The topic of genetically modified foods is one that is hotly debated, but the problem is that the phrase GMO is very broad and encompasses techniques and modifications to food that you potentially should and shouldn’t be concerned about. At this point in time there doesn’t seem to be an overt benefit or risk to consuming GMO foods.
According to the FDA, the big three GMO foods are soybeans, corn, and canola. But the FDA has also evaluated the safety of genetic modifications to flax, tomatoes, potatoes, cantaloupe, alfalfa, creeping bentgrass, papaya, sugar beets, wheat, squash, radicchio, and plums. The FDA lists consultations on GMO foods and what was genetically modified in the food to warrant the safety consultation on its website. GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.
The world population has topped 6 billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is going to be a major challenge in the years to come. GM foods promise to meet this need in a number of ways:
Pest Resistance: Crop losses from insect pests can be staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers and starvation in developing countries. Farmers typically use many tons of chemical pesticides annually. Consumers do not wish to eat food that has been treated with pesticides because of potential health hazards, and run-off of agricultural wastes from excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers can poison the water supply and cause harm to the environment. Growing GM foods such as B.t. corn can help eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market.
Herbicide tolerance: For some crops, it is not cost-effective to remove weeds by physical means such as tilling, so farmers will often spray large quantities of different herbicides (weed-killer) to destroy weeds, a time-consuming and expensive process, that requires care so that the herbicide doesn’t harm the crop plant or the environment. Crop plants genetically-engineered to be resistant to one very powerful herbicide could help prevent environmental damage by reducing the amount of herbicides needed. For example, Monsanto has created a strain of soybeans genetically modified to be not affected by their herbicide product Roundup. A farmer grows these soybeans which then only require one application of weed-killer instead of multiple applications, reducing production cost and limiting the dangers of agricultural waste run-off. Disease resistance There are many viruses, fungi and bacteria that cause plant diseases. Plant biologists are working to create plants with genetically-engineered resistance to these diseases.
Cold Tolerance: Unexpected frost can destroy sensitive seedlings. An antifreeze gene from cold water fish has been introduced into plants such as tobacco and potato. With this antifreeze gene, these plants are able to tolerate cold temperatures that normally would kill unmodified seedlings.
Drought tolerance/salinity tolerance: As the world population grows and more land is utilized for housing instead of food production, farmers will need to grow crops in locations previously unsuited for plant cultivation. Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salt content in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in formerly inhospitable places.
Nutrition:Malnutrition is common in third world countries where impoverished peoples rely on a single crop such as rice for the main staple of their diet. However, rice does not contain adequate amounts of all necessary nutrients to prevent malnutrition. If rice could be genetically engineered to contain additional vitamins and minerals, nutrient deficiencies could be alleviated. For example, blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is a common problem in third world countries. Researchers at the
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Institute for Plant Sciences have created a strain of “golden” rice containing an unusually high content of beta-carotene (vitamin A). Since this rice was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, a non-profit organization, the Institute hopes to offer the golden rice seed free to any third world country that requests it. Plans were underway to develop a golden rice that also has increased iron content. However, the grant that funded the creation of these two rice strains was not renewed, perhaps because of the vigorous anti-GM food protesting in Europe, and so this nutritionally-enhanced rice may not come to market at all. GMO is essentially the next evolution of crossbreeding. Common ingredients derived from GMO risk crops are; Amino Acids, Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Ethanol, Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrins, Molasses, Monosodium Glutamate, Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), Xanthan Gum, Vitamins, Yeast Products. These ingredients are found in almost all the foods and snacks that we consume everyday and feed to our growing children.
The notations above are just some examples of how GMO’s could be helpful to our crops, but there are also risks as well. There is a growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights. Grass roots organizations have been crying foul since GMOs were first introduced into the food system approximately 20 years ago. Many people believe the consumption of GMOs may contribute to serious health issues. In fact, recent studies raise serious concerns about the safety of GMOs and show they may contribute to the following conditions:
Intestinal Disorders: An Australian study recently claimed that pigs fed genetically modified (GM) soy and corn displayed a 32 percent rate of severe stomach inflammation whereas pigs not fed a GMO diet only showed 12 percent. Infertility: A study performed at the University of Vienna showed that mice fed GM corn over a period of twenty weeks had impaired fertility. In addition, some of the offspring of the mice displayed decreased weight.
Kidney and Liver Issues: The International Journal of Biological Sciences offers a study that showed certain varieties of GM corn to have a negative impact on kidney and liver function. As a result, the study concluded that some GM varieties may contribute to hepatorenal toxicity.
Increased Allergies: While it’s hard to pinpoint the source of any food allergy, there is concern that new proteins in GM soy and corn crops might increase their frequency.
Organ Toxicity: An abstract from the National Institutes of Health (PubMed) indicates that studies show most GM foods cause some form of toxicity to certain organs such as the pancreas, kidneys, and reproductive organs and also show hematological, biochemical, and immunological factors. They go on to mention that major studies over many years will be required in order to support these findings.
GMO is essentially the next evolution of crossbreeding. Common ingredients derived from GMO risk crops are; Amino Acids, Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Ethanol, Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrins, Molasses, Monosodium Glutamate, Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), Xanthan Gum, Vitamins, Yeast Products. These ingredients are found in almost all the foods and snacks that we consume everyday and feed to our growing children. If the risk of consuming GMO’s are overall harmful to the human bodies; then all food containing ANY GMO’s should be labeled specifically. This way each consumer is aware of that they are ingesting for their own personal health concerns or lifestyle.