Is it possible that genetically-modified organisms are sneaking onto your dinner table? Let’s go over the essentials of what you should know.
GMOs (genetically-modified organisms, usually referring to food) are a controversial subject these days among both lay men and researchers. As the holiday feasts are nearly upon us, more and more GMO issues will come into focus in the coming weeks, so the best policy is probably to stay as informed as possible as we prepare for Thanksgiving in particular.
Like the name implies, GMOs are the product of altering the genes of an organism in a lab, rather than through the traditional artificial selection by which most of our domestic food was bred. This is fairly cutting-edge technology, and the first approved-for-sale GMO crop appeared somewhat recently, in 1994. The genetic alteration of edible plants has huge advantages, as you might imagine, like making the plant resistant to pests (or simply more tolerant to pesticides), or able to yield a larger volume of fruit.
Though there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that consuming GMOs is inherently any more dangerous than consuming traditionally-domesticated foods, there is an increasingly large population of consumers who are concerned about possible negative effects that result from the cultivation of GMO, such as ecological issues or unforeseen social concerns. It is possible that the presence of GMOs has had an effect on other naturally-occurring plants and contributed to negative environmental effects, such as promoting the growth of certain pesticide-resistant weeds.
There is a very complex debate currently happening about the safety of GMOs and about what rules, if any, should be implemented about labeling them for the consumer. Although, so far, many nations around the world have enacted strict labeling requirements—or outright banned GMOs, in spite of the lack of scientific evidence to implicate them as dangerous—the U.S. generally does not legally require any special treatment of GMOs in most states.
Something to Think About
Thanksgiving has always been about tradition, and there’s certainly no doubt that GMOs—which have only existed in our supermarkets for barely two decades—were not part of the menu in that original feast that spawned the holiday. This is one of the reasons that activists and farmers have been fighting to keep the tradition alive, and keep GMO off the dinner table this holiday.
One farmer, Lee Bird, from Granville, Ohio, feels particularly strongly about this principle. He is a strong believer in traditional farming methods, methods that were born on the field and not in labs.
His grandfather didn’t farm using GMO, he stresses, and just as his grandfather, he wants to be in control of his own seed, without having to deal with complicated patents or other issues that come with GMO.
Kicking GMOs Out of Thanksgiving
Since you might be thinking of getting rid of GMOs from your diet anyway, the holidays are the perfect time to make deep evaluations about what you’re going to add to the dinner table, since you’ll typically have to plan these big meals anyway.
Here are some tips on going GMO-Free this season:
1. Look for Labels That Say “Certified Organic”
If a food product is certified organic, this means that no GMO seed (or in the case of animals, feed) was used in its production, and you can take the USDA’s word for it. Note, however, that this does not mean that less (or no) pesticides were used, as this is a common misconception.
2. Keep an Eye Out for Other Labels
Since there are no laws currently that require GMO foods to be officially labeled in the U.S., some companies have taken to pasting their own “GMO-free” labels on their food. The problem with this is that, with no official verification, sometimes these claims are fraudulent. Thankfully, there is a private not-for-profit group called The Non-GMO Project which verifies and provides labels, and also has a list of GMO-free products on their website. Check for their mark on the products you intend to buy.
3. Be Aware of Foods That Are Commonly GMO
Some of the usual culprits, which are very often GMO, include canola, corn, cotton, and soy, among many other similar staple crops. Other plants, such as wheat, do not yet have a marketable GMO version, so these are much less of a problem. If you are ever unsure, there are downloadable apps which can list for you the various brands that are known to be GMO, so that you can verify for yourself while you are shopping.
4. Ask About Feed
As of Nov. 2014, there are no genetically modified turkey breeds, but there is a possibility that your roast bird ate GMO feed. Ask your farmer or butcher whether your Thanksgiving turkey was raised on non-GMO feed, and consider the stock, dairy items and other meats in your Thanksgiving meal, too. Choose organic or Non-GMO Verified sources if you can’t ask directly about the feed given to the livestock.
5. Buy From Small-Scale Farmers
GMO seed and the pesticides they’re resistant to are expensive. Small farmers who use traditional methods are unlikely to invest in these materials.
“The consumer demand for non-GMO corn ensures we are able to farm this way and keeps us continually seeking out non-GMO seeds and growing our corn pesticide free,” Bird says. “It might be easier to take the other route, but we see the demand and are happy to fill it.”
6. Cook From Scratch
Processed foods often contain soy, corn and sugar beets or their derivatives, such as soy lecithin, corn syrup and corn starch—all likely grown with GMOs. If you cook your Thanksgiving dinner from scratch, you can avoid additives and chose organic or Non-GMO Verified ingredients.
7. Keep It Simple
If preparing a Thanksgiving meal free from GMOs sounds too complicated, focus on just one dish. Most traditional produce-based sides, like cranberries, green beans and sweet potatoes, can easily be made without GMO ingredients.
“I love roasted vegetables with olive oil and spices,” says Liz Della Croce, the Michigan-based food blogger behind The Lemon Bowl. “Lately, we are on a huge za’atar kick—an earthy Middle Eastern spice blend that pairs perfectly with green beans, carrots and more.”
With the most important people in your life around the table this holiday season, take a moment to recognize the sources of the food you serve. Nourish yourself by exploring food choices while you give thanks for the farming traditions and ingredients available.
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