Eating Our Weight in GMOs


With no labeling laws in place, Americans are unknowingly consuming vast amounts of genetically-modified (GMO) foods, reports the nonprofit consumer advocacy organization Environmental Working Group (EWG). According to their analysis released last week, the average adult in America consumes 193 pounds of GMO foods every year, despite the fact that “zero long-term studies [have been] done by the federal government or industry to determine if its consumption could pose a health risk.” While GMOs have been infused into the nation’s food supply since 1996, EWG’s analysis is the first estimate of dietary intake of GMOs by the American population.

“If you were planning on eating your body weight of anything in a year or feeding that much food to your family, wouldn’t you first want to know if long-term government studies and monitoring have shown it to be safe?” asked Renee Sharp, lead author of the report and the director of EWG’s California office.

To figure out how much GMO food Americans consume each year, EWG researchers examined the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s 2011 per capita consumption data of four frequently GMO-derived foods: sugar, corn-based sweeteners, corn products and salad oils. They then compared those figures with the latest USDA data which shows that 95% of the sugar beets, 93% of the soybeans and 88% of the corn grown in the U.S. are GMO. Other federal data revealing that 79% of the salad oil consumed in the U.S. is soybean oil and 55% of the sugar comes from sugar beets were also taken into consideration.

Based on these calculations, EWG found that 68 pounds of beet sugar, 58 pounds of corn syrup, 38 pounds of soybean oil and 29 pounds of corn-based products were consumed by an average American every year. While these figures may seem shocking, EWG stated that their analysis “is likely an underestimate” as it excluded numerous commonly-ingested GMO foods like canola oil, cottonseed oil, papaya, yellow squash and soy foods beyond soybean oil. Additionally, over the next few decades, Americans may be subjected to a whole host of new, undisclosed GMOs as more of these crops are approved and grown commercially, the report added.

“EWG considered only three GMO crops [for the report], but more than 30 others are currently being tested in field trials, including apples, barley, bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, chili peppers, coffee, cranberries, cucumber, flax, grapefruit, kiwi, lentils, lettuce, melons, mustard, oats, olives, onions, peanuts, pears, peas, persimmons, pineapple, radishes, strawberries, sugar cane, sunflower, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, walnuts and watercress,” EWG noted. “While it is unclear how long it may take for these new GMO crops to reach the market, this long list makes it likely that people could be eating two or three times their weight in GMO food annually within the next decade.”

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require safety studies for GMO foods, despite the opinions by the World Health Organization and American Medical Association that such inspection be mandatory. Further, a growing body of studies link GMOs to serious health conditions like cancer, infertility, liver and kidney failure, chronic gastrointestinal disorders and others. Various environmental problems associated with GMOs have also been well documented, including biodiversity loss, an overall increase in pesticide use and contamination of non-GMO and organic crops.

“It is a scandal that the FDA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and companies like Monsanto have failed to do long-term testing over the past decade,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “Until further research is done, we should have a moratorium on new approvals of genetically-engineered crops and labeling of all foods using this technology.”

EWG is a “strong supporter” of Proposition 37, a California ballot initiative up for vote on November 6 which would require food manufacturers to label GMO foods. The bill will grant companies 18 months to change their labels, and allows for the GMO disclosure to appear wherever they choose on packaging.

“This analysis underscores the need to conduct long-term health studies and to label food that contains GMO ingredients so consumers can decide for themselves if it is what they want for themselves and their families,” EWG concluded. “Polls show that the vast majority of Americans want to know if their food has been genetically-engineered. Right now, the only way consumers can avoid GMO ingredients is by eating organic alternatives, which are not always accessible or affordable.”