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Genetically Modified Foods: You Are What You Eat

by Russell Smith
genetically modified foods

Genetically modified foods (GM Foods) are those that have been genetically altered in order to benefit producers and consumers; these foods are often created to resist disease, grow quicker, add nutritional value, or decrease allergy levels. But are they good for you, and the environment?

genetically modified foods

The Controversy

Although GM foods seem beneficial to consumers, they are surrounded by controversy. The European Union, Australia, Japan, and a few dozen other countries have either banned or placed stringent restrictions on GM foods. In the United States, the largest producer of GM foods in the world, genetically modified foods are not labeled and are largely unregulated by the federal government.

Without adequate testing, Americans are left in the dark, unaware of any harm that genetically modified foods may cause. For now, citizens can educate themselves about genetically modified foods and decide for themselves where they stand on these “Frankenfoods.”

Which Foods Are GM?

Some of the most important crops in American agriculture are genetically modified; corn, soybeans, cotton, and rice are prime examples of this. But it’s not just the raw consumption of these products that is troublesome – it’s the multiple foods produced from these crops. The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimates that up to 75% of processed foods in the U.S. contain at least one GM ingredient.

High fructose corn syrup – a sweetener usually used in processed foods – is created by converting some of the glucose in corn into fructose, thus creating a sugar-like sweetness. Cookies, yogurt, cereal, candy, and sodas are just a few of the products created using HFCS corn in addition to the array of foods that contain soy or rice derivatives.

What’s the Problem?

The environmental impacts of GM foods are many, affecting crop diversity and harming insects, and the soil these crops are grown in. GM crops are often altered to create their own pesticides, which don’t just kill the target insect, but other non-target organisms that are beneficial to crops and critical to our food supply, including honeybees. GM foods also have the capability of contaminating non-GM strains, leading to a reduction in crop diversity, as well.

The consequences of GM food consumption on human beings have yet to be established. A recent study by a group of French scientists yielded discouraging results. For two years, rats were fed Roundup-resistant GM corn while scientists from Caen University studied its effects on the rodents.

Compared to the regular (control) group, the GM-fed rats died sooner and developed cancerous tumors. Dr. Séralini, the scientist leading the study, stated that these effects were caused by the “endocrine-disrupting effects of Roundup, and overexpression of the transgene in the GMO.” Opponents of GM foods argue that results like these are an example of the dangers of genetically modified foods.

What’s Next?

The future of GM foods is a cloudy one. California residents will vote in November on whether they will adopt Proposition 37. If passed, genetically modified food sold in California stores will have to be labeled. Some argue that this is a step toward consumer awareness, a trend that will resonate throughout the country and will ultimately let consumers have a say in what they eat. Others claim that it will only increase food bills and hurt small grocery stores.

Regardless of the result, this is an event that will bring further attention to the genetically modified foods controversy.

The Takeaway

Currently, only a few dozen GM foods have been created, but it’s possible that we’ll see a future where hundreds of other foods are genetically engineered. Will the role of GM foods continue to expand in the future? Or is Proposition 37 just the inception of a massive reduction of genetically engineered foods in the United States?

If you’re cautious and want to stay away from GM foods, you may want to stick with locally grown, organic foods so you know exactly what you’re putting in your body.

Photo by Peter Blanchard

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David March 23, 2013 - 8:59 am

This story on Genetically Modified foods is full of inaccuracies! In my efforts to look at both sides of the discussion, the testing required by EPA and USDA is very extensive before genetically modified crops can be produced by farmers. Although most of these crops can’t be grown in Europe, the grain is approved for import into the EU. There is actually one genetically modified crop approved for planting in Spain and Portugal, it is a genetically modified corn.

With respect to organically produced food, it does have its merits. However, as a consumer you need to understand what “organic pesticides” are approved for use and how they can be used. For example, copper sulfate is approved and used. Google copper sulfate and look at the toxicity profile of this “organic pesticide”. You might be shocked at what is approved as an “organic pesticide”

This article references only one side of the debate and there are some very compelling studies and reports on the other side of the debate as well. I like the fact that some of these modified crops eliminate the need for use of insecticides because they kill the insect with Bt. This is the same Bt that is sprayed by organic farmers on the very organic vegetables we eat (yes, I do eat both organic and non-organic based on the information I have read). This Bt spray can be sprayed all the way up to harvest so my assumption is that the organic vegetables we buy have the same Bt on them that the genetically modified plants have!

Before you jump to either side of the debate, you might want to read beyond this article to get balanced information so you may make your own informed decision. For me, both are good options.

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