GMOs And Coffee, Is There A Cause For Concern?

12 min read OCT 15, 2023

May cause or contribute to allergies…

May cause some cancers to progress…

Prompts the need for an increase in the use of chemical herbicides…

Threatens biodiversity, causes soil degradation, and…

Wow! Those are some eyebrow raising intros!

And, I don’t know about you, but my eyebrows raise even further when I think about any of the above listed items being associated with my daily cup(s) of coffee.

Each of those detriments, actual or potential, are linked to genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

GMOs is becoming a common phrase, one in which consumers are learning to identify as it pertains to their food or food sources since this term signifies a change or modification in said foods - from processed items many of us seek to avoid, to those items we once thought to be clean, pure, and unadulterated, like fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, grains, and you guessed it, coffee!

So, what are GMOs?

Can they actually have a negative impact on our bodies and/or the environment?

And, what do GMOs mean when it comes to coffee?

Today we’d like to tackle each of these questions and more, so join us as we explore those topics as well as how Lifeboost coffee fits (or doesn’t fit) into the GMO equation.

The GMO Impact

GMO is an acronym that stands for genetically modified organism. GMOs are plants, animals, or other organisms whose genetic makeup has been altered in a laboratory setting.

These genetic modifications then create combinations of plant, animal, viral, or bacterial genes that do not occur in nature.

The first GMO was developed in the early 1970’s when DNA was inserted into bacteria. As this process was further studied, this led to the introduction of GMO plants, produced for human consumption, in the mid 1990’s.

Most commonly, GMOs are food. However, some of these organisms are also used to create medications, such as insulin.

Specifically in regard to plants, most GMO crops were created to control weeds and combat the loss of crops/food. So, such modifications are often confused with other processes in agriculture, such as cross breeding.

Growing up in a small rural town, I was accustomed to hearing farmers talk about cross breeding plants, a process which involves mixing specific characteristics of plants, using a crop’s natural genetic makeup to produce a slightly different plant.

GMOs differ greatly from this process as the production of a GMO crop or product relies solely on the insertion of modified or edited genes using biotechnology, recombinant DNA technology, and in vitro nucleic techniques.

So, while hybrid plants and crossbred crops do undergo modifications, these alterations are natural, likened to that which has occurred for thousands of years in nature, where plants evolve or change over time.

And, this natural occurrence is actually a good and needed thing as it improves a plants diversity and ability to adapt as the environment changes.

GMOs on the other hand decrease this needed diversity in crops prompting the need for further intervention and modification.

For example, some GMO crops are actually formulated to produce pesticides within plant cells.

These are also intentionally engineered to be resistant to herbicides, which means fields filled with GMO crops can then be liberally sprayed with weed killers, ridding the terrain of everything except the intended crops.

As you can imagine, this is disastrous for biodiversity.

Diverse plant life (weeds included) fills the soil with nutrients, protects against erosion, and supports life for pollinators and other beneficial insects. But, in the case of GMO crops/fields, the toxic chemical overload both within and on the plants create a biodiversity nightmare.

The prevalence of GMO corn and soy plants alone, combined with the abundant use of herbicides on these crops, has nearly eradicated the monarch butterfly population in North America. And, this is only one small example of the environmental detriment of GMOs.

On top of this, the intention of GMO plants, seeking to curb weed and pest populations, seems to be backfiring as “super weeds” and “super pests” have now been identified due to the fact that these crop hindrances have developed a resistance to the toxins present in GMO plants.

But, the environment isn’t the only thing negatively impacted by GMOs.

Two common concerns for humans regarding GMO foods are allergenicity and toxicity…in other words, when consumed, GMO “foods” can be toxic and they can contribute to allergic reactions.

While the World Health Organization discourages the use of DNA from known allergens in GMO crops and products, this remains a cause for concern amongst many individuals.

As far as toxicity, GMO foods spark controversy over the concern that these can raise levels of carcinogenic substances in the body, contributing to cancer.

Then, as some GMOs have been altered to make them resistant to antibiotics, it is feared that human consumption of these organisms could lead a person to develop a similar resistance.

There are even concerns surrounding the potential for such products to negatively affect the immune system as scientists have noted that GMO food DNA can survive as far as the gut, which houses nearly 70% of your immune system.

Unfortunately, with the rise of GMO products, it’s becoming increasingly hard to avoid ingesting these items.

Today, nearly 90% of corn, soybean, and sugar beet crops are genetically modified. And, it is estimated that roughly 75% of all processed foods in the United States contain genetically modified organisms.

Sounds simple then, right? Just avoid processed foods and eat real food…fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins, etc.

Unfortunately, GMOs abound in the produce section of your local grocery store as well.

Aside from soups, crackers, chips, cakes, condiments, sodas, and everything in between on grocery shelves, the following is a list of the most common “fresh food” GMOs:

  • Alfalfa
  • Corn
  • Potatoes
  • Papaya
  • Sugar beets
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow squash

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. And thankfully, one item not listed above, is coffee. But, is coffee completely unaffected by genetic modification?

GMOs And Coffee

There are roughly 120 species of coffee plants around the world, and within those species there exists an unknown number of plant variations including both wild and hybrid varieties.

The hybrid coffee varieties that exist today, while they have come about through research and natural cross breeding, have raised eyebrows as a cause for potential GMO concerns as folks wonder, can or will this highly sought after commodity be genetically modified?

Since the mid 1990’s when GMO foods were first introduced, there have been some efforts to genetically alter coffee plants:

- In 1999, the University of Hawaii was granted a patent on genetically altered coffee. In the subsequent experiments, these coffee cherries would grow only to a certain point, stopping just short of maturity. Then, the plants were sprayed, all at the same time, with a chemical that prompted ripening.

The goal here was to have all of the coffee cherries in a given crop to mature at the same time to ease the burdens associated with multiple harvests.

- In 2005, a project organized by CIRAD, a French agricultural research institute, studied genetically modified robusta coffee plants where they found “70% of the GMO plants were completely resistant to the coffee leaf miner, a moth that lays eggs on the leaves of coffee plants, which ultimately kills them.”

At this time, the institute described the project and its findings as simply furthering their knowledge for coffee production, stating these were not for commercial use; however, other GMO coffee inquiries, studies, and initiatives have since taken place as well.

- In 2006 Nestle was granted a patent for GM coffee plants which blocked an enzyme, so the coffee powder produced from the plants would increase in solubility.

Since these occurrences, Hawaiian coffee farmers have lobbied against the cultivation of GM crops.

And, it appears the research surrounding the solubility of coffee was indeed targeting cost effectiveness and growing efficiency.

Overall, according to the Non-GMO Project, “coffee is considered low-risk” as it pertains to the potential for genetically modified crops for commercial use.

And thankfully, the National Coffee Association confirms this, stating “there is currently no commercially-available genetically modified coffee.”

However, there are some GMO concerns for coffee consumers.

Both flavored coffees as well as common coffee additions like sugar, milk, honey, and soy commonly contain GMOs.

Regarding coffee add-ins…

The saying “you are what you eat” comes into play as cows fed a diet of GMO grain are feared to pass along these modifications in their milk, which can make its way into your coffee cup through milks and creamers.

Then, a common emulsifier in coffee creamer, cellulose, is made from the cell walls of plants, many of which are genetically modified.

As soy is one of the most common GMOs, a soy milk latte also becomes increasingly concerning.

And, as bees fly about freely, visiting organic and genetically modified plants indiscriminately, the Non-GMO Project is unable to verify any North American honey as safe from GMOs.

Regarding flavored coffees…

Many items containing ingredients listed as “natural flavoring,” commonly contain soy. And, those coffee flavorings which contain corn and/or soy derivatives qualify as GMOs.

So, while the coffee you’re drinking may not be grown from a genetically modified plant, if you prefer your beans flavored, those flavorings may in fact be transforming your cup from natural to unnatural.

And, this doesn’t even touch the fact that most conventional coffees are flavored using a substance known as propylene glycol, a toxic chemical used to make the added flavorings adhere to the coffee beans.

All of the above listed concerns surrounding GMOs, coffee, flavorings, and coffee add-ins mean one thing - when prioritizing your health, every detail matters!

And, this is why we are committed to doing things differently here at Lifeboost…

Non-GMO From Crop To Cup

All of our practices here at Lifeboost are intertwined, from our relationships with our coffee farmers, to the ways in which our coffee is grown, to how those coffee cherries are processed, flavored (for those selections), and more.

So, to close things out here today, I’d like to detail our practices, each of which showcases our commitment to consistently bringing you pure, nonGMO, quality, clean, healthy coffee.

First, Lifeboost coffee is fair trade. This not only means we pay our farmers a fair wage, it also indicates two very important aspects in the coffee growing process - transparency and sustainability.

We do not source conventional, mass-marketed coffee. Instead, we’ve sought out the best of the best, leading us to very small coffee farms run by generational farmers who we communicate with to ensure their coffee plants and growing practices meet fair trade, sustainability, and certified organic standards…as well as Lifeboost standards.

Working with our farmers helps us to confirm all of our coffee beans are coming from one precise source/location.

And, in those locations, on these small family farms, we know our growers carefully plant specialty coffee plants at high elevations in forested areas where the shrubs can grow amongst native plant life, maturing in a symbiotic relationship of sorts.

You see, Lifeboost coffee plants slowly grow to maturity under a canopy of shade from neighboring plantlife. Here, the leaves of native plants provide shelter and shade not only for our coffee plants below, but for wildlife in the area as well.

Nearby animals then provide pest deterrence and even fertilize the soil with waste. Then, the falling leaves from surrounding plants eventually decompose, enriching the soil quality as well.

The coffee plants themselves attract a variety of insect species which in turn become prey for other pests and birds. And, each of these elements work to increase biodiversity in the area.

This, in turn, also negates and prevents the use of any harmful chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in the coffee growing process.

And altogether, these measures are not only environmentally sustainable, they also ensure our coffee is pure, clean, nutrient dense, and of the highest quality.

Apart from our farmers, their farms, and their growing practices, we also springwater wash our coffee cherries once they’re harvested. And, after meticulous processing, those coffee beans are then 3rd party tested for molds, heavy metals, pesticides, and over 400 other toxins to ensure no contamination of any kind has occurred.

Of course, as all of these measures may suggest, Lifeboost coffee is also certified organic, which means the use of genetic engineering is strictly prohibited.

But, as most of you know, we offer a wide variety of flavored selections here as well, and as you just read above, most flavored coffees contain corn and soy derivatives which qualify as GMO.

What does this mean for Lifeboost flavored coffees?

Well, as you might have guessed, our desire to bring you the cleanest, healthiest coffee on the planet doesn’t stop where flavoring begins.

For each and every one of our flavored coffee selections, we never use propylene glycol, and we never use GMO derived ingredients.

Instead, all of our flavors come from a few different, clean, sources such as:

- Organic or natural extracts, just like the ones your grandma uses when baking delicious pies, cakes, and other homemade goodies

- Organic, plant-derived, essential oils which not only serve to provide flavor but a wide range of health benefits with their use

When flavoring our coffee, we soak our freshly roasted (and therefore more porous) coffee beans in the above mentioned flavoring agents where they absorb these natural, and healthy, fragrances and flavors.

When you open up a bag of Lifeboost coffee, or as you’re brewing or sipping a cup of one of our flavored selections, those subtle scents and tantalizing tastes are never bioengineered, DNA altered, or genetically modified. No, what you’re sampling and savoring is pure, unadulterated coffee…or pure, unadulterated, flavored coffee.

And, if you’ve followed us for very long at all, you’ve likely also noticed our recommendations for coffee add-ins and coffee recipes generally include organic, nonGMO suggestions for use in our already clean, healthy brews.

So, one thing you can count on from Lifeboost - should genetic engineering decide to storm the coffee industry - is that we’re committed to keeping things healthy, for coffee, for you, and for the environment. This means we’re dedicated to continuing our fair trade, sustainable, and organic practices, from growing, to harvesting, processing, testing, freshly roasting, and even flavoring…now and always!

Check out Lifeboost Coffee Grata Medium Roast.

Medical Disclaimer
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Charles Livingston nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.

Headshot of Becky Livingston Vance
Becky Livingston Vance Content writer

Becky is a mother, educator, and content writer for Lifeboost Coffee. She has had three years’ experience as a writer, and in that time she has enjoyed creatively composing articles and ebooks covering the topics of coffee, health and fitness, education, recipes, and relationships.


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