Are you playing genetic roulette?

June 28, 2014by Sarah Evelynn

Filed under: Science, Social Issues, The Earth

Do you think that Americans should have the right to know if there are GMOs in their food? Or could it lead to the collapse of a very important part of the food industry through stigmatism? Is there a future of genetically grown hamburgers? According to this NPR article, grown beef patties are much more distasteful than a genuine, cow-grown beef patty. Just how far can science go without losing what it is to be “food”? All skepticism aside, genetically modified foods are a very important part of our society today and are making headlines frequently.

What is a GMO?

According to the NonGMO project, GMOs are “plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.” This technique is also called genetic engineering and is providing the world with different organisms. Some organisms have had genes added from different plant species to make them resistant to specific herbicides or to increase the amount of nutrition. Other organisms are developed by combining selective breeding and by altering their own genes in a way that aids to that organism’s survival.

How Did GMOs Start?

Changing or adding DNA in different organisms makes GMOs. After James Watson and Francis Crick discovered DNA and “splicing” in 1953, the idea for GMOs was born. The movement towards GMO products ranges from bacteria that eat oil spills, to insulin from E. coli bacteria to foods that ripen slower to have longer self-lives. The first issue with GMOs was a resistant weed that didn’t respond to herbicides or pesticides. In 1997 Europe ruled in favor of mandatory labeling on all GMO food products, including animal feed. Since then, there have been huge disagreements between whether GMOs will lead to terrible consequences, if there should be mandated labeling and at which point is too far.

Why do GMOs Help?

Today, the most common GMO crops are corn, soy beans, yellow crookneck squash, zucchini, alfalfa, canola, sugar beets and milk. Different strains of these foods help conquer food deficit problems from all over the world. Africa houses around seven percent of the world’s population in poor conditions to grow food to support the number of people. Scientists have created a drought resistant breed of maize (corn) to help feed the people in these arid, drought-ridden locations. In the Philippines, rice is one of the only crops that can grow, but rice lacks many vital nutrients to maintain health. The Golden Rice Project has developed a grain that contains many necessary nutrients. These are just a few examples of how GMOs are helping feed more people nutritiously.

Do GMOs Hurt?

Currently, the U.S. government still hasn’t taken a position on whether or not GMOs are dangerous. That being said, the FDA doesn’t have the necessary authority to vet different GM foods before they enter the super markets. This means that there is potential that the food going on the selves is unsafe, and there is not labeling for people to choose not to consume it. There have been studies that suggest GM corn could lead to kidney and liver problems along with gaining weight. Regardless of whether or not they are proved to harm, does that mean people shouldn’t have the option to not consume them?

Where GMO is Today.

There has been an incredibly strong push to have the FDA require products that are genetically modified to identify this on the label. GMOs have been in the news because Whole Foods removed Chobani from its shelves and General Mills removed all of the GMO ingredients from Cheerios. If there are certain food products that you want to avoid, like gluten, corn syrup or lactose, you can look on the label in order to know. The New York Times publishes many articles detailing GMOs for more information.

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Currently the only labeling that is approved is “GMO-free”. Ninety-three percent of the NY Times respondents said they would like to know if the food they’re buying has GMOs, but only fifty percent said that they would choose an alternate, GMO free, food. They further state that over 1.4 million people have signed the center for Food Safety’s petition to have the FDA require GMO labeling. Connecticut, Maine and Vermont have passed laws that are leading towards requiring GMO labeling on all food products. Many food producers and developers are strongly opposed to labeling because they believe it will stigmatize GMOs, and there is no conclusive evidence of their proposed harm.

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Here are more links to articles about state legislation on GMOs

Industry friendly bill introduced – Here

Vermont’s bill passing GMO labeling – Here

State labeling initiatives provided by Center for Food Safety – Here

Updates of 25 different states looking into GMO labeling laws – Here

And here are current state bills relating to GMOs.

One thing is for sure, only time will tell. There is cause to continue looking into GMOs and their possible side effects on human health and the environment. It will be interesting to see how different states approach this labeling issue and what affects it will have on the industry.

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