If you read the title of this post and thought “this doesn’t apply to me,” think again. Whether you know it or not, there’s a very good chance that you regularly consume foods that are derived from genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). In fact, since being approved for crops in the mid-1990’s, it’s now estimated that upwards of 70 percent of processed foods in the US contain GMO ingredients. But without that knowledge, you wouldn’t be able to tell which of your regular food purchases fall into this category because food manufacturers are not required to disclose the presence of GMO’s in food labels. So, now that you know what you’re eating, you may be wondering, “are genetically modified foods safe?”
While an affirmative answer to that question would be very comforting, the reality is that we don’t really know what the effects of consuming GMO’s are, if any. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that labeling isn’t necessary because GMO’s are no different from their naturally derived counterparts. Those whose businesses depend on the sale of GMO’s and foods that contain GMO’s – biotech companies, farmers, and food makers – are opposed to labeling because of the possibility that consumers would opt out of these products based on unfounded fears.
However, some food experts and consumer groups feel that consumers have the right to know what they’re ingesting and to be able to decide for themselves whether to choose foods with GMO’s. For comparison, Europe, Japan, China, and India all require foods with genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled. Confirming US food manufactures fears, labeling of GMO’s in those countries has resulted in consumers choosing other options and most manufacturers moving to exclude GMO’s from their products.
The benefits of GMO’s are clear: pest and disease resistance, herbicide, cold, drought, and salinity tolerance, the ability to add nutritional benefits, and non-food related uses like edible vaccines that are easier to ship and store, and trees that can be modified to clean up heavy metal pollution from contaminated soil. But because there has not been extensive testing of genetically engineered foods, the potential risks are not fully known. However, the Center for Food Safety cites potential health hazards, including:
- Increased risk of toxicity
- The transfer of allergens from one food to another (e.g. transferring genes from the Brazil nut to soybeans, creating a hazard for people who are allergic to Brazil nuts and unknowingly consuming a food containing them)
- Antibiotic resistance (due to the use of antibiotic resistant markers in GE foods)
- Loss of nutrition
- Cancer (due to the use of growth hormone in livestock, which has been connected to breast cancer and others)
The FDA disputes the Center’s claims, but neither side has produced irrefutable scientific evidence to support their side. Until more robust, long-term studies take place, we’ll never know for sure whether the benefits of GMO’s outweigh the potential drawbacks.
Are you for or against labeling foods containing genetically modified ingredients? Tell us below.
Sources: usda.gov, huffingtonpost.com, centerforfoodsafety.org, nytimes.com, csa.com, and wikipedia.org