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GMO 101

March 11, 2010

What are GMOs?  Genetically Modified (Engineered) Organisms. 

Text book definition:  GMOs are “organisms created through the introduction, elimination or rearrangement of specific genes or DNA sequences, using recombinant DNA techniques”.  Remember that genes are the “basic units in the cells of every organism that determine its characteristics or traits”.

Danielle’s definition:  GMOs are created when the cells of plants, animals or any living species are altered by interfering with the genes that make up those cells.  Companies like Monsanto are using technology to extract genes, that express a desired trait, from bacteria, viruses, plants, animals, even humans and then inserting them into the cells of crops. 

How are GMO’s created?

As an example, genes from a soil bacterium (which is toxic to certain insects) is extracted and inserted into corn.  The result: a modified species of corn that expresses this new trait (a toxin for insect resistance) and ‘protects’ the corn from these pests.  Insects will die when the corn is consumed.   So what does that toxin do to you and I?

Today, there are 3 types of GMOs on the market:

  • Herbicide Tolerant GMOs – Allows farmers to spray their crops multiple times without killing the crops themselves (just the weeds).  This represent majority (82%) of the GM crops globally. 
  • Insect Resistant GMOs – As noted in the example above.  Minimizes impact of pests on the crop.
  • Virus Resistant GMOs – This variety is less common.  Involves antibiotic resistant genes, primarily in papaya and squash.


Why do we have GMOs?

First off, corn, canola and soy are extremely cheap for farmers to grow because they are subsidized by the government.   These dirty crops are also an inexpensive alternative for feeding livestock (animals that were traditionally grass-fed are now grain fed).  It’s clear that corn, soy and canola are widely used (see chart below) so the demand is there.  The more farmers grow, the more they make.  This is where GMOs come in to play.  Farmers can maximize their yield (and make more $$) by minimizing the damage/infestation from insects and weeds.  How they do that?  G-M-Os.

Here are the GMO foods to watch out for…

GMO Crops Where it’s hidden
  • Processed corn products (i.e. corn flakes, corn chips)
  • Cornstarch
  • Corn syrup
  • HFCS/High-fructose corn syrup – aka glucose-fructose
  • (i.e. in beverages, such as pop)
  • Eggs, milk and meat (animals are fed GMO grains) 
  • Soy protein, soy oil, soy beverages, soy puddings
  • Soy lecithin (a binding/ thickening agent)
  • Tofu
  • Eggs, milk and meat
  • Canola oil, eggs, milk and meat


Why am I worried?

  • Limited testing on GMOs to deem they are safe
  • Increased resistance to antibiotic treatments
  • Introduction of new food allergens from foreign DNA
  • Increased use of pesticides/herbicide to kill pesticide resistant “superweeds”
  • Cross contamination of natural crops is irreversible
  • Canada has already approved 50 genetically modified foods

Our supermarkets, grocery carts and cupboards are flooded with GM foods and we have no idea.  It’s likely that you and I have consumed one in the past 24 hours. 

What can you do?

  • Grab a bowl of ORGANIC popcorn and watch the documentary King Corn
  • Steer clear of packaged foods or those that contain the ingredients above
  • Include only certified organic corn, soy, canola and other foods in your shopping list
  • Look for 100% grass-fed or certified organic meats and certified organic dairy and egg products

I’m going to stop myself there, that’s if you’re still reading and I haven’t scared you away.   We’ll continue another time.  If you’d like to learn more check out and


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