We hate to break it to you but you've probably been eating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) without even realizing it! The Grocery Manufacturer's Association has estimated that 70-80% of our food contains genetically modified ingredients.
GMOs have been all over the news lately. People are not happy. If you find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about, wonder no longer:
1. Why They Exist
"Generally, we know consumer knowledge of GMO is low," says Shahla Wunderlich, Ph.D., a professor of health and nutrition sciences at Montclair State University who studies agricultural production systems. Basically, a GMO has been engineered to possess traits that it would not naturally have. There are lots of types of GMOs, synthetic insulin used to treat diabetics is a great example.
But the GMOs people are most upset about are the ones in food. Roundup Ready Corn is a very good example. The corn has been modified to stand up to herbicides that kill surrounding weeds. The most common modified foods are corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, potatoes, alfalfa, and sugar beets. Do you know how many things we eat every day that are made from these base products? GMO producers defend their practice by saying it is necessary in order to meet a rise in global food demands. This may be the case but "we feel like also they should explore other alternatives," says Wunderlich.
2. Whether They're Safe
Genetically modified foods have not been around long enough for scientists to conclude with certainty if they are safe. "There are actually a couple things that people are saying, though there's not 100 percent proof," says Wunderlich. "One is that there's a likelihood that GMOs can cause an allergic reaction in some people; the other is that they can cause cancer." But more research is needed as most studies have been conducted on animals and not humans.
3. Where To Find Them
You will find products labelled with the Non-GMO Project Verified Seal. This is an independent group that ensures that products with their label are completely free of GMOs. Products certified as USDA organic are also GMO free. Unfortunately, foods containing GMOs are everywhere and are NOT labelled. And although many people and governments are fighting for GMO labelling, it is an uphill battle.
Avoiding GMOs will not be easy. "They're very difficult to avoid completely because they're so widespread," says Wunderlich. One way to reduce your exposure is to buy locally grown produce from small scale farms, preferably organic farms. Livestock may be fed GMO food so if you'd like to bypass that, look for organic, grass fed meats.
4. What Other Countries Do About Them
Unfortunately, the U.S. appears to be behind in the game. In fact, 64 other countries label GMOs. When a genetically modified ingredient appears in a product, it has to be preceded by the words 'genetically modified.' The only exception to this law is if a food contains less than 0.9 percent genetically modified content.
5. Whether They're Bad For The Earth
An argument people make in favour of GMOs is that by producing crops that are naturally resistant to pests and weed killers, the amount of pesticides a farmer needs to use is greatly reduced. But a recent study has found that out of the three main modified foods (corn, cotton and soy) corn is the only one that has seen a reduction in herbicide use. It has actually increased in the case of soy beans. So if you're looking to be eco-friendly, buying local and organic is the only way to go.
Are you wary of GMOs? What steps do you take to avoid them? Or, do you think GMOs are a useful innovation? Share your thoughts!
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