Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), also known as genetically modified or engineered foods, are created by forcing a piece of DNA from a totally different species, such as bacteria or viruses, into the DNA of a plant or animal. For example, genetically engineered soybeans have DNA from bacteria and viruses spliced into their DNA to help them tolerate weed killers such as Roundup.
This genetic feat creates a whole new species of plant that would have never occurred in nature. Most soybeans, corn, canola, cotton, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, some zucchini and yellow squash, and alfalfa are genetically modified. Products such as oil, high fructose corn syrup, and sugar are created from these crops and added to processed foods. This explains why nearly 80 percent of processed and most fast foods contain GMOs.
The question is, are GMOs safe for us and the environment? Actually, the answers are not clear. When I decided to write an article on GMOs, I quickly realized that there is no evidence that GMOs are safe for humans. I also found that the Food and Drug Administration did not do its own safety testing of GMOs before they were put into our food supply. The “studies” done by the companies that created the seeds compared genetically modified corn to regular corn and found that they were similar and thus thought to be safe.
However, there are animal studies with negative findings, including organ damage, infertility, and immune system changes. It is clear that we need more research in this area. The environment is another issue. What are the implications when a genetically modified plant cross breeds with other plants? The monarch butterflies are declining due to the destruction of milkweed. What other consequences are possible? Super bugs and super weeds are already showing up. Do we really want to irreversibly change the face of plant life with unknown consequences for the monetary benefit of a few large corporations and their investors?
The bottom line is that we have a product in our food supply with unknown health and environmental implications. At the very least, we should have these foods labeled. However, try as we might, we cannot make that happen in the U.S. Even though 9 out of 10 people want them labeled, the biotech companies and food manufacturers do not. What I don’t get is that if their products are beneficial and safe, why not label them? Why not be proud of your product? Nearly 50 countries, including China, label GMOs and some countries ban them. Why can’t we have transparency in our food supply?
Proposition 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, will be on the November ballot. Companies such as Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta will probably have ads telling us that labeling will cost us money, and isn’t necessary because GMOs are safe. However, we know if a food has high fructose corn syrup, trans fat, or is irradiated. Why can’t we know if it’s genetically engineered? The biggest fear of these companies is that once GMOs are labeled, we won’t want to eat them anymore. And that may happen, just like it did when we found out there was pink slime in our hamburgers!
Our country is based on a free market economy. If you are supplying a product and we don’t want it, then the market dictates it will go away. This is why the biotech companies and food manufacturers will probably spend 50 to 100 million dollars to prevent the labeling of GMOs.
I don’t know about you, but I always loved a good David and Goliath story. If Proposition 37 passes and genetically modified foods are labeled, that is exactly what we will have. And, we just might change the face of American agriculture forever.
Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD
Healthy Eating Rocks!
Posted: Friday, 7 September 2012