What is a GMO?

It is a genetically modified organism, meaning that scientists have altered the genes of a plant or animal to produce some desirable characteristics, such as disease resistance, faster growth or color or texture.

97845-scalesDO YOU SAY GMO TOMATO OR GE TOMATO?

The terms genetically modified organism and genetically engineered are used interchangeably; scientists seem to prefer the latter.

HOW IS A GMO DIFFERENT FROM A HYBRID?97845-doodle2

Consider your goldendoodle, the result of breeding a poodle with a golden retriever. That is a hybrid, and at this point in time, very much a controlled cross, put together by humans interested in smart, sweet and trendy dogs. When one plant species is pollinated by another in a controlled cross, new varieties with more desirable traits can be developed (like those Big Beef tomatoes that allegedly shrug off blight). These things can happen in nature, but we speed them along using science. Genetic modification goes way beyond what could happen in nature, including technological feats like gene splicing.

CAN A GMO SEED BE AN ORGANIC SEED?

Not on your life.


WHAT FOOD ARE YOU EATING WITH GMOs?97845-cart

The question might better be, what foods aren’t you eating that contain GMOs? The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 70 percent of the products sold in American supermarkets contain genetically modified ingredients.

HOW CAN YOU AVOID EATING GMOs?

Start with anything with the USDA organic certification. Look for labels from the Non-GMO Project, which has a listing of over 27,000 Non-GMO Project Verified products (including 1,500 brands). Another option: Get out your magnifying glass and check the price-look-up (PLU) in the produce aisle. If it shows a four-digit number, the product is conventionally grown without GMOs. A five-digit number beginning with 9 indicates organic. A five-digit number beginning with 8 indicates genetic modification but since reporting is voluntary, no one does it.

RED FLAGS97845-beet

Think twice when you see the following ingredients:

 Alfalfa: Not your sprouts, but the alfalfa grown for dairy and beef cattle is often GMO, which means, if the cow that turned into your hamburger ate GMO alfalfa, you will too.

• Aspartame: (all of it): Diet soda for starters, but also look for anything labeled with Equal or Nutrasweet.

• Canola Oil (90 of the U.S. crop is GMO: Pop your corn in something else if you want to avoid GMOs.

• Corn (88 percent of the U.S. crop is GMO): Cereal, anything with high-fructose corn syrup (soda) or corn oil, tortillas, etc.

• Soy (94 percent of U.S. crop is GMO): Tofu and soy sauce are obvious culprits, but look for lecithin in ingredient lists for ice cream; it may come from soybean oil.

• Sugar Beets: (95 percent of U.S. crop is GMO): This is why the label “pure cane sugar” is actually relevant. Without it, you might be getting GMO sugar beets mixed in with the cane.

Other foods to look out for include anything fried in cottonseed oil, milk from cows injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone and papayas.

97845-dnaARE GMOS BAD FOR PEOPLE? THE ENVIRONMENT?

No scientific evidence exists that consuming foods with GMOs are bad for people. “No overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated” in the 20 years GMOs have been around, according to the American Medical Association. Opponents point out two decades to study their impact on humans is too short to draw definitive conclusions. And a growing number of people believe they have allergies to or discomfort from eating GMO foods. As for the environment, opponents note that GMO seeds give farmers the kind of advantages that leads to monoculture farming, ie, growing only one crop. This depletes the soil. Also, according to one oft-cited study, in the same decade we’ve grown more GMO crops, we’ve also used more herbicides, and there’s a link. Many of those herbicides include glyphosate, which the World Health Organization recently classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” (The industry disagreed.) Increasingly, reports suggest weeds are developing resistance to herbicides, in much the same way superbugs resist antibiotics.

ARE GMOS GOOD FOR PEOPLE? THE ENVIRONMENT?97845-monarch

A principal argument on the behalf of GMO crops is that they produce higher yields and in harder climates, which translates to more food for the world’s citizens, particularly in third world countries. The environmental issue is another coin-with-two-sides problem. Manufacturers say that using genetically engineered crops diminishes the need for some pesticides that are hard on the land and on humans. But then there is glyphosate, which is killing the milkweed that monarch butterflies depend on.

HOW MUCH GMO SEED IS GROWN IN MAINE?k+state+house+dome+1+1CROP

The Maine Legislature requires manufacturers to submit annual reports on the potential acreage of GMO crops that could be planted on Maine farms based on their sales. In 2014, five manufacturers – Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., Syngenta Seeds, Inc. and Seedway – submitted reports on sales of GMO field corn, canola, soybeans, sweet corn and alfalfa with potential acreage of 14,436 acres. In 2013, that potential acreage was 28,210. Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry spokesman John Bott said that the latest numbers represent less than 1 percent of Maine’s total farm acreage.

TOP 4 GMO crops grown in Maine

Field Corn (for feed)

Soybeans

Sweet Corn

Alfalfa

97845-wheatcutIS THERE GMO WHEAT?

For many Americans today, wheat is the enemy. Some believe that part of the problem is wheat grown from genetically modified seeds. That’s unlikely. Monsanto trialed a GMO wheat seed intended for bread flour a little more than a decade ago and abandoned it over consumer concerns. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Monsanto resumed its work on GMO wheat in 2009, and it may be available to farmers in the next decade.

THE GLOBAL VIEW97845-globe

64 nations worldwide require labels on foods containing genetically modified or engineered foods, among them Croatia, Ethiopia, Greece, Latvia, Malta, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom. Notable countries that don’t: The United States and Canada.

97845-mapcut2 copyTODAY’S DEBATE

In 2014, Maine passed a law requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods in the state. But the bill includes a “trigger law” saying that such labeling will be required only after five contiguous New England states pass similar laws. Since Maine’s legislation, Connecticut and Vermont have – Vermont without the so-called “trigger” – but Massachusetts and New Hampshire have not. This spring, proponents of the law began pushing the legislature to override Maine’s trigger law and move ahead with labeling. More than a dozen states nationwide are considering labeling legislation for GMOS. In California and Oregon, manufacturers groups have crushed such efforts and are working on national legislation that would render states powerless on this issue.

KEY PLAYERS ON THE ANTI-LABELING SIDE

Seed and chemical companies like Monsanto and DuPont and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which includes mega companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-Kan) and G. K. Butterfeld (D-NC), who in April introduced the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014,” which would override any state action on labeling and keep GMO labeling voluntary.

MOFGA Logo 4-8-10 5030KEY PLAYERS ON THE PRO-LABELING SIDE

In the Maine Legislature, former state Rep. Lance Harvell sponsored the 2014 labeling law. Gov. Paul LePage signed it into law. The Maine Farm Bureau came out in support of it, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Organization lobbied extensively for it and Bridgewater farmer and activist Jim Gerritson has campaigned for it. On a national level, many groups are advocating for labeling, including the Center for Food Safety, Just Label It! and prominent companies like Ben & Jerry’s.

MORE ABOUT GMOs: Read “Maine effort fast-tracks genetic-modification labels