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" however...now 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.
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
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, "Actionbioscience.org", 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
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.
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