What’s Really on Your Thanksgiving Dinner Table

This Thanksgiving think about what is really in your sweet potatoes, corn, stuffing, and gravy, then consider if a bigger turkey is actually a better turkey.

The first Thanksgiving in 1621 contained a very different menu than the ones served at America’s 21st century Thanksgiving meals. The way that foods are being created has changed drastically.

More commonly foods are being scientifically constructed, rather than naturally grown. Ivan Gepner, associate professor of biology, said, “Organisms can be modified in their properties by two techniques,” artificial selection and genetic modification.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are “plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology,” the Non-GMO Project stated.

Gepner said, “Genetic modification could involve the addition, subtraction, or change in genetic constitution of organisms through direct manipulation of their genes…”

There are many foods that will be seen at Thanksgiving dinners that may be genetically modified. According to the Non-GMO Project, foods at risk are: alfalfa, corn, flax, rice, sugar beets, yellow summer squash, canola, cotton, papaya, soy, zucchini, milk, meat, eggs, and honey.

Merrily Ervin, Coordinator in the Chemistry, Medical Technology and Physics Departments stated that the best crops and animals are selected and used for production of the following years animals and plants. “Then we learned how to cross breed plants and thus manipulate the genetic composition of our food supply,” she said.

“The corn, tomatoes and pumpkins of today are totally different than the plants of 10,000 years ago,” Ervin continued.

According to a Living Green Magazine report posted on Nov. 15, 2013, “Some common Thanksgiving products that are suspect to include GMOs are Campbell’s Tomato Soup, Wesson Canola Oil, Bruce’s Yams, Hershey Milk Chocolate, Pepperidge Farm Crackers, Kraft Classic Ranch Dressing, Rice-a-Roni chicken flavored rice, Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce, and Kraft’s Stove Top Stuffing.”

GMOsGepner said the reason genetic modification has recently been applied is to enhance crop plants to resist disease, unappetizing predators and to allow foods to grow in adverse environments.

The Non-GMO Project stated that genetically modified foods are able to withstand direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide.

“Although some people fear genetic modification, there have been many benefits from this work,” Gepner said.

Monsanto is one of the many different biotech companies that uses genetic engineering to make agriculture more sustainable and enhance the food supply.

Mary Harris, specialist professor in communication and Director of the Monmouth Area Vegetarian Society (MAVS) explains that, contrary to GMO corporate propaganda, it is her professional opinion that the genetic manipulation of the food systems has done nothing to benefit humankind or the planet overall.

The Non-GMO Project proved that, “Despite biotech industry promises, none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition or any other consumer benefit.” Thus, the food supply has not seen any improvement due to genetic modification, nor has it been proven safer or beneficial in any way.

The health risks of genetically modified organisms have not yet been determined.

Artificial Selection

Another element of the Thanksgiving meal that has seen drastic changes over the years is the turkey. “Wild turkeys can live up to 12 years, weigh about 18 pounds, and spend their days foraging for food,” according to the Humane Society. “By contrast, a male turkey on a factory farm lives about 136 days, weighs 35 pounds and is anything but a free bird.”

More than 45 million turkeys are killed every year for Thanksgiving meals alone, additionally more than 300 million turkeys are killed for food each year in the Unites States, according to People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Turkeys are being produced at faster speeds and larger sizes each day to meet society’s demands. “[Turkeys] have been modified to grow at unnaturally fast rates and have large breasts that grow so rapidly that they can often barely stand or walk,” said Harris.

“I have personally witnessed these birds trying to get around once they get to a certain age, and it is heartbreaking,” Harris said. “Their legs cannot even hold up their bodies, and again, this is unnatural…”

A How Stuff Works article, Why are Turkeys Genetically Modified, stated that turkeys weren’t always raised this way. “It wasn’t until the 1950s that turkey farmer George Nicholas gave the birds a Hollywood makeover and transformed turkey farming into a multimillion-dollar business.”

Previous to the 1950s, families sought out to find small turkeys. They wanted just enough to feed their families and fit into their ovens, the How Stuff Works article stated.

The typical turkey that is sold in supermarkets for Thanksgiving meals today is the broad breasted turkey. “Most Americans have never eaten another kind,” the How Stuff Works article stated. “The turkeys look just like their name suggests: They’re bred for big breasts, the bigger the better, and their pure white feat¬hers.”

“Broad breasted white turkeys are what you have for Thanksgiving dinner. They are about 40 pounds and live four to six months,” Stura said of the common holiday meal.

Stura stated that turkeys have reached a point that they are now completely “manmade and physically cannot mate.” The size of the turkey’s breasts is so large that two turkeys are unable to mate.

Christino Nieves, a night butcher at ShopRite in West Long Branch, explained that the most common brand of turkey purchased at ShopRite is the ShopRite brand turkey, and second is the butterball turkey, which are both broad breasted turkeys.

The broad breasted turkeys are also chosen based on their ability to grow at faster rates, The How Stuff Works article continues. “Industry turkeys are abnormally fast growing, and by the time they’re 12 weeks old, they’re shipped off to the slaughterhouse,” as stated in the article.

Gepner explains that artificial insemination of the turkeys is what has been done to produce the modern turkey with a large breast with plentiful white meat. “[Artificial insemination] involves choosing traits that are desirable in the parents for mating within a particular species,” explained Gepner. “So turkeys that produce a little more breast meat might be chosen to produce the next generation and those with a little less meat might be excluded from being parents.”

The broad breasted, artificially inseminated turkeys have become significantly larger than previous year. WIRED.com stated, “Turkeys more than doubled in size in that time from an average of 13 pounds to an average of 29 pounds… If the trend continues, we could see an average turkey size of 40 pounds by 2020.”

The GMO Solution: Organic Foods

According to the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA), the best way to avoid GMOs and artificially inseminated foods is to eat organic. Foods that are organic are labeled “100 percent organic,” “organic” or “made with organic ingredients.”

Foods that are GMO or artificially selected are not labeled like organic foods.

“In fact, most developed countries have chosen to restrict or ban GMOs,” said Harris. “At this time, the United States is not one of those nations, but many individual citizens have made it openly known that they will not support GMOs or companies that do.”

Harris said that she personally chooses to avoid GMOs. “GMOs are in the majority of processed foods in existence, but can be found elsewhere too,” she added.

“Up until the past few years I never thought about GMOs,” stated Rebecca Zidik, a junior communication major. “But now I am more concerned about what I eat. It’s just too hard to go fully organic.

Many people are unaware of what is in their food, therefore many people will consume their Thanksgiving meals without any awareness of artificial insemination or GMO’s.

“I don’t know so much about genetically modified foods,” said Sam Martin, a senior criminal justice major. “[I am also] not very sure either about the health concerns with GMOs.”

Ervin’s advice for Thanksgiving dinner, “Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner and don’t worry about GMO’s.”

“I do not usually think about whether or not my food is genetically modified or not before I eat,” said Jessica Rinaldi, a senior communication major. Rinaldi plans on eating a lot of turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, veggies and more this Thanksgiving.

For more information about labeling GMOs you can go to http://justlabelit.org/ or http://yeson522.com/.

IMAGE BY Chris Netta

PHOTO TAKEN from canadiandaily.ca