Genetically modified organisms, commonly known as GMOs, are found in a huge variety of food products from baby food to fruit juice and many believe they are dangerous to your health. If you're struggling to make an informed choice about whether or not GMOs are bad, learn what the evidence shows to help you make your decision.
What Are GMOs?
According to the Food and Drug Administration, genetically modified organisms -- such as a plant or animal -- have been genetically engineered to create new characteristics. In other words, a specific gene is added to an organism to produce a new trait. Supporters of the process believe these alterations often leave the organism stronger, more resistant to herbicides and pesticides, and more nutritious; however, others believe changing those modifications come at a steep price.
The Health Impact
Grassroots organizations have been crying foul since GMOs were first introduced into the food system approximately 20 years ago. Many people believe the consumption of GMOs may contribute to serious health issues. In fact, recent studies raise serious concerns about the safety of GMOs and show they may contribute to the following conditions:
- Intestinal Disorders: An Australian study recently claimed that pigs fed genetically modified (GM) soy and corn displayed a 32 percent rate of severe stomach inflammation whereas pigs not fed a GMO diet only showed 12 percent.
- Infertility: A study performed at the University of Vienna showed that mice fed GM corn over a period of twenty weeks had impaired fertility. In addition, some of the offspring of the mice displayed decreased weight.
- Kidney and Liver Issues: The International Journal of Biological Sciences offers a study that showed certain varieties of GM corn to have a negative impact on kidney and liver function. As a result, the study concluded that some GM varieties may contribute to hepatorenal toxicity.
- Increased Allergies: While it's hard to pinpoint the source of any food allergy, there is concern that new proteins in GM soy and corn crops might increase their frequency.
- Organ Toxicity: An abstract from the National Institutes of Health (PubMed) indicates that studies show most GM foods cause some form of toxicity to certain organs such as the pancreas, kidneys, and reproductive organs and also show hematological, biochemical, and immunological factors. They go on to mention that major studies over many years will be required in order to support these findings.
The Environmental Impact
In addition to the potential health risks, there is some evidence that GMOs are bad for the environment. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCSUSA) mentions six ways that GMOs might have a negative environmental impact.
- GMO crops could become weeds.
- New genes could move to wild plants, causing those plants to become weeds.
- Crops that produce viruses may lead to new, stronger viruses.
- GM plants that are created to release toxins could threaten wildlife.
- GMO crops could disturb the eco-system in an unpredictable way.
- GMO crops may threaten crop diversity.
UCSUSA also states that, while to date there has been no serious obvious environmental GMO impact, there is no consistent monitoring program in the United States and there may be impacts going on that have not yet been detected.
Not all researchers agree with USCUSA's conclusion. The Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) believes that herbicide-resistant weeds are already abundant in GMO crops throughout the United States. They state that GM herbicide tolerant crops have led to a new breed of herbicide resistant weeds that are choking crops across the country. This has led some farmers in Georgia to return to growing non GMO crops.
GMOs Are Everywhere
According to the Non-GMO Project, eighty percent of the food supply in North America contains GMOs, and while some companies voluntarily label that their products are GMO free, there are currently no labeling requirement for GMO identification. This is bad if you're trying to avoid GMO ingredients.
While you may associate GMOs with only corn or soy products, they are found in many foods, especially processed foods, including but not limited to:
- Vegetable oils
- Artificial sweeteners
- Flavor enhancers
- Dairy products
There are several ways to avoid genetically altered foods.
- Purchase only certified organic foods -- including eggs and dairy products-- which are not produced using any form of genetic engineering.
- Reduce your consumption of processed foods including store bakery goods wherever possible.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame.
- Keep in mind that vitamin supplements may also contain GMO soy or corn ingredients so you should contact the manufacturer when in doubt.
- While genetically modified animals are not approved for humans to eat, many GMO crops are used to feed animals that are later consumed by humans. To avoid eating animal products containing GMOs, purchase only organic, wild, or 100 percent grass fed animals. Thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture recently granting approval for non-GMO meat labeling, it will soon be easier to determine if your meat products are GMO free.
While more research needs to be performed on the safety of GMOs, there is sufficient reason to be concerned about its effects on health and the environment. By buying organic and arming yourself with the knowledge necessary to make an informed choice, you can avoid any potential health risks to you and those you care about.