Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) which are sometimes referred to as transgenic organisms, are the result of a complex laboratory procedure known as Genetic Engineering GE); whereby genes belonging to one species are extracted and transplanted into another species. The organism with the transplanted genes takes on additional traits originally seen only in the first organism– these include a supposedly greater increase in crop yields, a higher resistance to pests/disease. and a higher tolerance to extreme weather conditions.
However, just how sure can we be that these GMOs are safe and not harmful to our health? Unfortunately there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GM food, since experts are sharply divided on this controversy. On the one hand some experts maintain that GMOs are at least as safe as food produced from cross bred crops,– others however such as the American Academy for Environmental Medicine (AAEM) conclude that GM food may not be safe at all; this comes after reports from several tests on animals have indicated serious GMO related health risks.
The United States and Europe have taken very different pathways when it comes to the regulation of GMOs, with Europe adopting far more stringent legislation than its counterpart. In fact during the era of the Bush administration the US was highly critical of Europe’s ban on GM foods, even going as far as to accuse their trading partners of being in breach of international trade agreements.
A report published in 2014 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) contains an amalgamation of benefits and concerns pertaining to GE techniques as applied to crop breeding. The report states that after a period of 15 years farmers in the US are continuing to see an array of benefits– however the report also says that during their first 15 years of commercial use GMO crops have not displayed any definitive increase in crop yields over conventional farming. In fact there have been occasions whereby GMO herbicide resistant crops have yielded lower quantities than non GMO crops.
In addition, the increase in herbicidal resistant crops has also led to an increase of herbicidal usage, which ultimately contributes to unfavorable environmental conditions. The research also revealed that consumers in high income countries such as the US, UK and Canada are willing to pay a premium for non GMO foods, which speaks volumes about the depth of concern regarding GMOs.
One of the biggest concerns expressed by opponents of GMOs is the risk of introducing life threatening allergies which are not present in non GMO foods. According to a 2013 report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food allergies increased by 50% between 1997-2011. Since 1996 bacteria, virus, and other genes have been introduced into the DNA of soy, cotton, corn, and canola plants; thus making a credible case for linking GMOs to an increase in food allergies.
In the UK (one of the few countries of the world that carries out annual food allergy tests). they were alarmed to discover that in 1999 allergic reactions to soy had jumped by 50% over the previous year. This discovery came from tests carried out largely on GE soy, and emerged at a time when genetically modified soy from the US had recently penetrated the UK market. John Graham the spokesman for the “York” based lab stated “We believe this raises questions about the safety of GM foods”.
Opponents of GMOs are also worried about the possible side effect of antibiotic resistance; in a British study volunteers were given one meal daily containing genetically modified soy where it was found that traces of the modified DNA were present in bacteria located in their small intestines. Scientists now fear that GM foods which have been modified to be resistant to antibiotics may leave people vulnerable to non-treatable diseases. These findings contradict repeated claims by the GM industry that gene transfer from foods to humans is unlikely.
In 2011 a landmark study was carried out by the University of Sherbrook Hospital Centre in Quebec Canada in which blood samples were taken from both pregnant and non pregnant women. It was found that traces of Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) toxins were found in 93% of the pregnant group and 69% of the non pregnant group. Bt toxins are introduced into GMO crops in order to create modified pesticide producing crops.
The question of whether or not GMOs could possibly cause cancer is still a controversial one. The results of a two year study in France was highly criticized by some as being flawed; however there are those experts who express grave concern regarding the ultimate consequences of consuming GMO crops.
GE technology has become so entrenched in the food industry that it may seem almost impossible to avoid any food item that contains a GMO. However, with a little insight and some carefully planned grocery shopping it is possible to eliminate the majority of GMOs from your grocery list. Here are a few helpful tips to get you started.
Wherever possible always buy organic, since products which have been certified as organic are not permitted to intentionally use any GMO ingredients. If you live in North America look for items which carry the Non-GMO Project seal of approval; products bearing this seal have been independently verified by the only organization in North America which certifies products as being non GMO.
If it doesn’t say organic or Non-GMO, then avoid as far as possible products which may contain non GMO ingredients. The eight GE crops produced today are Corn, Soybeans, Canola, Cottonseed, Sugar Beets, Hawaiian Papaya (majority), plus a small amount of Zucchini and Yellow Squash. If a non organic product made in North America lists an ingredient as merely sugar and not pure cane sugar, it has almost certainly been made from GMO beets and should be avoided.
In truth we don’t have enough knowledge of GMOs in order to determine whether or not they are truly safe for human consumption at this time. In deciding whether or not it is worth trying to avoid GMO products, there are several factors worth considering– firstly it is impossible to perform every exhaustive test on every seed which has been genetically modified. Consider the possibility that in 15-20 years time the physical ailments relating to GMOs may start to manifest; however it could be too late for you by then.
No sane individual in their right mind would ever consider orally ingesting herbicides or pesticides, yet that is exactly what you are doing every time you eat any type of produce that has been genetically modified to produce its own self contained pesticide. At the very least, what we can say about these Bt toxins is that they contribute nothing to enhancing your overall health.
GMOs have only been around for about 15 years, and therefore ultimately it is we humans who are the major guinea pigs.
The bottom line– How much value do you place on your own life and those of your loved ones? Is it enough to err on the side of caution and suffer the inconveniences incurred by seeking out ways to avoid GMOs?