By: Laura Cipullo and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team
Genetically modified organisms, or more commonly referred to as GMO’s, have been quite the topic these past few years. With Dr. Oz expressing his belief that GMO labeling should be mandatory and Whole Foods announcing their plan to label all GMO-containing products sold in their stores by 2018, it is no surprise that people are asking what the deal is with GMO’s?
What are GMOs?
According to WHO (the World Health Organization), GMOs are organisms that have had their DNA unnaturally altered. Genetic engineering is the act in which selected genes are transferred from one organism to another, occasionally between unrelated speciesi.
Why are they used?
Genetic engineering is used when growing crops. The benefits of growing GM foods have been found to be:
- Greater durability
- Higher nutritional content
- Faster, more abundant growth, which leads to lower prices
- Overall protection of the cropi
Are they safe?
This is a loaded question. You could get either a yes or no answer from many different people. However, there is a potential risk for both the environment and humans.
The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association reports that GMOs are present in 75-80% of processed foods in the United States. GMOs are primarily found in industrialized crops, like soybeans, corn, canola oil, cotton, and sugar beets, which are typically found in processed foodsii.
The USDA, EPA, and the FDA regulate GMO crops, however the FDA’s policy does not require any additional testing to prove safety when compared to non-GMO foods. In fact, many believe that long-term GMO consumption is associated with increased cancer risk, chronic illnesses, digestive disorders, and even food allergiesii. Although, the WHO states “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved”i.
The EWG (Environmental Working Group), recently calculated that the average American eats a strikingly high amount, 193 pounds, of genetically engineered foods annually. “We calculated that the average American annually consumes 68 pounds of beet sugar, 58 pounds of corn syrup, 38 pounds of soybean oil and 29 pounds of corn-based products, for a total of 193 pounds” of genetically engineered foods. These numbers were calculated based on the USDA’s findings that 95% of sugar beets, 93% of soybeans, and 88% of the corn grown in the United States are genetically modifiediii.
“What’s shocking is that Americans are eating so much genetically engineered food, yet there have been zero long-term studies done by the federal government or industry to determine if its consumption could pose a risk health,” said Renee Sharp, lead author of the report and the director of EWG’s California office. “If you were planning on eating your body weight of anything in a year or feeding that much food to your family, wouldn’t you first want to know if long-term government studies and monitoring have shown it is safe?”iii
Food for thought: what’s the difference between genetically modifying our plants versus naturally cross-pollenating them? We wonder if all of our food, whether it is a fruit, vegetable, grain, or meat product, is bred to be superior? If you think our food should be labeled as genetically modified, should we also label if it is naturally cross-pollenated or bred for optimal results? We would love your thoughts and feedback.
For additional reading:
World Health Organization’s 20 Questions on GMOs
GMO Crops vs. Traditional Plant Breeding
[i] “20 Questions on Genetically Modified Foods.” WHO. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2013. <http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/>.
[ii] Ruhs, Barbara. “Update: GMOs in foods: GMOs–ingredients that have been genetically altered–are everywhere, from fast food to frozen yogurt, but are they safe? EN answers your top questions.”Environmental Nutrition 2013: 1. Academic OneFile. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.
[iii] “Americans Eat Their Weight in Genetically Engineered Food.” Environmental Working Group. Environmental Working Group, 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2013. <http://www.ewg.org/release/americans-eat-their-weight-genetically-engineered-food>.