Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are foods that have been altered to produce a desired effect meant to benefit people in some way. While they have been declared safe and must undergo testing before reaching the market, many people feel that there are serious drawbacks or even hazards to the products. Before declaring your stance, educate yourself on both sides of the issue.
Types of GMOs
GMOs are microorganisms, plants and animals that have had their genes altered. Usually they are modified either to further scientific research or to alter the food supply. Common genetic modifications include:
- Adding antibacterial genes to plants
- Introducing genes that make organisms bigger or hardier
- Making new foods by mixing genes from existing ones
- Adding animal genes to plants and vice versa
Common foods that contain GMOs are sugar beets, rice, corn, dairy products and soybeans. Millions of farm animals are fed genetically modified feed. Products that are genetically modified do not have to be labeled; you may not realize you are purchasing them as you shop in the grocery store.
Benefits of GMOs
The government and agribusiness tout the benefits of GMOs to the public. Some of the benefits they see are as follows:
- Better food quality and taste: Genetic modification can be used to make corn sweeter, peppers spicier, pears taste more like apples and fruit and vegetables keep longer. Studies done on tomatoes have shown that most people prefer the taste of the genetically enhanced tomato over those that have not been enhanced.
- Fewer animal health problems: Genetic modification can result in animals that are resistant to diseases and can better withstand typical factory farm conditions.
- More efficient production of food: Genetic modification can help farmers skip steps in the process, such as spraying their crops with pesticides, because the foods are already resistant to pests.
- More benefits in the foods themselves: Some foods like Golden Rice have been modified to contain additional vitamins and minerals like Vitamin A. These are used to help people in countries where an adequate supply of a variety of foods is not available.
- Vaccine possibilities: Studies are currently being done with bananas to produce newer and safer vaccines against viruses such as Hepatitis B.
Drawbacks of GMOs
Top critics of genetic modification include environmentalists and proponents of organic foods. Some scientists agree, and studies are being carried out on the potential drawbacks to GMOs:
- Environmental risks: Introducing plants and animals that do not naturally occur into the ecosystem could have devastating effects on current species due to cross breeding and cross pollination. Herbicide resistant plants could spread their qualities to weeds, which would make them harder to kill.
- Collateral damage: Making plants and animals that are resistant to bacteria can cause bacteria to become stronger and harder to kill. Making plants herbicide resistant can lead to weeds that are herbicide resistant as well.
- Failure to yield: Despite claims that GMOs increase crop yields, studies have found this claim to be untrue; the genetically modified foods take just as long to grow as standard foods. This means that GMOs do not save time or money and do not lead to decreased food prices.
- No long term testing: GMOs are relatively new to the marketplace. While they have been described as safe, many studies carried out stress that there are no long term studies done on the products that may yield different results.
- Sick or dying animals: There have been isolated incidents of animals dying after eating genetically modified foods that are identical to foods being sold to humans.
- Allergies: Genetically modified foods have the potential to cause increased allergic reactions in people. Some people with specific sensitivities have already been reporting increased allergic reactions to GMOs.
Read the Labels
People who would rather not deal with GMOs, either the pros or the cons, can buy food that is labeled USDA organic. Any food that is labeled "100% organic," "organic" or "made with organic ingredients" cannot include any ingredient that is genetically modified. Right now, this is the only way to insure there are no GMOS present in a product, although individual manufacturers sometimes apply what's known as negative labels to their products. One common negative label is seen on thousands of cartons of milk. It asserts that the cows used to produce it do not receive bovine growth hormone, also known as rBGH or rBST.
Make an Informed Decision
GMOs are sold around the world and do not need to be labeled as such. Make an informed decision regarding your stance on GMOs before making your next purchase. Alternatives are available for those who disagree with the practice of modifying foods; choose accordingly.