Foods Genetically Modified-- Are They Safe? A look at GMO and The Need to Buy Organic Foods

Food safety and health- "GMO" or "foods genetically modified"

Grocery shopping has become a complex activity often requiring decisions about our families' health that most of us might feel unable to make. It used to be a simple process of making a list of needed items: bread, milk, eggs, cheese, hamburger, apples, cereal, etc.With the advent of all the news stories related to food and health, we are now more conscientious about what we put on the list.

It isn't just a matter of choosing healthy foods from the "food pyramid" we have to consider things like pesticides, chemical additives, hormones, antibiotic use in meat, and the scariest sounding of all-- "Frankenfood".

Genetics and Agriculture- from the past to Organic

The "Green Revolution", fathered by Norman Borlaug in the 1960's, brought about a major change in agriculture. It made food "more easily available to most of the world's population". The major address at that time was how to feed a growing population around the world. Growing food the "old fashion way" can cause a loss of more than 50% of the crops, according to a report by the "Centre for Dairy Research, Department of Agriculture, University of Reading in the UK".

This growing concern of "how to feed the world" brought together improved varieties of cereal crops, "increased use of fertilizer, irrigation and synthetic pesticides". As the current global population is heading quickly to 9 billion, we now have new concerns that have grown out of the green revolution-- namely the use of chemicals and old style farming techniques that are quickly impacting our environment. These concerns have partially been responsible for the birth of food biotechnology. From this new branch of science we have foods genetically modified and served up for our consumption.

In order for us to have a better understanding of GMO foods (Genetically modified), it would be helpful to have a quick look at some of the benefits and risks before we buy that bag of GMO apples.

organic fruits and vegetables
organic fruits and vegetables

Benefits of GMOs

Most of the discussion you hear when it comes to genetically modified food has to do with the perceived risks. According to a report in the "Journal of Animal and Feed Scientists", "Whilst scientist continue to debate risks, such as the effects of genetically engineered maize pollen on butterfly population, dramatic reductions in pesticide use achieved through the introduction of GM crops remain largely ignored". Pesticide reduction is just one of benefits we hear little about. So what are some of the other benefits to us if we continue to use GMOs? While not comprehensive, here are some of the benefits we can expect:

Benefits of Genetically Modified Food

  • Herbicide tolerance and insect protected
  • The amount of fuel expended to manufacture and spray the crops could be vastly reduced
  • Carbon dioxide could be reduced. This would have a diminishing effect on greenhouse gases
  • Reduction of ill effects, including death,from pesticide poisoning (est. between 10 to 20 thousand deaths a year in the USA alone according to one source)
  • Cost reduction from herbicide use
  • Environmental reduction of pesticides in our ground water which affects biodiversity
  • Genetically modified crops promise to increase the productivity of poor farmers in the developing world
  • Low risk of GMO plants spreading to the wilds if they are engineered to be sterile (can't reproduce themselves)
  • Profitability is greater for farmers
  • Lower cost to consumers
  • Greater adverse environmental tolerance- withstanding things like heat and cold
  • Better quality traits (appearance, taste, etc.)
  • Possibly higher nutritional value if engineered to be so

Genetically engineered fruit?
Genetically engineered fruit?

Risks and concerns of GMO

As with everything in life there is the yin and the yang. So it is with foods genetically engineered. The greatest difficulty is in the scientific evidence, or lack of it. One organization, "", claims that "genetically modified (GM) crops and food are being grown and consumed by the public, even though there is little scientific study about their health risks". What exactly are the potential health risks? What about environmental risks?

Risks and Concerns of foods genetically modified

  • Genetic transference from one organism to another called "Horizontal gene transfer or HGT (one source states that "HGT from GM plants poses negligible risks to human health or the environment")
  • Erosion of biodiversity of plants- this can cause the loss of entire crops due to the "exact" genetic makeup of each plant. If something affects one plant, it will effect all of them.
  • Moral, ethical and religious concerns.
  • Environmental protection
  • Animal welfare
  • Introduction of a host of new allergens
  • Unanticipated genetic interactions that lead to harmful effects (when you genetically alter something that is harmful, you could also be removing genes that are beneficial in other ways)
  • Loss of nutrients compared to similar non-GMO foods (comparing non-GMO apples with GMO apples for example)
  • The effects on our dietary systems
  • Toxicity factors are unknown

How to know if your food is GMO
How to know if your food is GMO

What can we do?

As consumers, we can do the following:

  • Stay informed and check who is giving you the information. Do they have a particular bias either politically, monetarily, or with some other agenda?
  • Keep a balanced perspective on all information. Don't let fear or ignorance rule you.
  • When you have a chance to vote for politicians... or on issues related to agriculture...understand what it is you are voting for

Want to avoid GMO as much as possible? Look for the "PLU" codes on the labels stuck on your fruits and vegges

  • A four-digit number- conventionally grown
  • A five-digit number beginning with 9- organically grown.
  • A five-digit number beginning with 8- genetically modified.

Above all else- keep your life balanced! Don't become obsessed about GMO food, but don't be foolishly blind either. If we keep on top of the research and use good common sense, these will remain our best resource for good decisions. We won't live here on earth forever, we just want to be as healthy as we can while we are here, and be responsible tenants of our planet for the enjoyment and health of future generations!

Buy Heirloom seeds and preserve food history.

Comments 12 comments

stars439 profile image

stars439 6 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

Very well written hub with fine photos.

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

BAGT - well written article and nicely researched. Great work (befits your Hubber name !) Gus

bayareagreatthing profile image

bayareagreatthing 6 years ago from Bay Area California Author

Thanks Star439- The photos are from the "commons". I appreciate you stopping by!

bayareagreatthing profile image

bayareagreatthing 6 years ago from Bay Area California Author

Thanks Gus for your kind comment! The Bay Area of CA is probably much more aware of these kinds of issues. We have a lot of organic farms here :)

creativeone59 profile image

creativeone59 6 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

Thanks for a very informative hub, thank you for sharing. creativeone59

bayareagreatthing profile image

bayareagreatthing 6 years ago from Bay Area California Author

Thanks CO for stopping by- I appreciate the comment.

Beata Stasak profile image

Beata Stasak 6 years ago from Western Australia

Thank you for well researched article. I live on a olive farm and we produce an organic olive oil, it is so expensive and sometimes so hard to try to produce a 'healthy alternative' for your table but it is worth it.

On other hand you can not produce everything by yourself in this time and you can not always get everything GMO free and organic so we just need to stay reasonable and choose a 'middle approach' to our health and wellbeing.

bayareagreatthing profile image

bayareagreatthing 6 years ago from Bay Area California Author

How cool to live on an olive farm Beata! I try to buy as much organic as feasible...but it is a balance for sure. Thank you for your kind comments!

ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

All very worrying.

bayareagreatthing profile image

bayareagreatthing 6 years ago from Bay Area California Author

I agree ES- it can be all be a little disconcerting.

Eduardo 20 months ago

This is Such a ridiculous cmeomnt. You are quoting what Monsanto would want you to think! There has been no long term studies on the health effects of Gmo's EVER! The regulatory bodies that approved gmo's in Canada did so based on the flawed and incomplete and at times falsified testing done by Monsanto. You need to do some more research on the effects of gmo's here in Canada on our farmers and ultimately on our food chain world wide. An excellent source of info is the book or documentary The World According to Montsanto. There is no question that gmo's should be labeled so Canadians will have the choice in what they feed their families. Most countries have this choice. We don't because so far the government has been pressured to not label by the biotech companies and they have given in. Maybe you work for Monsanto ..

Aracelia 20 months ago

Nice, but I - like many - have multiple alrgeeils which are gluten, dairy AND Soy, so this is of no help to me. I am finding it more and more common to find others who also have allergy to soy & dairy in addition to gluten and/or other alrgeeils, but too many mfg's ignore this. It seems that they hear about one allergen and run with it. (General Mills, for all their gluten free items still add soy and dairy to much of these, making them useless to myself and many others.) There is a new GF bread out (Goodbye Gluten Bakeries) that looks so yummy but, of course, has soy - I stopped reading at soy and so do not know if it also has dairy, but much as I might like to try it, no way for me with these ingredients. It seems that dairy, gluten and soy are THE most common of allergens, so why don't manufacturers take this into account? There are some who do and I passionately patronize them (Udi's, Enjoy Life, Galaxy, Applegate Farms, Liz Lovely, etc.), but I am mystified as to why, if some manufacturer is going to enter into an allergen free area, why not educate themselves FIRST and then proceed to make an accessible product for a larger market share? As for So Delicious, I have given up even bothering to reach for their ice cream after repeatedly finding allegens I must avoid. I do, however, buy (AND L-O-V-E) their yogurt, Creamer and Kefir. I use their plain Kefir like buttermilk in cooking and drink their strawberry or chocolate - YUMM!!!!Personally, I now make my own ice cream. It is a bit tedious at times, but allergen free.

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