GMOs are topic that I was interested in learning more about. I’d certainly heard they are controversial, but I didn’t know the facts. Here’s what I’ve found.
What are GMOs?
GMOs, short for “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. Commonly modified crops are corn, soybeans, cotton and canola. They are found in products containing high fructose corn syrup, corn, and soy (think processed foods). GMOs were introduced into our food supply in the 1990s.
GMO ingredients are used in about 70% of the conventional processed foods in the US Ninety-two percent of soybean crops in the US are genetically modified.
Why are they used?
The two major traits engineered in GMO crops are herbicide tolerance and pesticide production. The first allows farmers to apply herbicide to the entire crop without killing the main plants. The pesticide production involves breeding an insect-killing toxin in every cell of the plant.
Biotech firms that create GMO seeds believe their modifications will; increase crop yield, bring down food prices, reduce greenhouse gases, and lessen our dependence on oil (biofuels are made from GMOs).
FDA Approval / Regulation
The FDA has given GMO foods a green light. Their stance is that “genetically modified foods are substantially equivalent to non-modified foods.” A voluntary consultation process between the FDA and GMO developers is meant to encourage product safety. This involves an assessment that is completely entirely by the companies creating the technology. Results are then reviewed by the FDA.
Monsanto — headquartered in St. Louis, MO with locations around the world – accounts for 90% share of GMO crops worldwide.
Labels and Bans
A majority of Americans want to GMO products labeled as such (93% according to a NY Times poll). As of June 2013, Connecticut and Maine are the only two states that require this labeling. A proposition in California was not passed. Many attribute the resistance to the power of the biotech lobbies. Though GMOs are deemed safe by the FDA, consumer backlash could be fierce were US buyers alerted to their GMO consumption.
As of 1999, the EU requires labeling of their own products, imported products, and imported animal feed. The EU, Australia, and Japan are included in the “more than 60 countries around the world with significant restrictions on the production and sale of GMOs.” There is widespread cultivation of GMO crops in China, Canada, and South America.
The following problems have been tied to GMOs:
1) Introduce allergens to food – in early genetic modification experiments, Brazil nuts genes were introduced to soy beans. Resulting allergic reactions caused production to stop.
2) Development of “superweeds” – Monsanto has developed seeds resistant to their herbicide Roundup. Repeated application of the chemical has created stronger more resistant weeds. This in turn necessitates the use of more herbicide. Vicious cycle?
3) Increased levels of toxins in foods – The more herbicide required (see #2), the more poisonous chemicals are absorbed into our food. These same toxins spread to our air, water, and soil.
4) Genetic Pollution – Once GMO seeds are introduced into the environment, their proliferation is next to impossible to control. GMO crops can and do contaminate non-GMO crops through wind, water, cross-pollination, and shared tools (some farmers rent harvesting equipment).
5) There is no research on the long-term effects GMOs may have on humans. Concerns about health consequences include allergies, antibiotic resistance, asthma, auto-immune disease, diabetes, endocrine problems, gastrointestinal disorders, and reproductive issues.
What can you do?
Check Non-GMO Verified Products – an online database for brands and products that use no GMO ingredients.
Eat organic foods — The USDA certifies that organic foods are not bio-engineered in any way. Though it is possible for organic crops to be unknowingly contaminated by GMOs.
Look for the NonGMO label. By 2018, all products at Whole Foods in the US and Canada will carry GMO labels.
FDA.gov. Questions & Answers on Food from Genetically Engineered Plants.
NonGMOProject.org. GMO Facts.
NYTimes.com. Strong Support for Labeling Modified Foods. by Allison Kopicki.
PBS.org – Viewpoints: Is Genetically Modified Food Safe to Eat?
ResponsibleTechnology.org. Healthy Eating Means No GMOs. by Jeffrey M. Smith.
ScientificAmerican.com. Labels for GMO Foods Are a Bad Idea.
WebMD.com. Are Biotech Foods Safe to Eat?
WholeFoods Magazine, The GMO Controversy: What You Need to Know.
Tell FDA and Congress, Just Label It