Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Genetically Modified Foods - Free Lebanon

Genetically modified foods are a hot topic now. They are found in many food products sold in the Lebanese market and have become quite controversial. What are GMOs? Are they healthy or do they increase the risk of diseases? In which foods are they found and what can we do about it... Many questions cross our minds when GMOs are involved!

This is why Christele from Health 'n' Horizons, Nour from Nourish Body and Mind and I have joined forces in creating a new movement, GMO Free Lebanon. The purpose behing this movement is to increase awareness about what GMOs are, where you can find them and how they pose risk to your health. This movement also aims to push for labeling of GMO-containing foods, as many countries give their people the right not take part in this humongous human experiment. In Lebanon, we want this right too!

So what are Genetically Modified Organisms?

Humans have been ‘modifying’ foods for more than 2000 years, merely by selective breeding in which plants with naturally higher resistance to fungus and harsh environmental conditions were preferred to yield more crops. However, in 1946, scientists discovered that DNA can be transferred between different organisms and consequently genetically modified foods came to life, hence the acronym GMO which stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. Other terms you might encounter are genetically engineered (GE) and genetically modified (GM) foods.
Photo credit
Genetic engineering allows scientists to cross species in laboratories in order to enhance certain traits not originally found in crops. So crops can have DNA traits from bacteria, viruses  and other plants or animals. For instance, a bacterial gene (from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt) is added to corn crops to make them resistant to certain insects. The insect dies within a few days after biting through the corn. Other crops are modified to carry their own their herbicide making them resistant to the spraying of the deadly chemicals which will kill every other weed or plant. These biotech crops are more commonly known as Roundup Ready as they are resistant to the herbicide Roundup. Both herbicide and GM crop are unsurprisingly produced by the same company, Monsanto. (You gotta become familiar with those names!) (2)
In 1994, the first genetically modified plants approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for marketing the in the USA was Flavr Savr, tomatoes with delayed ripening. However, in 1997 all Flavr Savr production was ceased yet the possibility of producing genetically modified foods literally genetically modified our current kitchens.

Are GMOs currently OK for consumption?

The USA and Europe (EU) have opposing positions regarding GMOs. While the US considers GMOs to be safe, the European Union recommends having organic and non-genetically modified foods instead as the health and environmental risks of GMOs outweigh the benefits. This is why the EU forces stricter regulations on growing GMO crops and requires their labeling on all genetically modified products (3).
Most news about GMOs and their effect on health are kept on low profile (fishy much?); however, few studies have increased our alarm buds and forced us to place a huge question mark over any genetically modified food.

Few GMO side effects in animal studies (so far)
The results of a study conducted in 2012
on genetically modified corn-fed rats showed increased
organ damage and tumor risk (6)

. Increased risk of infertility (4) 
· Increased risk of stomach lining inflammation (4) and reduced digestive ability (5)
. Increased tumor risk (6)
· Increased liver, kidney pathologies (6,8) and toxicity and endocrine dysfunction (7,8)
· Increased death rates (6) as well as premature death (5)
. Increased allergen content in foods (5)

What foods have been genetically modified so far?
Around 70% of processed foods found in US markets have been genetically modified (1). There is currently no data in Lebanon regarding GMO distribution in the market. However, given that many well-known brands in the Lebanese market are imported from USA, Canada, Australia, India, Mexico, China… and given the fact that Lebanon does not force labeling of GMOs, we are unknowingly consuming GMO-containing products.

· Soybeans (oils, lecithin, baby formulas, baby food… )
· Corn (and corn products: High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), corn starch, corn flour, glucose, fructose found in sweets, soda, snacks, cakes, ketchup…)
· Canola/rapeseed oil
· Cotton and cottonseeds (oils)
· Sugar beets (could be labeled as ‘natural sugar’)
· Moreover, given that genetically modified crops (wheat, soy, corn) are fed to animals, especially cattle, these in return pass GMOs to milk, dairy, labne, cheese, and meats
· Papaya
· Zucchini/ squash
· No GM animals have been approved for use, however, salmon was near FDA approval in December 2012  

So why GMO Free Lebanon?
We started GMO Free Lebanon as we found a lack of awareness among the Lebanese about what GMOs are, their health risks and their wide availability in the Lebanese market. 
>> Our goals are:
- To increase awareness and education about genetically modified foods
- To push for labeling of all products in the Lebanese market. We have the right to know what is in our food and we have the right to say NO to taking part in mass experimental trials. Without labeling, how can one trace the source of allergy, intolerance, sensitivity, illness or disease? And “where is the scientific evidence showing that GM plants/food are toxicologically safe?” (10)
- Demand banning of GMO foods when they are proven unsafe. GMOs are insufficiently evaluated. Longer and more detailed tests need to be done to protect human and animal health as well as our planet (11).
So what can you do to protect your health and help out our cause?
- Like and share our Facebook page which will be a common platform for sharing evidence-based research and practical tips and tricks to help you make informed choices (even if you do not live in Lebanon, approving labeling/banning in one country will help raise global awareness towards the health risks and environmental side effects of growing and consuming GMOs).
-Know where GMOs are found and try to avoid them:

·       Read labels carefully to detect ‘possible’ genetically modified ingredients
·       Buy products that are certified as 100% organic or labeled as non-GMO
·       Choose 100% Grass-fed beef (as corn fed ones are having GMO corn for a diet!)
·       Try as much as possible to avoid processed foods and cook at home, from scratch 
·       Grow your own garden if you have the space.   

Last but not least, stay posted to the GMO Free Lebanon facebook page as we will push for labeling and we will expose genetically modified foods in Lebanon!

References and related articles
(12) Ornl.gov


  1. Thank you for this informative and enlightening post we need this kind of education.

    keep it up,
    Your number 1 fan

  2. Uf uf uf wala ma kenet same3 fihon, khabroona ba3d plzzzz

  3. Let's not forget tomatoes. The other day I was in Stop and Shop and the man pushing produce noticed I am an American. ( This is where my husband gets that look on his face like "oh dude, stop what you are doing and walk away NOW!" ) The man brought forth these Frankentomatoes as I like to call them and proudly proclaimed "American seed!". This is about when I lost it and asked if he had any Lebanese seed. Frankly, I bought Baladi from the south the day before so wasn't buying tomatoes but I told him he ought to be ashamed to sell tomatoes that can withstand winter temperatures because they have the genes of cold water fish spliced into them. I am sure he didn't understand but he got the tone in my voice! I am SURE he will never offer me "American" anything again.
    Lebanese, it is time to remember you once had beautiful heirloom varieties of tomatoes and bring them back!!
    Great article!

  4. We need more good addresses. Like where do we find 100% Grass-fed beef?