What’s the Story with GMOs?

By: Laura Cipullo and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team

Genetically modified organisms, or more commonly referred to as GMO’s, have been quite the topic these past few years. With Dr. Oz expressing his belief that GMO labeling should be mandatory and Whole Foods announcing their plan to label all GMO-containing products sold in their stores by 2018, it is no surprise that people are asking what the deal is with GMO’s?

What are GMOs?

According to WHO (the World Health Organization), GMOs are organisms that have had their DNA unnaturally altered. Genetic engineering is the act in which selected genes are transferred from one organism to another, occasionally between unrelated speciesi.

gmo-tomato

Why are they used?

Genetic engineering is used when growing crops. The benefits of growing GM foods have been found to be:

  • Greater durability
  • Higher nutritional content
  • Faster, more abundant growth, which leads to lower prices
  • Overall protection of the cropi

Are they safe?

This is a loaded question. You could get either a yes or no answer from many different people. However, there is a potential risk for both the environment and humans.

The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association reports that GMOs are present in 75-80% of processed foods in the United States. GMOs are primarily found in industrialized crops, like soybeans, corn, canola oil, cotton, and sugar beets, which are typically found in processed foodsii.

The USDA, EPA, and the FDA regulate GMO crops, however the FDA’s policy does not require any additional testing to prove safety when compared to non-GMO foods. In fact, many believe that long-term GMO consumption is associated with increased cancer risk, chronic illnesses, digestive disorders, and even food allergiesii. Although, the WHO states “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved”i.

The EWG (Environmental Working Group), recently calculated that the average American eats a strikingly high amount, 193 pounds, of genetically engineered foods annually. “We calculated that the average American annually consumes 68 pounds of beet sugar, 58 pounds of corn syrup, 38 pounds of soybean oil and 29 pounds of corn-based products, for a total of 193 pounds” of genetically engineered foods. These numbers were calculated based on the USDA’s findings that 95% of sugar beets, 93% of soybeans, and 88% of the corn grown in the United States are genetically modifiediii.

GMO Addoption US

“What’s shocking is that Americans are eating so much genetically engineered food, yet there have been zero long-term studies done by the federal government or industry to determine if its consumption could pose a risk health,” said Renee Sharp, lead author of the report and the director of EWG’s California office. “If you were planning on eating your body weight of anything in a year or feeding that much food to your family, wouldn’t you first want to know if long-term government studies and monitoring have shown it is safe?”iii

Food for thought: what’s the difference between genetically modifying our plants versus naturally cross-pollenating them? We wonder if all of our food, whether it is a fruit, vegetable, grain, or meat product, is bred to be superior? If you think our food should be labeled as genetically modified, should we also label if it is naturally cross-pollenated or bred for optimal results? We would love your thoughts and feedback.

 

For additional reading:

World Health Organization’s 20 Questions on GMOs

GMO Crops vs. Traditional Plant Breeding

 


[i] “20 Questions on Genetically Modified Foods.” WHO. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2013. <http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/>.

[ii] Ruhs, Barbara. “Update: GMOs in foods: GMOs–ingredients that have been genetically altered–are everywhere, from fast food to frozen yogurt, but are they safe? EN answers your top questions.”Environmental Nutrition 2013: 1. Academic OneFile. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.

[iii] “Americans Eat Their Weight in Genetically Engineered Food.” Environmental Working Group. Environmental Working Group, 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2013. <http://www.ewg.org/release/americans-eat-their-weight-genetically-engineered-food>.

National Celiac Awareness Day

This past Friday was National Celiac Awareness Day. And we’re excited to say the topic trended on Twitter, which is a big deal for the Celiac community! Celiac Disease affects every 1 in 133 people or, roughly, 1% of the population, but an estimated 83% of those with Celiac Disease are not aware they have the disease1. So, the trend not only drew attention to the disease, but it also allowed members of the community to connect with each other over social media. We were so happy to see the trend that we wanted to share a few of our gluten-free recipes with our readers:

Quinoa with Sauteed Mushrooms and Kale

Omelet with Summer Veggies

Spinach and Leek Frittata

Crispy Kale Chips

Gluten-Free Lemon Meringue Pie

 

Celiac_1in133

We also wanted to share some resources for those who were curious to learn more about Celiac Disease:

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, NFCA

Free Webinar: This Wednesday, 9/18 at 8:00PM EDT the NFCA will be offering a free webinar for those interested in learning more about the FDA’s ruling on gluten-free labeling.

All About Gluten: Your Questions Answered

 

Let us know if you like the recipes and we’d love to hear some of your gluten-free favorites!

 

New FDA Ruling Making Waves in Gluten-Free Community

glutenThe American Journal of Gastroenterology recently found that the prevalence of Celiac Disease in America affects every 1 in 141 people[1]. This past spring we featured a blog post explaining the ins and outs of the gluten-free diet. We touched on Celiac Disease, gluten intolerance, and the false idea that gluten-free automatically means weight loss. Now that we all have a better understanding of the gluten-free world, we have some great news to share! Earlier this month, the FDA made great strides in the gluten-free community by officially defining a standard that will apply to foods bearing the gluten-free label.

What Will This Mean? Let’s Get To The Good Stuff!

Gluten-free labeling has been a bit of a free-for-all over the past few decades. Meaning there was little to no regulation on what classified a product as gluten-free. According to a study featured in BMC Medicine, the gluten-free food industry has expanded to over $2 billion in global sales, as of 2010[2]. With the rapid expansion and lack of regulatory standards, choosing gluten free products could be a rather big risk for those with Celiac Disease and gluten-sensitivities.

As we mentioned in our previous gluten-free feature, Celiac Disease has no cure. The only known way to manage the disease is through a strict, gluten-free diet. Andrea Levario, the executive director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance, stated, “not having a legal definition of ‘gluten-free,’ consumers could never be positive that their body would tolerate a food with the gluten-free label.[3]” Therefore, this new ruling is causing many people with Celiac Disease and the gluten-intolerant to rejoice in the safety of the universal standard.

The rule will apply to the following labels:

  • “Gluten-free”
  • “No gluten”
  • “Free of gluten”
  • “Without gluten”

We now know that gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, as well as some contaminated oats and that even the smallest amount can cause symptoms in those with Celiac and gluten-intolerance. The FDA has decided to consider foods with no more than 20ppm (parts per million) of gluten as gluten-free. But, what does the 20ppm mean, you ask?  20ppm is the least amount of gluten that can be found in foods via reliable scientific analysis testing. It is also the level that meets many other countries’ standards for safety.

Manufacturers will have until August 5th, 2014 to abide by the ruling. Michael R. Taylor, J.D., the Deputy FDA Food Commissioner, states that while the FDA believes the majority of gluten-free companies already fall under compliance, they urge companies to closely examine their practices, before the one-year mark from the ruling3.

While the FDA will not be testing these products before they hit the market, if a food item is found to violate the ruling, the item will be subject to an official FDA investigation, and possible suspension.

What a month for the gluten-free community!  We are pleased that this ruling will allow for a safer shopping experience for gluten-free folks!

 

For more detailed information on the FDA’s ruling, please visit the FDA’s website.


[1] Rubio-Tapia, Alberto, Jonas F. Ludvigsson, Tricia L. Brantner, Joseph A. Murray, and James E. Everhart. “The Prevalence of Celiac Disease in the United States.”Nature.com. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, Oct. 2012. Web. 26 Aug. 2013. <http://www.nature.com/ajg/journal/v107/n10/full/ajg2012219a.html>.

[2] Sapone, Anna, Julio C. Bai, Carolina Ciacci, Jernej Dolinsek, Peter HR Green, and Marios Hadjivassiliou. “Spectrum of Gluten-related Disorders: Consensus on New Nomenclature and Classification.” BMC Medicine. BioMed Central Medicine, 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 26 Aug. 2013. <http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/10/13>.

[3] “For Consumers.” What Is Gluten-Free? FDA Has an Answer. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 02 Aug. 2013. Web. 26 Aug. 2013. <http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm363069.htm>.