GMO foods are often genetically modified to achieve greater size, sweetness, and shelf life. But a they healthier or less healthy than their “natural” counterparts?
What are GMOs?
All living organisms have genes, which control how the organism functions. They influence appearance and behavior. For example, there is a gene that corresponds to eye color, others than control physical characteristics like how tall you will grow, and others that may increase your risk of developing a certain disease.
Scientists figured out that if genes were changed before the organism is developed, it will develop differently. Many techniques have been discovered that allow genes from one organism to be inserted into the genetic makeup of a drastically different organism.
If we pick the right genes to put into a seed, we get a fruit or vegetable that is more desirable, either from a growing or taste perspective. However, any change to one gene can affect other surrounding genes as well. This has led to concern that genetically modifying organisms may lead to unforeseen consequences.
GMOs are Resistant to Insects and Weeds
Seeds are genetically modified for a variety of reasons, but the most common reasons are to make the crop resistant to insects (insect-resistant) or herbicides (that are used to control weeds) that might harm it. In addition, crops can be made resistant to specific diseases that plague certain areas.
Less Use of Pesticides and Herbicides
When a crop is resistant to bugs and invasive plants, the farmer needs to use a smaller quantity of herbicides and pesticides.
Better Yield and Longer Shelf Life
These are benefits for the farmer, but not necessarily for you. The longer shelf life is usually a sign of low-quality foods, although GMOs are entirely different from highly processed foods, and don’t necessarily have the same drawbacks.
The Major Concerns over GMOs
GMOs are fairly new, only really becoming popular in the last 30 years or so. And with anything new, it takes time to test and learn about the full range of implications.
Can GMOs be Allergenic?
Introducing a gene to a foreign organism can result in adding allergens to the food. For example, adding the genes of a nut variety with another whole food will cause allergic reactions in a person with a nut allergy.
Are GMOs Safe to Eat?
I think the most basic thing that everyone wants to know is if GMOs are safe on a basic level. There have been no long-term epidemiological studies completed, because it’s really hard to track GMO consumption. If anyone tells you they are 100% certain that GMOs are safe in the long term — they’re lying. Some studies on animals have shown significant toxic effects from regular consumption of certain GMOs - this raises concerns.
As you can see, the science of GMOs is still relatively new and quite muddled. I wish there was a nice straightforward answer about GMOs being good or bad, but there isn’t. For now, we simply do not know the long-term effects that GMOs have on environment and health. It doesn’t appear that there is any disastrous consequences of eating modified foods, but there could be minor ones that are currently unknown. Another issue is that even if you wanted to avoid them, GMOs do not have to be labeled in most parts of North America.
What are the most common GMOs?
The most common GMOs are soy, cotton, canola, corn, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, alfalfa, and squash (zucchini and yellow). Many of these items appear as added ingredients in a large amount of the foods we eat. For instance, your family may not eat tofu or drink soy milk, but soy is most likely present in a large percentage of the foods in your pantry.
GMOs may be hidden in common processed food ingredients such as: Amino Acids, Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrins, Molasses, Monosodium Glutamate, Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), Xanthan Gum, Vitamins, Yeast Products.
For more information, you can visit www.nongmoproject.org