, their by-products (including canola oil, corn starch, corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup, soy protein, soy lecithin) may contain GMOs. Moreover, many livestock live on genetically modified corn or soy feed. GMOs can also be contained in chemically engineered food additives, enzymes and flavoring, stabilizing and processing agents including Aspartame, xanthan gum, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Tips for avoiding GMOs in your Life

  • Always buy organic; certified organic products cannot contain any GMO ingredients.
  • Read the ingredients list carefully to avoid corn or soy by-products.
  • Processed foods have a higher risk of containing GMOs because they contain many additives. Buy fresh produce whenever possible.
  • Eliminate artificial sweeteners from your diet. Try stevia instead.
  • Many chewing gums contain aspartame, which contains GMOs. Instead, look for gums that use Xylitol as its main sweetener.
  • If you want a portable list of brands and products containing GMOs, you can download the ShopNoGMO App for iPhones
  • Write a letter to the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to oppose US negotiators’ actions at the Codex conference.


The Truth about Tryptophan by A.S. Gissen (

The Seeds of Deception: Exposing Government and Industry Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating by

Jeffrey M. Smith (

Assessment of the safety of foods derived from genetically modified (GM) crops by A. K önig et al.

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After an eye-opening experience with an environmentally-conscious roommate, Rosel's life took a natural and organic turn. Rosel is a graduate student at McGill University, where she studied literature and culture. She has written about energy efficiency at home, campus environmental movements, as well as local designers and restaurants for Vancouver Magazine, Western Living, Curtain Rising Magazine, and The Queen's Journal. When not writing, she enjoys browsing the farmers' markets for (organic) blood oranges and Israeli mangoes and rearranging her recycling bin.