While the debate about GMO labeling has come off of center stage, the controversy is still real and prevalent. Here’s a guide to understanding GMO's and how they might affect you.

What are GMOs?

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with the DNA from other plants or animals. This creates a product that would not naturally exist in nature. The reasons to genetically modify food are to increase crop yield, to reduce cost for food production, and to create crops with innate herbicide and pest resistance.

What’s the Problem with Genetic Modification?

Most developed countries do not deem GMOs to be safe, and there are strict regulations on them in countries including Japan, Australia, and all countries in the European Union. While GMOs create a more resilient product, the environmental and health implications demonstrated thus far are shown to be potentially dangerous in many ways.

Potential risks to humans include:

  • Negative affects to the immune system
  • Infertility
  • Accelerated aging
  • Changes to major organs in the gastrointestinal system
  • Disruption of fatty insulin regulation
  • Decimation of good bacteria creating an environment welcoming to pathogenic bacteria

 

The body is an exceptional entity that can take care of our every need. Because genetically modified organisms are biogenetically engineered, they have the potential to interrupt the natural intelligence of the human body. It’s suggested that they have begun to create massive and unmanageable health issues for the population at large.

Where are GMOs found?

GMOs are used on crops that are in high demand for processed and packaged foods. These include:

  • Alfalfa (fed to animals raised for human consumption)
  • Soybeans
  • Corn (for human and animal consumption)
  • Cotton
  • Canola
  • Papaya
  • Sugar beets
  • Recombinant bovine growth hormone (a genetically engineered replica of a naturally occurring hormone in cows used to increase milk production)

Although no fish, meat, or poultry products have been approved for bioengineering at this point, this does not mean that they are GMO free. The commercial animal farming industry is the largest purchaser of corn and soybean meal as feed, the majority of which is genetically modified.

We’ve been Altering Our Food Longer than You Think

Bioengineering is not novel. Since the 1980s farmers have been using genetic modification to improve the quality, yield and consistency of their crops. Keeping the best seeds to plant the following season, combining varieties and cross breeding seeds to enhance sweetness and flavor, grow bigger, and last longer. This process has created many of the fruit and vegetables we now see on our grocery shelves.

The act of genetically modifying is quite different than this, however. While breeding and crossbreeding seeds for new flavor and resistance to bugs and weather is a way to naturally select and sustain the best crops, using genes that are similar to one another, genetically modifying creates things that would never be found in nature. The process of taking genes from one species and injecting them into another to provide them with the desired trait that wouldn’t ordinarily exist, producing what are called transgenic crops. Transgenic crops are innately equipped to make it easier of farmers to deal with issues such as bugs, weeds, and disease. 

Environmental Issues from the Cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms

GMO crops are herbicide resistant so that farmers can spray their plants with weed killer without negatively affecting the food. This process, however, has resulted in an exponential increase of the use of Roundup and other weed killers over the last few years as weeds become more and more resistant to herbicides. There are now fields of herbicide resilient weeds that have to be taken out with machetes. This creates a health issue for workers and consumers, and has harmful effects on our air quality and environment.

Another secondary effect of genetically modified foods is what it can do to the wildlife and insects that inhabit the environment. Certain insects feed on plants that surround crop fields and get affected by the pollen from genetically modified crops. This can affect the lives of insects and the evolution of them.

One widespread concern is the recent massive disruption to our bee population. While GMOs are not directly responsible for the die-off of pollinators such as bees and butterflies, it’s stimulated widespread use of pesticides that are significantly reducing our bee populations. Bees pollinate an estimated 75% of food crops. Bees also pollinate clover and alfalfa that is fed to beef cows.

Moving Forward with GMOs

There are some scientists that purport that genetically modified organisms hold the potential to solve massive global issues such as malnutrition and food insecurity. The debate on how much harm or help GMOs can do for our food supply and world population still continues, but it’s important to inform ourselves and decide how we want to move forward in our own lives.

Avoiding GMOs, if you choose to, is not easy. Staying away from packaged products or buying ones that are labeled as ‘non-GMO project’ is a good place to start. Also, shopping at farmers markets or buying organic produce improves your chances of keeping them out of your household. Being informed and making conscious food choices based on our own needs and beliefs is the best way to proceed when it comes to living in a world where GMOs exist, and will no doubt continue to have a place in global markets.

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