Unless you only buy foods that are certified organic or marked as “GMO-free,” odds are that a great deal of the food you eat contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But are you risking your health and damaging the environment by eating GMOs? Not according to Monsanto, the agricultural biotechnology company that is a leading producer of GM seed. Monsanto contends that GMOs are safe to eat and that seeds with GM traits have been tested more than any other crops in the history of agriculture—with no credible evidence of harm to humans or animals.
The company also points to studies that have positively assessed the safety of GMOs, including the 2010 European Commission report summarizing the results of 50 research projects addressing the safety of GMOs for the environment as well as for animal and human health. In announcing the report, the Commission stated that “there is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants.”
Of course, not everyone agrees. According to the non-profit Non-GMO Project, genetically modified crops and food items can contaminate conventional crops and foods through cross-pollination and/or contamination. Also, since many GM crops are designed to be immune to herbicides and pesticides, farmers have increased their use of various weed and bug killing chemicals to keep competition for their cash crops at bay. The resulting overuse of these chemicals has led to a rapid evolution of “super weeds” and “super bugs” that can quickly take over unmaintained or wild lands.
Given the prevalence of GMOs in our food supply already, the non-profit Just Label It believes labeling everything that contains GMOs would be a start so at least consumers can choose on their own what they put in their bodies. Some 64 countries around the world—including China, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and 28 nations in the European Union—currently require labeling on foods created with GMOs. Just Label It is one of many activist voices calling on the United States to follow suit. The group has created an online petition so everyday Americans can let the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) know that they have the right to know what’s in their food, especially when it comes to GMOs.
But until we have federal rules in place requiring labeling, concerned consumers will have to take matters into their own hands when it comes to ferreting out the GMO content of what they eat. Luckily the Non-GMO Project is helping make it easier by offering verified products the opportunity to display its “Non-GMO” symbol on their labels. Currently the group has verified some 35,000 food products across 1,900 different brands commonly available on U.S. store shelves as GMO-free, representing annual sales topping $13.5 billion. Meanwhile, Whole Foods has stepped up its support of GMO labeling by instituting a new policy of “full GMO transparency” in all of its North American stores by 2018.
Beyond just labeling, though, Whole Foods is also working with many of its suppliers to transition to ingredients from non-GMO sources altogether. Activists hope that this leadership will trickle down to mainstream grocers as well.
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The endocrine system controls the various functions of cells, tissues and organs in our bodies through the secretion of hormones. The major glands that regulate the flow of these hormones include the pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal glands, as well as the pancreas and reproductive glands (ovaries in women, testicles in men). A properly functioning system ensures optimum mood, growth, development, metabolism, sexual function and reproduction.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that mimic or block the action of natural hormones. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there is no end to the tricks that endocrine disruptors can play on our bodies. These chemicals can increase the production of certain hormones, decrease the production of others, turn one hormone into another, compete with essential nutrients and more.
Some 80 million pounds of atrazine, an herbicide named on EWG’s Dirty Dozen List of Endocrine Disruptors, are applied in the U.S. each year. A 2010 University of California (UC) Berkeley study found that atrazine-exposed male amphibians were feminized as a result. Ten percent of those exposed developed into females that copulated with unexposed males and produced viable eggs. “Given the overwhelming evidence of unacceptable risk, I’m quite frankly surprised that atrazine is even still in use,” said Dr. Tyrone Hayes, professor of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley and the study’s lead author.
Monsanto’s Roundup, a trade name for glyphosate and the most widely used herbicide in the U.S. with 250 million pounds sprayed each year, was also recently found to have hormone disrupting capabilities. Studies released in 2015 determined that Roundup decreased levels of progesterone and corticosterone, a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands. An earlier study determined that even at lower, “non-toxic” exposure levels, Roundup reduced testosterone levels. Recently it was announced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will analyze the impacts of atrazine and glyphosate on 1,500 endangered plants and animals under the terms of a settlement reached with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). “This settlement is the first step to reining in the widespread use of dangerous pesticides that are harming both wildlife and people,” said Brett Hartl, CBD’s endangered species policy director.
Buying organic produce and drinking filtered water can reduce your exposure to hormone-disrupting herbicides and pesticides. Another good reason to install a water filter is to remove perchlorate, a chemical that is also named on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list. A 2010 study found that, in pharmacologic doses, perchlorate inhibits iodine uptake, an element needed for the production of thyroid hormones. The findings were alarming as adequate iodine intake is essential for normal neurodevelopment in infancy and childhood. While further research is needed to determine the impacts of perchlorate in the environment, the American Thyroid Association recommends that women who are planning a pregnancy or who are pregnant ingest 150 mg of iodine daily to ensure adequate iodine nutrition and to overcome the potential adverse effects of perchlorate exposure.
While it may be frightening to think about all the potential exposures to endocrine disruptors around us today, purchasing environmentally-conscious, natural-based products for you, your family and your home; eating organic, fresh, unpackaged foods and drinking filtered water from a glass container are simple ways to help keep your hormones and endocrine system in balance.