You’re hearing about them everywhere, and they’ve become quite controversial, so what’s all of the hype about GMOs? Let’s first get up-to-speed on some of the lingo and learn a little bit about these potential ingredients in our food.
What is a GMO?
The acronym stands for Genetically Modified Organism and they’re created by scientists in labs all over the U.S. Here’s how it works. Scientists take a plant, vegetable, or fruit and then “modify” the organism. They change the plant by adding DNA from another plant, bacteria, or virus to it. DNA is what gives everything, including humans, special characteristics. So once it has been modified, the original plant now has new qualities. The changes can make them more resistant to disease, bugs, or drought. It can give them other qualities too, like those that affect their taste, shelf life, or appearance and color.
Modifying food is nothing new and farmers have been doing it for centuries, but what’s different about our modern GMOs is that scientists are manipulating food in a lab and creating conditions that can accelerate these modifications to happen in one year instead of a few generations. Now that we have some background info, let’s look talk about GMOs and why they’re bad for you.
1. Disease links
There have been multiple human studies show how genetically modified (GM) food can leave material behind inside us, possibly causing long-term problems. In recent decades, chronic illnesses and allergies have skyrocketed and multiple studies have shown that GMOs harm the kidneys, liver, heart, and other organs. Also, many medical groups condemn the use of GM bovine growth hormone, because the milk from treated cows has more of the hormone IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), which has been linked to cancer. While there are people who support the use of GMOs because they save farmers time and money, and sometimes allow hybrid fruits and vegetables to come to the market, it’s still better to proceed with caution when eating GMO foods.
2. Increased pesticide use
Preventing crops from being eaten by bugs and insects has long been a concern of farmers, grocers, and food manufacturers. While some use natural methods, others use chemical pesticides and everything in between to get good crops that eventually make it to our tables. But unfortunately, there are many GMOs that have been engineered to repel the effects of these pesticides which increases the need for them eventually. Between 1996 and 2008, US farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide on GMOs. Overuse of one of the more popular pesticides named “Roundup” results in superweeds, resistant to the herbicide. This is causing farmers to use even more toxic herbicides every year. It creates a vicious cycle and not only does this create environmental harm, GM foods contain higher residues of toxic herbicides. The aforementioned Roundup, for example, is linked with sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancer.
3. Sloppy government oversight
Most of the health and environmental risks of GMOs are ignored by governments’ superficial regulations and safety assessments here in the U.S. While other countries like Australia, China, and the European Union require GMO food labeling, we do not here in the U.S. The reason for this situation is largely political and the result of lobbyists who prevent regulation of this industry, which could ultimately help citizens make healthier choices. Currently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), doesn’t require companies and food manufacturers to do safety studies, does not mandate labeling of GMOs, and allows companies to put their GM foods onto the market without notifying the agency.
It’s no doubt that GMOs have caused quite the controversy in recent years. Proponents of GMO use cite less stress on the environment as a reason to continue with their use, but you’ll hear the other side say that GMOs are contributing to the environmental problems. Likewise, those who support genetically modified and engineered food state how it’s helping our world meet the demands of an increasing population. GMOs help feed hungry mouths that we might not otherwise have the resources to feed. Whatever side you end up on, make sure you educate yourself on what’s in your food and eat organic when you can. It’s one way to reduce the amount of added chemicals, pesticides, toxins, and other additives in your body.