Genetically Modified Food:
Should You Be Afraid?

Fish & Fennel

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] A[/dropcap] few months ago I was really excited about discovering frozen edamame (soy beans) in my local supermarket. So I wrote a blog post about my new love.

As you do.

What really surprised me was the amount of people leaving comments and emails warning that edamame were soy beans which are GM. Something I hadn’t even thought of.

Anyway after doing some investigation, (aka reading the label!) I realised my edamame were from China. So probably were GM. So I decided to stop buying them and made a mental note to write a followup blog post about my thoughts on genetic modification of food…

So here we are!

My Experience with GM Foods

Back when I was studying Food Science in the 90s, ‘Biotechnology’ was a relatively new field. I found it fascinating and elected to take a subject on Food Biotechnology in my final year of university.

So what did I learn?

Firstly that there’s potential for genetic modification to be helpful.

For example, enabling bacteria to produce the ‘rennet’ required for some cheese making rather than getting it from the traditional source of calves stomachs.

But there was also a lot of potential for harm.

To my mind there are 3 main aspects to this…

1. The Testing.
When we go inserting genetic material from one species into another, we’re doing something that cannot happen in nature. The effects can be difficult to predict.

So rigorous testing is really critical to ensuring no unwanted side effects. Which is relatively easy in a tank of bacteria but more difficult when we’re talking about releasing or even trialling GM crops out in nature.

2. The Politics.
The best way to explain this is with an example. Lets look at the humble soy bean.

The genetic manipulation with soy was to make soybeans resistant to a particular herbicide, namely Round-Up.

The ‘benefit’ here is that weeds can easily be controlled in a soy crop by spraying with said herbicide.

Then farmers have to buy their seeds from the same company that sells them the Round-Up.

And they can’t ‘save’ the seeds to use for next years crop. They must buy fresh seeds (and herbicide) every year from the one company and no one else. Sounds like a brilliant marketing strategy to me.

3. Biodiversity.
If everyone is growing genetically identical crops, regardless of whether they’re genetically modified or not, all our proverbial eggs are in the one basket.

Seems a risky move to me.

So Am I Afraid of GM Foods?

Afraid? No. Wary? yes. Pro-labelling? Absolutely.

And do I personally choose to eat GM foods? Yes and No. It depends.

I’m happy to eat parmesan made with GM rennet but ‘Round-Up-Ready Soybeans?’ No thank you Monsanto. I’d rather have frozen Australian broad beans.

What About You?

How do you feel about GM foods?
I’d love to hear in the comments below.


Fish & Fennel

Double Fennel Fish

I have a goal to eat fish at least once a week for dinner this year. And while my Irishman is still pretty fish-phobic, I’ve really been enjoying the change. This ‘double fennel’ dish with fennel seeds as a crust and then fresh fennel as a salad has been one of my favourites this year. I should mention the idea to grind fennel seeds and use them on fish came from a David Tanis recipe I made for the Jules & David Project.

enough for: 2
takes: 15 minutes

2 teaspoons fennel seeds
450g (1lb) fish fillets
2 tablespoons lemon juice + 1 lemon, halved
1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves picked

1. Grind fennel seeds with a spice or coffee grinder. Or bash with a mortar and pestle. Rub fish with a little oil on both sides and sprinkle over ground fennel and lots of sea salt and pepper.

2. Heat a frying pan large enough to hold the fish in a single layer on a medium high heat. Cook fish for 3-4 minutes on each side or until just cooked through and golden on the outsides.

3. While the fish is cooking combine 2 tablespoons lemon juice in a salad bowl with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Season.

4. Trim and discard fennel stalks then finely slice the bulbs using a mandoline or sharp knife. Toss sliced fennel and parsley leaves in the dressing.

5. Serve fish hot with the fennel salad and half a lemon on the side.

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carnivore – replace fish with pork chops or chicken thigh fillets and adjust the cooking time as needed.

vegetarian – serve fennel salad with marinated feta and roast almonds.

vegan – toss cooked chickpeas or lentils in with the salad and serve with a tahini sauce drizzled over (2 tablespoons each tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and water).

more veg – toss any crunchy salad veg in such as red capsicum (bell peppers), grated carrot, grated beets, sliced snow peas.

carb lovers / more substantial – toss torn rustic sourdough in with the salad or serve with roast or pan fried potatoes or home made fries.

no fennel seeds – just skip it or try coriander or cumin seeds instead. Or serve cooked fish with sumac sprinkled over.

no fennel – my fave alternative is white cabbage or Brussels sprouts but you could use finely sliced snow peas or shaved zucchini.

And if you’re following the Jules & David Project, the latest installment is called menu fifteen: THE BEAN SOUP LUNCH

Big love,
Jules x

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  • I see no problem whatsoever. Gene modification through selection of specimens with desired genetically determined qualities and mixing them together has existed for thousands of years, we probably wouldn’t even have proper bread without it.

    • This is where the GM Industry is deliberately muddying the waters by comparing natural trait selection, where these new species are developed naturally, compared to transgenics or cisgenics which are created in a laboratory.

  • With you on this. Thanks for the research comments. Round-Up on our foods is the issue I’m concerned with. Want to support the local farmers as much as I can. So much comes from so far away….

    • I think we should be concerned that over 80% of all GM crops (which remain unlabelled in the food chain, let’s remember) have been engineered to absorb a toxin that has just been called a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organisation. Where is the concern from our regulators?

  • Round-up on our food is a concern for me too. My daughter was born with a horrific congenetal condition the drs say they don’t know deffinetively why but the endocronologist asked me lots of questions to do with potential exposure to glysophate the key ingredient in Round-up. If you had to care for my daughter and see the pain and suffering that she goes through (even if it just might be caused by glysophate) you would run a mile. Not to mention what the chemicals and lack of bio diversity does to the bees – which effects all of us!

  • Love your article, most GMO information you find doesn’t go beyond anti-GMO basic propaganda. I’m concerned on biodiversity. Stronger and successful crops would displace the others. Monsanto might be taking advantage of farmers, but then is more of a social responsible choice than a food safety one. About round-up, the issue I think is not because is GM, but that more stringent controls might be needed on the kind of pesticides allowed.

  • If seeds can be genetically modified so that food can be grown during droughts, or free from disease (eg rust-free wheat), then the benefits are obvious. But maybe more care needs to be taken over the ethics of those who sell it.

  • When people say that foods have always been genetically modified, they are confusing that with propagation which uses natural genes from plants to create new varieties. This is completely different from inserting genes from animal species or pesticides into plants. Roundup was considered a carcinogenic when it was first introduced, but the EPA decided it would rather keep monsanto happy and classified it as safe. A recent study says it probably is carcinogenic, but it’s too late now. It is killing off the Monarch butterflies and is in our water supply and mutating frogs and fish. I avoid GM foods at all costs and am frustrated that people still buy their claim that GM foods will feed the world. They’ve been on the market for 20 plus years, but people are still starving. And people in the US are getting sicker and sicker with GM foods and roundup being a probable cause, but since they’ve never been studied long term, nothing can be proven. This is what happens when corporations are in bed with govts.

  • I appreciate the balanced tone of Jule’s article, but, frankly, the cat is out of the bag and will never go back.
    Monsanto’s outrageous [ gov supported] attempt at domination will be seen as a trite misdemeanor before too long.
    Mankind has cracked Nature’s code. The Age of Synthetic Biology is here. It is so powerful and Mankind is so avaricious that it will truly be a Brave New World. Even this atheist is saying…”Lord Protect us”! Go to…
    You-tube and search Spider-Goat Hybrids. Then check the Wiki on Biosteel.

  • Hi Jules, I’m with you – the round-up ready stuff from Monsanto gives me chills. The cover-ups and hidden politics (eg using only their own scientists to produce test results) smells bad. And take note of the wheat – which is also round-up ready, and the farmers suffer from being unable to save seeds for the same (patent) reasons – which is crippling small farmers. Organic farmers? Lose their rating if the farmer down the road is using round-up ready stock and there is a breeze. It’s not just technology making our kids get fatter, there are chemical changes done to our wheat which makes our bodies crave more – lots more………and it’s in so many products! I’ve recently begun to use spelt flour and make my own bread. Since dramatically reducing my use of wheat my health has taken a turn for the better – I watched the wheat belly talk by Dr William Davis (cardiologist) and did some research on my own too before deciding to try it. Results have convinced me to continue.
    It’s scary stuff out there, let’s get back to real food!

  • I avoid all GMOs. My stomach knows the difference. i get a terrible stomach ache when I eat GMO-ed soy or corn. So I eat only organic soy and corn. I also get a stomach ache if I eat meat or milk from animals fed the GM corn or soy.

    • \\I avoid all GMOs. My stomach knows the difference. i get a terrible stomach ache when I eat GMO-ed soy or corn. So I eat only organic soy and corn. I also get a stomach ache if I eat meat or milk from animals fed the GM corn or soy.\\

      care to do a double blind experiment to see if its real or a nocebo effect?

  • My comments on genetic moderfication are :- First and foremost Mutations have been observed to destroy, delete or corrupt genetic information or to be neutral, but have not been observed to add to information. The Origin of life. Fact : DNA is packaged within the chromosomes in a manner so efficient that, it has been called a feat of engineering! Question how could such order and organization arise by undirected chance events? Fact DNA ‘s capacity to store information still has no equal in today’s computer age! Question :- If human computer technicians cannot achieve such results, how coulcould mindless matter do so on its own? Fact DNA contains all the instructions needed to build a unique physical living structure and maintain it throughout it’s entire life. Question :- How could such writing come about without a writer, such programing without a programmer? Fact for DNA to work, it has to be copied, read, and proof read by a swarm of complex molecular machines called enzymes which must work together with precision and split second timing. Question :- Do you believe that highly complex, highly reliable machinery can come about by chance ? God’s invisible qualities are evidence throughout this entire planet and it is not for man to even begin to reorganize his work

  • Hi, everyone, you need to see information on Dr.Mercola website to understand all the disastrous effects occurring in America due to GMO CROPS and ROUNDUP. I found that the chemical -GLYPHOSATE which is in ROUNDUP and also in YATES ZERO, both of which I have unwittingly used – but no longer, creates a number of serious, longlasting problems for us,all. Monsanto is in denial-it’s all about the almighty $.-not people. IF YOU DO NOTHING ELSE, CHECK IT OUT!I intend to find out what the situation is in this country. Best of health to everyone. Harry.

  • Thank you for the very even-handed thoughts on GMOs; so often you get either knee-jerk ‘it’s evil and will kill us’ or ‘it’s great’ vehement responses.
    I agree with all of your points. I have no problem with GMO *per se*, and–for example–using it to increase salt resistance(a serious problem in areas using irrigation), yield, ease of processing(maybe a cotton boll with no seeds?), drought resistance would be wonderful. BUT–I think it needs to be much more carefully evaluated and controlled with INDEPENDANT oversight, *not* studies performed by the company selling it. Monsanto has already proven themselves wrong–they insisted that their crops were sterile and wouldn’t interbreed–and then sued various farmers whose land was seeded by hybrids.
    I would add that there are a number of papers(dating back decades) I’ve read warning that the excessive use of herbicides breed ‘superweeds’ in the same way that irresponsible antibiotic use breeds resistant strains. There are already varieties of weeds that are resistant to Round Up. So…..aside from the concern about safety and environmental effects, the usefulness of RoundUp Ready crops is questionable in the long term. Except, of course, lining their pockets.

      • You’ve got to be kidding when you say farmers being suide is a myth– there have been a great many lawsuits by Monsanto against farmers whose fields were contaminated by their patented GMO crops. The farmers didn’t want those patented plants to begin with, and couldn’t keep them out, but they were sued anyway. Easy to look up. Sometimes lately the farmers have been winning.

      • You’ve got to be kidding when you say farmers being sued is a myth– there have been a great many lawsuits by Monsanto against farmers whose fields were contaminated by their patented GMO crops. The farmers didn’t want those patented plants to begin with, and couldn’t keep them out, but they were sued anyway. Easy to look up. Sometimes lately the farmers have been winning.

      • That is a good point; I haven’t investigated the validity of some of that, it’s a reminder to check news coverage. The claims of sterility I’m basing on statements by Monsanto when they were releasing RoundUpReady seed, so it might have been an exaggeration or I’m remembering them incorrectly.

        A quick google has shown many, many lawsuits. I’m sure some are justified; some are basically ‘you grew/saved these seeds which have our gene in them without permission’ whether they are purchased from Monsanto or not, even with the problem that in storage and shipping the seeds can be mixed so that no matter where you get seeds they can contain the GMO genetic material. It puts farmers that don’t want to grow Monsanto’s seeds at a disadvantage.
        My biggest concern though is the ‘superweeds’ problem. I read about that in agricultural journals, and it would lead to greater and greater use of herbicides. I’m not against the careful use of herbicides, but overuse is a problem.

  • Thank you Jules for posting your intention to eat fish weekly; I have been thinking about the same but have not gotten started yet. Today’s the day, will try this recipe. Please keep posting fish recipes!

  • I like the articles about cooking stuff. On this topic, you are out of your depth. Unsubscribed.

  • On the topic of soybeans, check the label. It is of course possible to buy non-GM soybeans, even from China. In my country non-GMO foods are labeled as such.

  • I hadn’t heard about GMO rennet before, and agree that it’s a good idea. I have mixed feelings about GMO foods. Part of the reason I don’t like them, in addition to the kinds of issues you mentioned, is that the modifications are usually about extending shelf life or making plants grow faster, without regard to nutrition and flavor. To me that is very shortsighted, because the whole point of food is to be nutritious, and flavor is supposed to tell us that we are getting nutrition. I don’t like the motivation behind most GMO foods and don’t like that the effects of the modifications are rarely if ever properly tested before releasing the foods for market.

  • There is also the issue of the bees. The genetically modified crops aren’t bee friendly. The bees can’t get the nutrition they need to live and make honey from the GM crops. I try to avoid GM foods, just the same as I do foods with High Fructose Corn Syrup.

    • if GMO’s were causing bee deaths then how come the EU which doesnt use much GMO crops suffered from colony collapse disorder a few years ago? The EU blamed a certain class of insectdicides (based on a natural chhemical – nicotine) so they banned it

    • I have to agree with V. I don’t think GMO crops are killing the bees. I really think certain pesticides are. There has been some research about a particular pesticide that is systemic, and basically coats the seed as it goes in, and then transfers to the plant. The bees around those crops are much less robust.

      I’d really like to get a couple of bee colonies, but right now, the hive death rate is around 50%. That is terrible.

  • I am a yes/no person on GMO’s. However, the thing that is concerning is the externalities of GMO’s. I know a farmer in the midwest who is organic but surrounded by GMO corn. She has bees and fruit trees. Well, the bees have been dying and the fruit trees not pollinated because whenever the farms do a spray, the spray is carried by the wind to her farm and the bees do what bees do and I guess ingest it and die. It just happens. Pesticides, have been directly related to colony collapse disorder. We need pollinators, that is what nature is built on. So am I concerned when I eat a gmo food? Not necessarily to myself so I do, it is impossible not to and I kind of look at life that we pick our own poisons. However, the externalities of growing GMO food, the lack of diversity and the effect on pollinators is a really, really big deal.

    • then you would like BT GMO crops. Since the plants themselves produce insectdicide the amount of pestdicides you spray and which could waft on the wind to your neighbors is greatly reduced

  • Jules, I love the way you reduce things from complex to simple because you take all my jumbled ingredients (in my brain or in my larder) and make sense of them. On the subject of GMO soybeans – I didn’t know they were.

    When I have an affordable choice, I choose non-gmo. I am definitely in favor of labeling.

    Sometimes I can’t afford the best ingredients, but I can afford them more often when I eliminate the c**p :-)

    One more thought – why aren’t the giant food manufacturers feeding the starving people all over the world, if pesticides and genetic manipulation are improving production? just a random thought.

  • My HUGE issue with genetically modified foods is the herbicide/pesticide use on most of these crops. In the United States there is no testing for glyphosate residues (round-up) and we are eating the herbicide. Glyphosate was originally patented as a descaling agent. Used mostly for industrial cleaning, it binds metal ions. Fast forward to today’s use as an herbicide, glyphosate is still binding metal ions. That means enzymes are disabled. Hmmm, humans NEED enzymes. Glyphosate and its metabolites remain active for years. We are genuinely killing ourselves off.

  • It concerns me that there is no independent testing of GMO plants before it’s released into our food supply. I’ve read that give a choice chickens won’t eat GMO corn. I’m not sure how they tell. I wish I could tell by looking. I would avoid it if I could tell. I’m concerned about the safety and want to avoid ingesting Round-Up. Given their ethics, I wouldn’t trust Monsanto to rake gravel.

    • \\ I’ve read that give a choice chickens won’t eat GMO corn. I’m not sure how they tell.\\

      and where is the proof that this is true?

  • The information you provided about genetically altered food was ‘spot on’, as usual. I’m a 70ish American patriot who is living in the mountains of Central America. I came for what’s here, not because I don’t like life in America. I was raised in a medical family (grandpa and dad were doctors) with people in our close family who’d been alive in the very late 1800s and knew ‘the old ways’ of being independent and who’s families knew it was up to them to feed and take care of themselves. I now live around people in small villages who also know it. I believe genetic manipulation of our food AS IT’S DONE NOW, if continued, will eventually cause great harm to us, our children and to theirs.

  • \\3. Biodiversity.
    If everyone is growing genetically identical crops, regardless of whether they’re genetically modified or not, all our proverbial eggs are in the one basket. \\

    With the old breeding methods, it takes a huge amount of time to make new breeds and the first good breed with the useful trait thats invented tends to become very widespread until other breeds come along in a few years

    With genetic engineering, you can have several varieties with the desired trait right out of the bat. Innate potato which has been modified to reduce waste and reduce cancer was just approved and out of the gate comes in 5 different varieties of potato including Ranger Russet, Russet Burbank, and Atlantic.

  • Monsanto has our government in their pocket. They are the same company that made agent orange which contains the ingredient in round up. Our government allowed our troops in Viet Nam, including my husband, to be poisoned by this conglomerate and prevented them from being held accountable. Check out the presumptive diseases for agent orange exposure on the Veterans Administration website. Our Government has given Monsanto the green light to to Monsantoto hold our crops hostage, mandating that farmers use their GMO seed and herbicide to produce our food, effectively poisoning us all.

  • Might the GMO movement be responsible for eradicating bees that pollinate other fruits, vegetables and grains?

  • I get to see my husband because of GMO and specifically round up. It simplifies seeding and spraying so he has better mental health and he can get home at the end of the day.

  • Jules, be very very careful when buying food stuff from China. One just does not know how they grow veggies and/or fruit. Same goes for fish (basa for one). Some of the rivers the fish swim in are terribly polluted. Yuck!
    I do agree that sometimes GMO has its place, but we prefer our food “au naturel” if you will.

  • Jules,

    WOW! The GMO hate crowd, under the direction of Dr. Mercola, who seems to have convinced way too many people except real scientists who study GMOs constantly and somehow can’t find any of the BS he spews, are coming out of the corn fields. Cornell, is a school in New York state that seems fairly respectable. A few of Cornell’s professors tested somewhere around 1,700 GMO plants in 2014 with their naturally grown kinfolk. Guess how many of the GMO plants could be identified as biologically different from their non-GMO counterparts. It’s a very, very, very small number. Less than one. Of course we’re talking Cornell, just some school in NY.
    Of course the “glyphosate is not tested!” crowd is also making a guest appearance. One of glyphosate’s brand names, Round Up, has been tested over and over again. This information is easily available to anyone with a mind sufficiently open to look for it. Agent Orange is an ingredient in Round Up? Not even close. Agent Orange, so named because it was shipped in orange drums, is predominately 2,4,5-T 2,4-D. It is a totally different product. It’s not labeled for home use without an applicator’s license.
    According to what are said to be U.N. statistics, subtracting those who died yesterday from those who were born yesterday leaves well over 200,000 new mouths to feed … EVERY day! The only way they are going to be fed is with the SCIENTIFIC and carefully applied use of genetic modification to grow the most food in what is dwindling areas where food can be grown.
    BTW, all sweet potatoes are GMOs … and man never touched them! The orange cultivars, common to the Americas, are now being grown in Africa. They grow in areas of low moisture AND supply vitamin A that allows little children to grow up where they didn’t use to. All sweet potatoes have an agrobacteria in them. That makes them a GMO. God put it there. You tell Him He can’t fool with Mother Nature. Google it.
    What company produces the most NON-GMO seeds on earth? Come on. It’s easier than you think. First letter is M. Total of eight letters. Yep. Them. Google that as well.
    When the anti-GMO crowd has a better way to feed the world, I hope they let the rest of us in on it.

  • Yes, GM has been with us for millenia, BUT! it happened over generations of the plants or animals life cycles. The very nature of the logistics of the ancients meant that any hazards, or benefits, from the practice were localised.
    So far, we have no experience as to the effects of moving genes between species. That will take generations and so far, we are only just beginning. Sadly, the developers of “GM” have displayed a complete disregard for the safety of any species or environment in favour of short term financial advantage.
    In addition, these developers are known for their culture of deceit and enforced acceptance of their “GM” creations. And in collusion with organisations like the USA FDA it is difficult to see realities.
    One of which is the extinction of existing seed, fruit and animal species in favour of mono culture with its unknown future.
    Eat fresh, non processed food. As guided and encouraged in Stonesoup, eat fresh, nutritious, and appetising.

  • I am surprised that people here didn’t know that most soy is GMO. If you buy organic, you are avoiding GMOs– as long as you can trust the source.

    Dave, who only wants to read about “cooking stuff,” apparently doesn’t realize that INGREDIENTS, such as soybeans, are what we cook, and the quality and healthfulness of the ingredients are paramount in order to get a good result in the finished dish. Jules did a good job of making this subject clear in a simple way.

    Here is a useful article. Interestingly, it states that China has resisted GMO crops.

    As an American, I’m sorry that the companies that have unleashed these crops and these awful business practices on the world started here. Those of you who don’t realize the difference between what is going on now and the plant breeding that went on in previous millennia are either willfully misunderstanding or have been deceived.

  • I like the fact you remained balanced because we we do need to be careful for the good reasons you’ve stated, yet at the same time there can be benefits (and modifications do happen naturally of course). But we don’t really know long term what genetic modification will bring…

  • B.J.
    Back in the 1940’s in the U.S.A.,butter and coconut oil (saturated fats) were demonized, and margarine was promoted as a health food. Any nutritionist who disagreed was labeled as a “quack”. It took almost 60 years for the “authorities” to admit that trans fat loaded margarine was actually causing serious health problems. Immediately, margarine makers came out with an “improved healthy” product.
    My take away: do not go to industrial giants and chemical producers feeding insatiable ($) politicians for advice on nutrition. Money talks with a very loud and persuasive voice.

  • With the whole GMO thing, I tend to go with the scientists. Most legitimate science shows GMO are not bad. That is NOT to say that some people may have adverse reactions to certain chemicals in food. There is something in peppers that my body really dislikes. In my experience, I am very unique in that. I have one other friend that is like me, but the results are much more drastic. One or two of us, is an anecdote. We are outside the norm.

    There is enough money out there that is anti-GMO to create their own experiments. The problem is when they start cherry-picking to get the right results. Good research needs to be tested, and recreated to confirm findings. Yes, it takes a long time, but it has to be done.

    And, as others have said, GMO feeds a LOT more mouths, than non-GMO. It is kind of do you take the bad, or take the worse? At this point, I am not sure, beyond a doubt, which is which.

  • I agree. GMO in itself is not harmful, but the chemicals that are used on the crops that are GMO modified may gave some bad effects on humans/animals and nature, as you say. No thank you Monsanto. Round-Up-Ready and Co sucks… So I would say that labelleling GMO..maybe… But rather- please label what chemicals you used on the fields- thank you…!

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