Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been a popular topic of debate in the news for several years now, but just this year, it’s seen more attention in the media and has been gaining momentum.
First it started with Vermont, who was the first state to pass a law requiring all products containing GMOs to be labeled, beginning in July of 2016.
But then, just last week, President Obama signed a bill that requires all states to have a label of some kind on foods that have been genetically modified, overturning the Vermont’s law, in a way to prevent each state from have a piece-meal of different labeling laws.
Of course, this was a bill of heated debate. While some argue this unnecessarily creates a fear in the consumer and will increase food costs, others believe consumers have the right to know what’s in their food.
I think it’s safe to say nobody knows the answer. Like anything debatable, there are pros and cons. But it’s also safe to say that it’s a term few actually understand. Consumers have gained a vague fear of GMOs without even knowing why, simply because of what they’ve heard through the media and opinionated sources.
We do have a right to know what’s in our food, but it’s also important to have a good understanding of what that label means in order to form our own opinions.
Genetic modification is a process of taking genes from plants, animals, insects, or bacterium and transferring them into another species for a desired outcome. Rather than breeding plants or animals the traditional way, which took years, the discovery of genetically modifying organisms made it much faster to get the desired result.
GMOs made their first appearance in the mid-1990s as a way to do good – when researchers found a way to genetically modify rice to resist the floods in Eastern India. Rather than losing acres of crops, the modified rice survived the harsh conditions and was able to provide food for millions.
Several more possibilities have been developed since, such as Gold Rice, which produces a precursor to vitamin A to help prevent blindness in developing countries.
Since becoming commercially available in 1996, GMOs have taken over much of our food supply with about 90 percent of the corn and soybeans produced in the U.S. being genetically modified. Over half of the sugar produced in the U.S. is genetically modified and 80 percent of processed foods have ingredients made from GMOs. However, very few of the whole foods we eat are genetically modified.
There are as many studies stating that engineered foods are safe to consume as there are studies that say they’re not.
Most of the GM crops in the United States either have been modified to resist herbicides (meaning farmers can spray fields without killing their crop) or have been modified to resist plant-hungry insects by naturally producing an insecticide.
On the plus side, the resistance to herbicides has helped farmers skip the need for tilling their soil, which prevents erosion and helps maintain the nutrients in the soil. With naturally occurring insecticide, crops have less dependency on the sprayed pesticides, which can be toxic to us.
All good things don’t come without their cons, though. Due to the herbicide-resistant crops, more herbicide is being applied, most of which is glyphosate, the main ingredient found in Roundup. Glyphosate, an antibiotic, can hinder our healthy microbiome in our gut and may be a carcinogen for humans.
On top of that, with 20 years of herbicide use and insect-resistance plants, we’re now dealing with herbicide resistant weeds and insects resistant to the GM crops, meaning stronger herbicides and pesticides are being applied to crops.
The struggle is real, and it lies mostly in the gray area. How can we help the most poverty-stricken people – who most need this technology in order to prevent blindness or to stay in business – while on the other hand, realize that the direct benefit to the consumer isn’t as well defined when most of the crops in the U.S. are genetically modified corn and soybeans.
Genetically modified organisms, while developed over 20 years ago, are still in their infancy in research standards. Long-term studies still need to be conducted and more knowledge needs to be gained. For now, the debate continues…