Science versus anti-GMO crusaders, who is actually right?
Genetically modified foods or GMOs are a hot topic in the media and health circles. But what exactly are genetically modified foods and why are they so controversial?
What are GMOs?
Genetically modified organisms are defined as organisms in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. It has also been called genetic engineering, modern biotechnology or gene technology.
The History Behind GMOs
Genetic engineering has taken place for thousands of years, back to the time of the Sumerians and Babylonians. These civilizations used yeast to ferment beverages like beer. When the microscope was invented people discovered microorganisms which were then used in food production.
In 1946, scientists first discovered that DNA can transfer between organisms. The first genetically modified plant was produced in 1983. A genetically modified tomato was approved for sale in the United States in 1994. The modification allowed the tomato to ripen after it was picked. Several other genetically modified foods were also introduced in the 1990’s. By the year 2000, scientists created golden rice which was genetically modified to increase its nutrient value. Today the United States produces the most GM crops and roughly 85% of corn, 91% of soybeans, and 88% of cotton produced in the United States are genetically modified.*
Foods that are Genetically Modified
Below is a list of some common plant based foods that are genetically modified.
In the early 90’s the Hawaiian papaya industry nearly folded when the papaya crops were stricken with the ringspot virus. Scientists breed a papaya plant that was resistant to the virus which saved the industry. Today 80% of Hawaiian papaya is genetically modified and there is no conventional method to control the ringspot virus.
About 13% of zucchini grown in the United States is genetically modified to resist viruses.
Corn has been genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides and to express a protein which kills insects which threaten the plants.*
Why have scientists been altering the genes in plants?
Scientists have been genetically modifying plants to make them more suitable for food, enhance their nutritional value, and resist insects or viral disease. Biotechnology has helped us to produce more than enough food to feed everyone in the United States.
Research on the Safety of Genetically Modified Food
In 2012, the European Commission released a statement based on more than 25 years of research on the biosafety of GMOs. They concluded that, “GMOs are not per se more risky than conventional plant breeding technologies.” Several other organizations including the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society have examined the evidence and came up with the same conclusion.**
Should we label Genetically Modified Food?
According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “In order to receive regulatory approval in the United States, each new GM crop must be subjected to rigorous analysis and testing. It must be shown to be the same as the parent crop from which it was derived and if a new protein trait has been added, the protein must be shown to be neither toxic nor allergenic. As a result and contrary to popular misconceptions, GM crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply. There are occasional claims that feeding GM foods to animals cause aberrations ranging from digestive disorders, to seterility, tumors and premature death. Although such claims are often sensationalized and receive a great deal of media attention, none have stood up to rigorous scientific scrutiny. Indeed, a recent review of a dozen well-designed and long-term animal feeding studies comparing GM and non-GM potatoes, soy, rice, corn and triticale found that GM and their non-GM counterparts are nutritionally equivalent.”
“It is the long-standing policy of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that special labeling of a food is required if the absence of the information provided poses a special health or environmental risk. The FDA does not require labeling of a food based on the specific genetic modification procedure used in the development of its input crops. Legally mandating such a label can only serve to mislead and falsely alarm consumers.**”
I agree with AAAS in their statement. Altering food labels to label all the thousands of products which are genetically modified would be confusing and mislead consumers. There is no scientific evidence pointing to GMOs being harmful to our health. Therefore, a product label stating that it has been genetically modified would just be a waste.
Are GMOs Safe or Should They be Avoided?
Based on the scientific evidence I firmly believe that consuming genetically modified foods poses no significant health risks. The advancement of biotechnology has benefited America economically and we are able to be the world leader in agriculture production.
Next time you are shopping in the produce department of your local grocery store you can go ahead and purchase those ears of sweet corn on sale with confidence knowing that they will not pose any health risks to you or your children.
**American Association For The Advancement of Science, Statement by AAAS Board of Directors on Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods, 20 October 2012
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