Wake Up and Smell The GMOs!

By now we have all heard about how dangerous GMOs, processed food, gluten, and pretty much all food products are terrible for us. There are so many scary stories and urban legends out there, you’d think we were still living in the days of Sinclair’s The Jungle.

Here’s the truth: bad things do happen and there are companies out there (*ahem* Monsanto *ahem*) that care more about their bottom line than making sure that the food they mass produce is healthy enough for consumption.

Here’s the other truth: there are lots of people out there who are working very hard to keep these companies from making us sick and holding those who do accountable.

Because no company wants to be labeled as “another Monsanto,” companies are quick to jump on to the “all natural” and “organic” bandwagons, swapping out harmful chemicals in favor of natural replacements. Unfortunately, a lot of the time these changes do more harm than good. Why? Because the replacement ingredient might not be better for people than the original (or natural at all) but by labeling it as natural or organic, people are more apt to trust it without questioning. As you can imagine, this has led to quite a few problems.

For example, Whole Foods is facing a class action suit because, it turns out, some of the products the company was labeling as “all natural” actually contained a synthetic leavening agent named “sodium acid pyrophosphate.” The company claims that it should be exempt from persecution for this because the laws regarding food labeling vary from state to state, but a judge overruled the objection.

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In 2014, General Mills settled a similar suit.

Another good example is the suit against a bevy of baby and children’s food producers in California. The Environmental Law Foundation found that a lot of children’s food contained harmful amounts of lead. Working with the ELF, law firm Baron and Budd has filed a Notice of Violation, naming the companies that have violated California’s Proposition 65–a law that requires companies to warn consumers of their products about the presence of harmful substances, like the aforementioned lead.

So what are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to keep your family healthy and away from all of those harmful and gross chemicals?

First, understand that almost everything you eat has been genetically modified. While it’s good to want to know exactly what is in your food, labeling something as “genetically modified” doesn’t necessarily mean that it is bad. Crops of every stripe have been bred over time to be healthier, to produce more seeds, to withstand extreme weather conditions, to produce ingredients that last longer, to look better in stores, etc. Understand what harmful genetic modification is and what is a scare tactic used to drive sales away from and toward specific companies.

While you’re at it, learn about the pharmaceuticals involved in producing the food you buy at the store. For example, you might grab the “anti-biotic free” milk because it seems like the right thing to do, but what does that actually mean? What does it mean for meat to be free of hormones and anti-biotics?

Learn as much as you can about how food is manufactured and produced. Work with companies that use humane methods of producing their products. This means making sure that, in addition to actually organic and natural ingredients being used in your food, the working conditions in the manufacturing plants and factories are good.

Grow and make as much of your own as possible. Seriously! The only way to truly know what is in your food is to make it yourself. It is possible to grow your own herbs, spices, veggies and even fruits. Even if you’re dealing with limited space, you can join a community garden and plant your food there. Or, if gardening and harvesting aren’t really your thing, join a CSA. Work with local farms that you can actually visit to see how things are planted, tended and harvested before they get to your table. If you are an omnivore, work with a local butcher shop to get your meat. Don’t just buy whatever has been shrink wrapped at the store.

The point is: aiming at natural and organic is good. It’s important to not put anything synthetic into your body unless you absolutely have to. At the same time, know that you can’t always trust labels. You have to do your own research. Educate yourself so that you’re less likely to buy into labels, branding and marketing. And if you find something bad, report it!

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