Genetically Modified (GM) foods – also known as Genetically Engineered (GE) foods – have been around since the early 1990’s. Yet there are still many people who prefer to avoid including these foods in their diets.
Even if you’ve never really given it much thought before, now that you’re making food choices for your little one, the whole concept of GM foods may be something you’d like to know a little more about. Whilst the vast majority of these foods do not seem – as yet – to have had any adverse impact on human health, there are definitely a few points to consider when deciding whether or not to give these foods to your child.
What are genetically modified foods?
Genetically modified foods are those that contain genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), which have been changed by scientists at the DNA level.
Foods are genetically altered for all sorts of reasons – to make them last longer, to increase the quantity of specific nutrients they contain and even to reduce the number of pesticides needed as they grow.
Are genetically modified foods harmful to my baby or other family members?
Those genetically modified foods currently available to you have been deemed to be safe following scientific testing.
But this is a controversial issue – and critics of genetically modified foodstuffs are concerned that some of the long-term health effects of eating these foods may not yet be apparent. They worry that it may take years for any harmful effects of GM foods to show up.
And there may be short-term health issues to consider, too.
It is possible that genetically altered crops could bring new allergens into foods. As the Union of Concerned Scientists (a non profit alliance of more than 250,000 citizens and scientists) explains…
An example is transferring the gene for one of the many allergenic proteins found in milk into vegetables like carrots. Mothers who know to avoid giving their sensitive children milk would not know to avoid giving them transgenic carrots containing milk proteins. The problem is unique to genetic engineering because it alone can transfer proteins across species boundaries into completely unrelated organisms.
The UCS also raises concerns that genetically modified foods could contain antibiotic-resistant genes – a serious problem that can potentially lead to the failure of administered antibiotics to do their job…
The presence of antibiotic-resistance genes in foods could have two harmful effects. First, eating these foods could reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics to fight disease when these antibiotics are taken with meals. Antibiotic-resistance genes produce enzymes that can degrade antibiotics. If a tomato with an antibiotic-resistance gene is eaten at the same time as an antibiotic, it could destroy the antibiotic in the stomach.
Further concerns about genetically modified ingredients include the potential production of new toxic substances in foods, the concentration of toxic metals in foods and the risk that toxic fungi may grow on genetically modified crops that were previously protected from these fungi at a genetic level.
So it seems that only time will tell if some of the fears associated with the consumption of GM foods are justified – but, as a parent, you may see offering GM foods to your family as a risk not worth taking, preferring (like us) to stick to naturally produced foods instead!
So how do I avoid giving my baby genetically modified ingredients?
Unfortunately, this is the tricky part!
Regulations vary around the world, but manufacturers in the US are not required to label foods as genetically modified.
Nevertheless, there are measures you can take to all but eliminate GM foods from your family’s diet…
- Buy organic. It’s not a 100% guarantee that produce will be GMO free, because there is the potential for organic crops to be affected by the pollen from genetically altered crops growing nearby, but is still a step in the right direction.
- Look at the PLU (price look-up code) attached to the food you buy. It is usually a 4 or 5 digit number. A conventionally grown product will have a 4 digit PLU code. Otherwise, it will be a 5 digit code beginning with either 8 or 9. Whilst a code starting with ‘9’ indicates that the food was grown organically, a code starting with an ‘8’ tells you that the food was genetically modified.
- Buy from your local farmers’ market. This will also ensure that your produce is fresher and subsequently more nutritious.
- Avoid buying the most common genetically modified ingredients – soy, corn, canola and cottonseed oils. Use extra virgin olive oil instead!
- If you’re in the US, check out this list of GMO free brands and the Non GMO Shopping Guide.
- If you’re in the UK, take a look at this site, which lists some of the companies who no longer stock GM foods.
Please tell us what YOU think about genetically modified foods!
Do you think that the genetic engineering of foods may be advantageous – or do you choose not to buy foods containing genetically modified ingredients? Are genetically altered foods labelled as such in your part of the world – do you have any tips to share for spotting them?