New Year’s resolutions have a stigma; they’ve become a joke: get to the gym, eat healthier, stop smoking, call your brother, etc. We’ve all been there, and most of us have probably already let our promises conveniently slide, even this early in the year. But how many of us have ever tried a New Year’s revolution? I’m talking about taking the nuclear option, like signing up for a marathon instead of a 5K, or taking 30 consecutive days of hot yoga, or better yet, becoming GMO-free.
What are GMOs and why all the fuss?
GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. If you equate GMOs with Uncle Sal’s mystery holiday fruitcake surprise you’ll get the idea: only a few people know exactly what’s inside. Fortunately, not all foods have been genetically modified—meaning their naturally occurring properties have been altered by science to withstand copious amounts of pesticides—but those that have include corn, soy, canola, alfalfa, papaya, squash, cotton and sugar beets. A significant percentage of these crops have been genetically engineered. The long-term science on GMO crop safety as it relates to human consumption is still out, so the true effects of these products may not be public knowledge for years, much like Uncle Sal’s fruitcake. What is known, or at least shared knowledge, is that the use of GMO crops has had catastrophic consequences for the environment, especially birds, bees, water and the very soil they are grown in.
Why aren’t GMOs labeled on our packaging?
Well, if you live in Europe or Australia or India or Brazil or South Africa or Mali or Saudi Arabia or Peru, GMO products are labeled by the very American companies that don’t label products here. Confusing, right? There are approximately 65 nations that require the labeling of GMO products because they have been deemed unsafe, but for some reason (we) Americans don’t have the right to know what’s (really) in our food. This past November, voters in Oregon and Colorado voted down measures that would have required GMO labeling in their states. The powerful monopolies creating GMO crops outspent their rivals by tens of millions of dollars to spread the word that GMO foods are safe and necessary to feed a rapidly growing world. At the heart of their argument, paradoxically, was that preventing GMO crops would ultimately put conventional farmers out of business.
How Can I avoid GMO Foods?
The best way to avoid GMOs is to have a working knowledge of what to look for on a label. If you’ve shopped at Willy Street Co-op you’ve undoubtedly noticed several seals that identify products as USDA Organic or Non-GMO Project Verified, for example. When something is labeled USDA Organic this means that at least 95% of the ingredients are non-GMO. The remaining 5% of ingredients must come from a hefty list complied by the USDA, and these don’t have to be organic, but usually are. Suffice to say, if something is labeled “100 percent organic” then it must be completely organic. The Non-GMO Project Verified label means the product you’re about to consume has gone through a rigorous verification process to ensure its safety. The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit based in Washington State that was started by a group of retailers who wanted to spread the word about food safety. It’s the only organization in the United States that independently tests products for non-GMO compliance. Any product they test containing more than 0.9% GMO products would not receive their approval. This 0.9% threshold is the same percentage utilized by our enlightened neighbors across the pond.
So Can I truly be GMO-free in 2015?
That depends on your definition of a personal revolution, but it’s possible. It will take someeffort, however. Just like the marathon you’re training to complete, you’re going to have to pace yourself and walk every now and then. Remembering the big picture is crucial here. GMO crops are not sustainable. They are built upon the ideology of profit first and consequences later. We were born organic. We should be able to live organic.