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Recently, we have been hearing a lot about genetically modified food, but do we really understand the term itself? What food contains genetically modified ingredients and what does that mean?
Some studies showed that 60 to 70 percent of processed food in U.S contains genetically modified ingredients. In Europe, on the other hand, are still rethinking the need for genetically modified food, and still voting for organic. Regulations regarding the production of GMO food is probably the most stringent in EU (although they authorized the production for animal feed).
This information returns us to the first and the most important question: Do we know what we eat? Before we answer that question, we need to look closer to what genetically modified organisms really are.
What is GMO?
The definition of a genetically modified organism in the EU states that it is “an organism, with the exception of human beings, in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.” This is the food that is produced to benefit people in some way, and before it reaches the market it needs to undergo testing and to be declared as safe. The process of production involves inserting the DNA from another organism, while the genetic modifications include:
The introduction of genes that make some organisms bigger
The addition of animal genes to plants and vice versa
The addition of antibacterial genes to plants
The creation of new foods by mixing the genes from existing ones
Are there any benefits of GMOs?
The following are seen as the benefits of GMO:
Food quality and taste – Using genetically modified ingredients in food will, for instance, make the corn sweeter, peppers spicier, and fruits and vegetables fresher. Some studies showed that people prefer genetically enhanced tomato over those produced in a usual way.
Animal health problems – Researches showed that genetic modification can result in animals’ resistance to diseases.
Food production – When producing food, farmers can skip some steps in the process, for instance, spraying the crops with pesticides, because the food is already resistant to pests.
Additional beneficial nutrients – There are foods that are modified to contain more vitamins and minerals – like Golden Rice.
Faster breeding – It make take several generations to create desired trait, on the other hand, GMO technology can create the desired genotype instantly in the current generation.
What are the drawbacks of GMOs?
Although beneficial, it seems that there are more disadvantages of GMOs, and these are those that are recognized by now.
Testing – Safety test sometimes lasts only 90 days, which is not enough to conclude if the food is safe for long-term human consumption.
Technology – Technology is unpredictable because scientists are transferring genes even across kingdoms, as opposed to natural breeding where a member of one specie will not produce offsprings with the member of another specie. That is far more unpredictable regarding the consequences of this genes transferring.
Allergies – GMO food has a potential to cause allergic reactions in humans.
Bacteria – Plants’ and animals’ resistance to bacteria can cause bacteria to become stronger and harder to kill. Weeds can become resistant to herbicide as well.
Environment – New species can have devastating effects on current species, thus the ecosystem is endangered.
Health danger – Scientist conducted a research where mammals were fed with genetically modified corn and soy, and the testing showed severe kidney and liver problems. Studies that included testing on rats already showed that GMO is dangerous.
Animal rights – GMO testing often involves animal testing, which became a major concern to animal rights activists. There are a significant number of tests that resulted in animal’s death.
What is the most common food that contains GMO?
The biggest problem with GMO food is that the food that contains genetically modified ingredients is rarely, if ever, labeled. If you do not know whether the food contains these organisms or not, you cannot decide for yourself whether to consume it or not.
The most common foods that contain GMOs are rice, corn, soybeans, dairy products and sugar beets. On the other hand, millions of animals on the farms are fed with GMOs as well.
As you can see genetically modified foods are created to benefit humans, and to improve many aspects of our lives, on the other hand, disadvantages of GMO food need to be taken seriously. It is up to us to decide whether we will consume GMO food and support its development, or not.
However, even if it is up to us, the question of labeling the food is still unanswered. Today, there are many resources (books, research papers, and blogs) that can shed some light on how to recognize and determine if the food is organic or GMO. When at the store, you can find some products that are labeled “GMO-free” or “non-GMO”, although this does not tell you with certainty if the label is regulated. If you are not sure, find some information on the manufacturer. On the other hand, you can find organic food as well.
Now, this is the only way to recognize and distinct GMO and organic food.
After you read this, I hope you will have more information about GMO food. Studies, researching and testing might present us more benefits in the future, or more disadvantages. As said, it is up to us, for the time being.
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Chesson A., Flachowsky, G. (2003) Transgenic plants in poultry nutrition. Worlds Poultry Science Journal 59:201-207
Chung B-N and others (2007). Stability of recombinant plant viruses containing genes of unrelated plant viruses. Journal of General Virology 88:1347-1355.
Wisner, R.N., Farhnam, D.E., and Kang Wang, (2000). Genetically and non-Genetically Modified Crops, How they are created, produced, marketed. Tokyo Agro-Forum Bulletin.
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