The Oxford English Dictionary defines "poison" as "a substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed."
The legal definition of the term is "any product or substance that can harm someone if it is used in the wrong way, by the wrong person, or in the wrong amount."
The medical condition of poisoning is even broader: It can be caused by substances that are not even legally required to carry the label "poison."
Therefore, can food become poisonous? Of course it can if it is infected, tampered with or altered in any way that causes it to become detrimental to its consumer. In fact, that's what we call "food poisoning."
But what about the genetic engineering, tampering or alteration of our food supply? If it causes bodily harm, even over the long haul, could that be considered poisoning?
I call again to the stand Dr. George Wald, a Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine and one of the first scientists to speak out about the dangers of genetically engineered foods. He explained: "Recombinant DNA technology (genetic engineering) faces our society with problems unprecedented, not only in the history of science, but of life on the Earth. ... Now whole new proteins will be transposed overnight into wholly new associations, with consequences no one can foretell, either for the host organism or their neighbors. ... For going ahead in this direction may not only be unwise but dangerous. Potentially, it could breed new animal and plant diseases, new sources of cancer, novel epidemics."
Last week, I discussed the dangers of genetic engineering to crop seeds and other foods. As a response, one of the readers of "C-Force," my weekly health and fitness column, asked, "What do you think are the best ways to avoid GMOs when they aren't even labeled on food ingredients?"
Let me tell you how I responded.
First, contact your governmental officials, and ask them to endorse or support legislation that requires food companies to start listing whether their products use GMOs.
At least 14 states have introduced legislation on genetically modified ingredient labeling, but most face government gridlock. So take action, and keep foods safe (non-genetically engineered) by contacting your state and federal representatives -- as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- and tell them to legislate that genetically modified ingredients be labeled on every package.
Ask your federal representatives to support the new federal labeling bill, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which would require the food industry to label all genetically engineered foods and ingredients. In addition, tell your representatives that corn and cotton must not be deregulated, because without strict controls, genetically engineered crops will encroach on non-genetically engineered crops, contaminating them and rendering the organic crops as nonorganic.
The biggest question is: How can we best avoid genetically modified ingredients in our food and elsewhere?
Here are the best ways that I've discovered from GMO and nutrition specialists and resources:
--Educate yourself and your loved ones about GMOs from credible articles, books or videos, such as those mentioned on the websites below or YouTube's "Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) -- Myths and Truths."
--Keep up-to-date about anti-GMO trends, legislation and action items by frequenting websites such as the one for the Center for Food Safety, another great GMO watchdog organization (http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org).
--Download the "ShopNoGMO" smartphone app at http://NonGMOShoppingGuide.com or visit http://NonGMOproject.org to help you locate and avoid genetically engineered ingredients wherever you shop.
--Buy certified-organic and local foods. USDA organic and Non-GMO Project Verified products cannot intentionally include GMO ingredients.
The USDA explains: "The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products. This means an organic farmer can't plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can't eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and an organic soup producer can't use any GMO ingredients. To meet the USDA organic regulations, farmers and processors must show they aren't using GMOs and that they are protecting their products from contact with prohibited substances, such as GMOs, from farm to table."
The "Non-GMO Project Verified" label is the only third-party non-GMO verification program in North America. Its website (http://NonGMOproject.org) explains, "Since its incorporation in 2007, the Project has grown into a collaboration of manufacturers, retailers, processors, distributors, farmers, seed companies and consumers."
--Avoid at-risk ingredients that are now largely (roughly 90 percent) produced using GMOs, including soybeans, canola, cottonseed, corn and sugar from sugar beets. Unless sugar is labeled as organic or pure cane, it likely contains sugar from genetically modified sugar beets.
The Chicago Tribune reported, "These crops (mentioned above) often are added to processed foods as oils, sweeteners and soy proteins but also can be part of amino acids, aspartame, ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, vitamin C, citric acid, sodium citrate, ethanol, flavorings (natural and artificial), hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lactic acid, maltodextrins, microbial growth media, molasses, monosodium glutamate, sucrose, textured vegetable protein, xantham gum, vitamins and yeast products, according to the Non-GMO Project."
Regarding most fruits and vegetables, the Non-GMO Shopping Guide further explains: "Very few fresh fruits and vegetables for sale in the U.S. are genetically modified. Novel products such as seedless watermelons are NOT genetically modified. Small amounts of zucchini, yellow crookneck squash and sweet corn may be GM. The only commercialized GM fruit is papaya from Hawaii -- about half of Hawaii's papayas are GM. Even if the fruit or vegetable is non-GMO, if it is packaged, frozen or canned, there may be GM additives."
--Buy only dairy products labeled "certified organic," "No rBGH or rBST" or "artificial hormone-free," because some source cows are fed genetically modified feed or injected with genetically modified bovine growth hormone.
--Support and patronize grocers (and commend their management) that offer lines of organic products and eliminate GMO ingredients from their product shelves. For example, Target, H-E-B, Giant Eagle and Meijer recently joined more than 55 other food retailers -- including Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Aldi, Marsh and Hy-Vee -- in agreeing not to sell genetically engineered fish in their stores. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's claim that all their store-brand items originate from non-GMO ingredients.