Aaron Chy, BSc General, PharmD Student
When it comes to buying whole or organic foods, there are myriads of benefits – supporting local growers, sustainable food production and just the idea of eating something more “natural”. In recent years, people have started to prefer this approach as they grow wary of major corporations, GMOs, and the use of commercial chemicals to raise crops. Truth be told, these commercial growing practices aren’t very transparent, and for the most part, consumers are left in the dark in terms of what they entail. When that happens, it becomes hard for consumers to make a decision, and even harder to know who to believe.
What is a GMO?
The term GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. It refers to organisms such vegetables or fruits that are modified at the genetic level to create crops that are larger and more bountiful.
The concept itself isn’t new, and in a way, it’s just an extension of something called selective breeding. Imagine you were in charge of raising the fastest race dogs. You would take the fastest dogs you had and mate them together, and repeat this every generation until you had the quickest breed. Genetic modification does the very same thing, only faster, and with greater results.
The question is: Are GMOs safe? Does modifying natural growth result in foods that aren’t right for our bodies? At this time, the vast majority of research points towards GMOs being perfectly safe.1 Despite the belief about chronic conditions and sickness being caused by “unnatural” foods, there’s no evidence anywhere suggesting such a link. Instead, it’s poor dietary choices like excessive trans fats, simple carbs, and a lack of exercise that are responsible for poor health. In fact, if you’ve ever eaten corn, then you’ve probably had GMOs in your diet all your life.
Along with GMOs, herbicides are another common concern when purchasing grocery products. Whenever major growing companies raise crops like wheat or canola, they use herbicides to prevent weeds from interfering with the growth of healthy produce. This has long been a topic of public concern and reasonably so. It goes without saying that herbicides are chemicals that are toxic, and they’re being sprayed directly on our food. Therefore, we depend on regulating bodies to ensure these pesticides are either safe for us or are completely washed from our food by the time it gets to us.
Unfortunately, this regulation may be lacking in North America right now, and one particular pesticide is gaining a lot of attention from the general public.
Glyphosates are a major ingredient in one of the most widely used pesticides in the world called Roundup®. The concern comes from a major report in 2015 from the World Health Organization stating that glyphosate may cause cancer.2 This statement was met with serious backlash from Monsanto, the company behind Roundup®, stating that WHO overlooked numerous studies supporting the safety of Roundup®.
This claim was then met with even greater suspicion when a closer look revealed that these studies were funded by Monsanto.
Fast forward to last year: a small research group pointed out that the research supporting the safety of Roundup® is outdated and not of the best quality.3 And more recently, another study popped up showing minor effects of glyphosate on the length of pregnancies.4 So far, no serious health outcomes have been reported, but these findings raise some questions.
What to do Now
The reality is that completely avoiding herbicide-treated produce just isn’t possible. Regardless of the choices we make, there are just too many products and restaurants out there that are involved in the current supply chain.
Fortunately, no major risks have been identified yet. In the meantime, investing in whole foods or your local farmers’ market isn’t a bad idea at all. If you’re living in Canada, the good news is Health Canada is closely regulating glyphosate content in our products. Their current statement is that glyphosate use is currently at a safe level, and in 2019 there will be new labelling guidelines to further regulate use.5
What are your thoughts? As always, we hope you took away something valuable from this piece. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this article or others, feel free to reach out to us on Instagram, Facebook, or at email@example.com with your feedback. We’d love to hear from you.
- Genetically engineered crops: Experiences and prospects. (2016).
- Parvez, S., Parvez, S., Ashby, J. L., Gerona, R. R., Friesen, M., Proctor, C., & … Lui, Z. (n.d). Glyphosate exposure in pregnancy and shortened gestational length: a prospective Indiana birth cohort study. Environmental Health, 17
- Vandenberg, L. N., Blumberg, B., Antoniou, M. N., Mesnage, R., Benbrook, C. M., Carroll, L., & … Myers, J. P. (n.d). Is it time to reassess current safety standards for glyphosate-based herbicides?. Journal Of Epidemiology And Community Health, 71(6), 613-618.