Fifty years ago ago, no one would have looked at the food in front of them and wondered if it had been genetically modified before reaching their plate. But in recent decades, demand for certain food ingredients has gone way up, causing the agriculture industry to look to alternative growing methods, one of which is genetic modification.
Public response to this varies widely. Some consumers favor the use of technology for food production regardless of it’s implications, while others to vehemently oppose any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food supply. And people from both of these groups are banding together via the Just Label It campaign, which would require that any food containing GMOs be clearly labeled on the packaging.
Since this issue is complex and can be confusing, we wanted to give you some straightforward information about genetically modified foods, so that you can see where you stand on the issue. Here are answers to some common questions.
What are genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?
GMOs are what you get when you inject an organism with another organism that changes it’s DNA. For example, a bacteria might be placed in a plant to make the plant more resistant to pesticide, herbicides, or weather. The plant would now be considered “genetically modified.”
What do all these different terms mean?
The following terms are used interchangeably, and mean the same thing for consumer purposes:
- Genetically modified foods
- Genetically engineered foods
- GM foods
- Genetically modified organisms
Why do farmers use GMOs in their farming practices?
Farmers in the U.S. make very little money (the farmers themselves that is, not the big food companies that buy from the farmers). Genetically modifying their crops may in some cases help them earn a little more by increasing their yield, reducing pesticide costs, or lengthening the seasons during which they can grow.
Why does the biotech community push GMOs?
Biotech companies make a lot of money when GMOs are used, because they can patent seeds and sell them back to farmers every season. This community often argues that we need GMOs to feed the world as our population grows, that we need GMOs to increase the nutritional value of certain crops, or that we need GMOs to help combat climate change.
Why is this bad?
Because we don’t really know how these genetic modifications affect our health. After all, we are eating these modified crops (or are eating the animals who ate them), and there hasn’t been extensive unbiased research to show that this is safe. It’s possible that some genetic modifications are harmless, but studies in other countries have repeatedly shown that some GMOs are harmful to human health, the land, and the planet. Just to assume that it’s fine to genetically modify a crop without comprehensive research is risky.
Are GMOs harmful?
Evidence has shown that some GMOs can be harmful to human health. (Here’s an example of Agent Orange in corn). It’s possible that others are not. The problem is that we as consumers currently have no way of knowing whether the food we’re eating is genetically modified or not, so we can’t do our own research and then make our own decisions.
Is there any regulation of GMOs in the U.S. right now?
Not really. All a company has to do is show the FDA that a GMO they’re using is “generally recognized as safe.” They don’t need to label their product or submit legitimate scientific research proving that it really is safe for human consumption.
What can we do to change the current system?
Join the “Just Label It” campaign. This campaign does not address whether GMOs should be used or not, it merely states that consumers deserve to know what’s in their food. Consumers deserve a voice, and the Just Label It petition is striving to give them one. (So far over 1.1 million Americans have signed it!)
How can I make sure I’m not eating GM foods right NOW?
Right now the only way to avoid GMOs is to buy organic food, because organic food is not allowed to be genetically engineered. Many non-organic food companies do take care to source their ingredients from non-genetically modified crops, and they will often print this fact on the package so their customers can eat without worry.
The Big Question:
Do you support the labeling of genetically modified foods? Let us know why or why not in the comments below!
Just Label It – The benefits of labeling genetically modified foods
World Health Organization – 20 questions on genetically modified foods