When it comes to our health, regulation usually lags behind common sense.  How long did it take us to label cigarettes dangerous? To require seatbelts in cars? To squash nasty stuff like trans fats? It’s astonishing to think about what wasn’t on our society’s precautionary radar as recently as just a decade or two ago.

When it comes to health and the environment, I’m a big believer in the ‘Precautionary Principle.’ That’s a way of thinking through decisions today that may have a negative effect (or positive effect) on your body, and the world, tomorrow. One of the most important calls you can make? Steering clear of genetically modified foods, and here’s why:

What goes into your body matters.

Safe to say, there’s a reason virtually all of the integrative-medicine doctors I know scrupulously avoid eating foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMO). It’s because we’ve all seen skyrocketing cases of asthma, allergies and food sensitivities, autoimmune conditions, and autism in the two decades since these GMO foods have become near-ubiquitous in our food supply. We believe there is a more-than-strong-enough case to avoid them. Conversely, we have witnessed improvement in these ills when our patients remove GMOs and pesticide-laden foods from their diets. Even if we haven’t yet seen loads of double-blind studies nailing down the correlation between “clean” foods and better health – small farmers don’t have big research budgets – we simply can’t ignore the way that GMOs and sickness seem to shadow each other.

Keep your food out of the lab.

A GMO (genetically modified organism) or GE (genetically engineered) food is created when the DNA of different species are fused together to form a type of plant or food that does not exist in nature and is not created by traditional crossbreeding. Typically, genes from one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal, usually in a laboratory. This is primarily done to produce crops that can tolerate strong herbicides like Roundup or that can produce their own internal pesticides, theoretically to produce greater yield for less cost. What’s driving the bus here are profits, not your health.

Who wants to be a guinea pig?

When it comes to GMO foods, anyone who cares about their health and the environment should follow the precautionary principle and refuse to be a guinea pig in this multi-billion-dollar, unmonitored and unregulated experiment. We simply don’t know what GMOs are doing to our insides. Until we do, it’s reasonable to suspect that none of it is good, and the risk of damage high. At the moment, Big Food and the FDA’s attitude seems to be that GMOs are innocent until proven guilty. We in the wellness world know it should be the other way around – and we’ll be sticking to our guns on that score, thanks. So, instead of playing Russian roulette with your body, the sanest option is, whenever possible, commit to eating organic food – not genetically engineered by definition – to help lower your (ingested) toxic load.

So, what’s the problem with GMOs?

There are quite a few reasons to be concerned about GMOs – and here are a few of the red flags:

  • Consuming GMO foods has been linked to neurological problems, reproductive issues, and gluten-related disorders.
  • The BT toxin engineered into corn and cottonseed is a bacteria that makes the crops pest-resistant by creating tiny holes in insects’ digestive tracts. Experts believe this could be to blame for the explosion in intestinal permeability in humans. The thinking is that when we eat these foods, and the meat, dairy, and eggs from animals that consume them, the BT toxin can create holes in our guts too. In other words, “leaky gut.”
  • The herbicides used in tandem with GMO seeds have strong antibiotic properties and damage our gut flora.
  • The rGBH hormone given to cows not only raises levels of IGF-1, a cancer-promoting hormone similar in structure to insulin, it also lowers the milk’s nutritional value and, in humans, increases antibiotic resistance.
  • An ever-growing mountain of scientific feeding studies has demonstrated that GMOs have killed some animals and sickened others, triggering reproductive problems, weakening immunity and shortening life expectancies. (And that’s probably not great news for humans either.)

Weed out GMOs from your life.

The time to start losing your appetite for GMO foods is now. Where do they lurk? In most processed foods, virtually all junk foods and most if not all industrially grown produce, among them:

  • Soybeans, corn and sweet corn, and all their derivatives, from tofu and soybean oil to canola oil and cornmeal, high-fructose corn syrup, and beyond. 
  • Cottonseed – which is fed to livestock and used in margarine.
  • Sugar beets – often listed simply as “sugar” in many processed foods.
  • Alfalfa – the GMO version is also fed to livestock. 
  • Most dairy – rBGH, the hormone given to dairy cows to increase milk supply, is genetically engineered.
  • The sweetener aspartame and many other food additives.
  • The list goes on – and check out the comprehensive list of GMO products to avoid by the Non-GMO Project.

In fact, it’s estimated that 70 to 80 percent of processed foods in the U.S. contain GE ingredients, so you really do need to make a conscious effort to steer clear of processed and junk foods. Do whatever you can to replace conventional animal products with certified organic, grass-fed and, most definitely, rGBH-free.

Vote with your wallet and your fork.

Put Big Food on notice by making the conscious decision to buy wholesome foods that are locally grown, organic and non-GM. The more we walk away from GM foods, the less profitable it will be for Big Food and the less incentive it will have to lace our food with GMOs. Ultimately, market demand does drive change. Notice how many dairy producers now tout their “rGBH-free” products, likewise, the plethora of brands bearing the non-GMO or GMO-free stamps. When you reject GE foods with your dollars, the food industry is forced to become more accountable to consumers who care about their health and our environment. What else can you do to keep food production moving in the right direction, as well, to limit your own exposure to GMO foods? Start by following the Institute for Responsible Technology’s four-step protocol:

  1. Buy organic. 
  2. Look for Non-GMO Project seals. 
  3. Avoid the risky ingredients mentioned above.
  4. Buy products listed in the Non-GMO Shopping Guide

As food activist Michael Pollan pointed out a while back, when it comes to GMOs there’s not proof that it doesn’t harm you. To which I would add, so keep them out of your kitchen and your life!

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