There are fresh indications coming to the fore that genetically modified (GM) foods or food sources are causing cancers in laboratory trials (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2205509/Cancer-row-GM-foods-French-study-claims-did-THIS-rats–cause-organ-damage-early-death-humans.html). However you don’ t need to turn to the laboratory results for the proof; our pets serve as a shining example. Feed for our beloved, furry friends contains a majority of GM ingredients including maize and soy, as well as a huge amount of flavour enhancing chemicals. As a result of this extremely unnatural and unhealthy diet roughly 50-85% of our pets develop lifestyle related diseases and cancers (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18564221) mammary cancer being the most common, just as the laboratory rats in the French study mentioned above).
So the questions is with this in mind, are you comfortable with genetically modified foods in your diet or would you rather avoid it completely? Of course avoidance is the natural answer for most, but based on a very simple self-styled investigation, that may be easier said than done.
I was made aware that the Food Distributor ‘JJ Foods’ sold genetically modified soy cooking oil to trade (for example, to food services and food manufacturers). Upon learning this, I began to consider who the end buyers could be of this commercially available, yet potentially dangerous oil. Who were these restaurants and manufacturers who chose to benefit from the cheap oil all the while putting their customers’ health and lives at risk?
To assist in my research I called a few supermarkets, namely, Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose as a way to clarify the situation. After all, it made sense that these big named commercial food outlets could be the natural buyers of such a readily used and sought after product.
The results were interesting to say the least with Waitrose being the most forthcoming about the question being put to them. Their answer made sense and supported the vegetarian lobbyists who have been saying for decades that we simply do not have the natural vegetational resources to feed all the animals that we are consuming, resulting in the question: exactly how are they all being fed? (Additionally of course there is the cholesterol and heart health argument which comes with consuming this much meat also).
So it would seem that the truth is hitting home for ‘Waitrose’ and their ethical standards. The lack of GM free feed available in Europe for an entirely GM free meat and dairy production pushes them to work even harder to source GM free meat and dairy products. Here is what they told me:
“We don’t allow GM crops or food ingredients derived from GM crops to be used in our own-brand food. We also work closely with our suppliers to make every effort to use animal feed that is free from GM, although that is becoming increasingly difficult. Brazil is now the main source of non-GM soya (soya meal is the major protein used in animal feed throughout the world) although we have to be careful not to contribute to the very real environmental problems of Amazonian deforestation there. Chicken, farmed fish, New Zealand lamb and the hens that lay our eggs are fed a non-GM diet. The same is true of our frozen salmon, frozen New Zealand lamb and the New Zealand lamb used in our ready meals.
To give our customers even greater choice, we are also working to find a sustainable source of non-soya animal feed in the UK. One example of this is our initiative to source British barley and wheat for our pig farms from within a 50-mile radius of the mill used to manufacture the feed. This is the first such project in the UK, giving us more control over where we source our feed, and it is non-GM.We guarantee that all our organic lines are GM feed free.”
However, when it came to Tesco & Sainsbury, their attitude to genetically modified products was quite different with Tesco’s spokesperson, a customer service manager, stating that they saw “nothing wrong with feeding animals GM modified food.”
Tesco & Sainsbury, claim that their ‘own product’ label does not contain any GM ingredient other than the animal products – but these animals are raised on GM feed thus resulting in a GM filled product – not GM free! Both parties said that they expect their suppliers to clearly label it if a product contains genetically modified ingredients, however, they go on to suggest that if customers want to stay clear of GM ingredients altogether then they are better off switching to the organic range. This is because organic products come with the guarantee of an non genetically modified supply chain and the guarantee that certain processes are in place, as certified by the Soil Association, to keep organic food production separate from non-organic.
Since these conversations I have been studying both Tesco and Sainsbury’s ‘own product’ labels and from the many I have investigated, neither ones’ animal based products contain a warning label which states: “This animal you are about to consume has been subjected to a GM diet. If you want to avoid GM please switch to our organic brands”. As a result, I wrote to Sainsbury asking them for an example of their ‘clearly labeled GM products’. Naturally there has been no response and I am still unable to find a single labelled item on the shelves.
Continuing my original quest to find products which use the very cheap and commercially available GM soy oil, I have been checking ingredients labels at a variety of food stores also. This provides me with the insight that most manufactures use ‘vegetable oil’, but without any further specification of which vegetable, the assumption has to be made that the majority are using the GM soy oil, after all, were they using a natural, organic oil they would surely be shouting it from the rooftops?
A GM Free Life
This issue has further riled me in a more mundane way. I hate going to a restaurant and being told that vegetable soup is on the daily menu because it concerns me with regard to what type of vegetable soup I can expect. A good, clean, organic root vegetable? Pulses or leafy greens? And with or without diary? Plus now, along with the good, old fashion request of “No MSG (flavour enhancer) please”, the health conscious customer will also have to add: ’And no GM oils or GM fed dairy either’ to their long list of “How To Be Awkward And Embarrass Your Friends In Restaurants”.
Since there is such a lack of privacy surrounding the pressures on food manufacturers to operate at a healthy profit, both for themselves, the retailers and their shareholders, I would find it highly unlikely that they are all shunning the cheap and commercially available GM soy oil option. I find it more believable that behind the generic ‘vegetable oil’ listing there lies a multitude of sins. But how are we, the vulnerable consumer, to know when the manufacturers refuse to tell us?
This brings me back to the GM soy oil sold by the food distributor ‘JJ Foods’ and produced by ‘KTC’. Whilst I am still aghast that KTC sell GM soy oil in the first place, I should congratulate them at the same time for clearly labelling their product and providing their restaurant and the manufacturing customers with a choice. Sadly, this transparency does not seem to be continued further down the supply chain, and most importantly it completely fails to reach the customer!
Clean And Organic?
As such, a new concern arises: Can we trust food manufacturers to separate GM ingredients from non-GM ingredients thus ensuring our non-organic food is ‘GM free’?
The Soil Association certifies an organic manufacturers ability to handle organic production safely and adeptly, i.e making sure that organic and non-organic ingredients are kept separate. But it would seem that the manufacturers who handle (the more harmful) GM ingredients don’t need to be certified in the same way!
Clearly, more work needs to be done to clear up this glaring error for the consumer’s sake, because whilst the organic companies naturally want to make it clear that they are committed to using GM free ingredients on their packaging, the opposite would of course not be the case and as such, GM ingredients should be declared on a label by law. This current lack of transparency by the GM based product manufacturers is leaving consumers health at the mercy of the big time food companies. A basic and honest declaration on the packaging would not only create trust in the system, it would leave the decision whether or not to buy the product in the consumers hands.
For now though I will leave you to consider this: if a product is GM-free and organic, this will be clearly and proudly labelled on the packaging. If it is not, then you know why!
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Sonja is dietician, nutritionist and health coach with MSc degree in a wellbeing
science called Ayurveda. She runs a Live Yourself Happy coaching programme
which spans over 40 days and is aimed at introducing new food habits into
your life, thus upgrading your lifestyle to the next level. The benefits are
superberb and range from feeling better, having greater energy, productivity
and ensuring long term health. For a free 60 min consultation contact