Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe to Eat?

GMOs are the latest agricultural rage. But what are they really? How are GMOs made? How safe are they? 

By Edith Carpio

The media is constantly telling us what is and what isn't safe to eat. The topic of healthy food has even come up as an environmental issue. A person can't read a magazine without seeing this week's healthy recipe featured, or go to the gym without hearing their trainer talk about the importance of healthy eating, or even walk down the produce isle at the local grocery store without wondering what really is in that apple or in that strawberry.

In health and food related media you will most likely find the acronym GMO, and somewhere else on that page the word organic is there too. Are there any possible health risks that may come from consuming the GMOs? How do we know which of our foods are made using GMOs? There are so many questions. Now, let's find some answers.

Genetically Modified Organisms: What are they?

According to the Non-GMO Project, genetic engineering is the process in which using biotechnology allows the enhancement of organisms such as food, plants, or animals by manipulation and recombination of DNA from different species, that could not be done by traditional hybridization, and could not appear in the world naturally. Using this process and biotechnology, farmers and scientists have made genetically modified organisms, GMOs, which appear in our crops.

Genetic engineering process  (www.fda.gov)

What gets genetically modified?

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration's website lists the most genetically modified foods including "corn, soy, alfalfa, canola, cotton, papaya, sugar beets, and zucchini." According to the Center for Food Safety website, 91% of soybeans and 88% of cotton made in the U.S. are genetically engineered. A question asked by many is "how much of these genetically modified foods end up in our local supermarket's shelves and eventually into our diet?" The Center for Food Safety says that as much as 75% of processed foods contain soy, corn and cotton seed oil.

The process

Two words, gene splicing. According to How a Gene is Spliced: Making a Genetically Modified Crop from the American Radio Work's website the process starts when one specific gene of a plant or bacterium is isolated, one that produces a desirable characteristic. Then, that same gene is put into the DNA of the selected plant or animal that is to be modified. This makes the plant or animal immune or resistant to any potential dangers.

The biggest question: Are they safe?

Scientists and non-scientists cannot agree if the consumption of GMOs is good or bad. And you'll find their opinions and research spread all over the Internet. The Institute for Responsible Technology’s website gives “ten reasons to avoid GMOs”. The fact that producing GMOs increases herbicide use tops IRT’s list. According to reports done by the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture mentioned in a Forbes article, "superweeds" are being created each time a GMO is made, thus becoming more resistant to the herbicide, leading to the need for more herbicide to be sprayed. This increased use of pesticides is also harmful to the environment.

The Institute for Responsible Technology also labeled GMOs as unhealthy. According to IRT, studies on humans showed that the genetically modified material stays in our system, which could potentially cause long term effects. It cites an article published in 2014 by the Alliance for Natural Health which said that “a senior research scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that half of children will be autistic by 2025.”  

Stephanie Seneff, PhD, says that her research shows that the lead ingredient in Monsanto’s roundup herbicide, glyphosate, is the main reason behind her conclusion. According to Seneff, biomarkers from autistic children showed that there were considerable amounts of glyphosate in their bodies. Also according to Seneff, side effects in autistic kids match those of “glyphosate toxicity.”

Looking at GMO production from a business perspective, their increased popularity and production gives the government and high power corporations more power and control. They already have so much control over everything, do we really want to give them power over what we put in our bodies?

How do we know what is genetically modified and what isn't?

The short answer is: we don't. Consumers are not aware of the GMOs used to create or enhance the food that they intake. According to a Consumer Reports article by Andrea Rock, a research survey said about 70 percent of Americans said that they do not want GMOs in their food. And the same survey said that 92 percent of Americans want proper labeling of genetically modified foods. According to Rock, this is because of improper labeling, since GMO labeling is not required by law in the U.S.

Rock says there are certain states that have taken action and requested passing laws that required proper GMO labeling, including: Colorado, Oregon and Vermont which has passed the law. You're lucky if you live in Vermont or Europe or Hong Kong, where proper food labeling is required by law, according to Annette McDermott from lovetoknow.com in an article about the history of GMOs.

Defining organic & natural products:

Although GMO labeling is not required by law, there is one way to know a product is GMO free. Look for the USDA Organic and the Non-GMO Project verified seals. But do not be fooled when you read the word natural on a product. According to Rock, natural really doesn't mean natural, it has lead people to believe that no GMOs were used in the making of the product but studies did not back that up. Consumer Reports ran tests on several products such as cereals and granola supposedly made with "natural ingredients," and the results showed that the product contained a considerable amount of GMOs. Manufacturers are tricking consumers, do not fall into the trap.

The use of GMOs is controversial among scientists and non-scientists. For now, it is believed that there are no dangerous effects of consuming GMOs but it is unsure if that will or will not change in the future. GMO production and consumption is something you will continue to see and read about in the media.

You can see the Institute of Responsible Technology's full list at: http://www.responsibletechnology.org/10-Reasons-to-Avoid-GMOs

sources used:

Edith Carpio is  currently a junior at Ramapo College, where she is majoring in Integrated Science Studies with a concentration in science journalism. She transferred from Bergen Community College where she received an associates degree in general mathematics & science. After Ramapo, Edith hopes to go onto physical therapy school but is still very passionate about writing. On her free time, Edith likes playing soccer and reading.

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