Should You Eat GMO Foods?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are one of the hot topics in nutrition today. By hot topic I mean something that the media and companies such as whole foods are using to frighten people. For the amount of fear and hatred of GMOs that I see in the fitness industries and companies like Chipotle (who recently stopped selling any GMO foods) it seems that there is very little information. I am in no way an expert on crops and bioengineering, nor am I a food safety expert. However, I will do my best to present some information gathered from various legitimate sources on GMO foods to present to you, so that you can make your own educated decisions.
GMO foods were introduced into our food supply in the 1990s. Initially corn, soy, and rice were some of the biggest crops being modified. Since then many other crops have been modified, including various fruits and vegetables including potatoes and tomatoes. Since genetic modification is still an emerging science and has not been in the food supply for very long there is still relatively little data on the long term effect of consuming these foods. I will preface the rest of this article by saying that everything you read or hear about GMO foods, including this article, is likely either biased or simply based on very little evidence.
What is a GMO?
A genetically modified organism is an organism that has undergone some type of genetic modification that was not through a natural means such as reproduction. The plants are genetically altered to give them a more desirable trait, such as a higher nutrient content or resistance to pesticides. There is genetic variance in every crop and sometimes an organism will express a trait that is desirable, such as a larger strawberry. It is possible to extract DNA from a cell of the larger strawberry and copy the DNA. After it is copied, the DNA is placed in a bacterial cell which is then placed in the new organism. The bacteria will exchange this new DNA with the cells that the organism currently has and effectively change its DNA. It is also possible to knock out genes through a similar process. A good example of a genetic knockout is the inhibition of the myostatin gene, which results in extreme muscle growth.
Are they safe?
The short answer is that it’s hard to tell. There are now many different crops that have been modified and very few of them have had any long-term human or animal consumption studies. However, GMO foods go through a more rigorous examination process before they are labeled safe for consumption than a normal or organic crop. In other words, the GMO tomato that you buy in the grocery store has most likely been proven to be safe whereas the non-GMO tomato is simply assumed to be safe. In order to determine if the crop is “safe,” the crop will be tested for toxicity and allergen content. The crops go through both chemical analysis and animal consumption tests before they are approved for human use.
Since GMO crops are generally so highly scrutinized I believe that they are safe to eat. I’m not sure that any medical conditions have been related to consumption of GMO crops. I assume that the hype about GMO foods comes from simply not knowing what they are. I understand that the concept of genetic modification sounds intimidating and unsafe but it has been a scientific practice for decades now and genetic modification technology is constantly improving. There is scant evidence to prove that GMO foods are completely safe, yet there is to my knowledge no evidence that they are unsafe.
Why are they important?
Genetic modification is an ethically controversial topic. However, it offers incredible opportunity. A common myth of GMO foods is that they are less nutritious, but it is actually possible to engineer a crop that is more nutritious. Another myth is that GMO crops can contain more pesticides. In some cases this is true because it is possible to engineer strains of an organism that are capable of handling more pesticides. However, some GMO crops have been engineered to be resistant to pests and therefore require less pesticide than their organic counterparts. It is also possible to engineer crops that grow in harsh climates, making it possible for certain countries to plant crops to feed themselves. In other words, GMO crops could feed millions, if not billions, of starving people. They are quite possibly the best solution to hunger in impoverished countries. Given the possibility that GMO crops provide, I believe it is foolish to wage a war against them.
It is possible to engineer a crop that is less expensive to produce with the same taste and nutrition content. For a farmer who still produces organic crops, this is intimidating competition. Almost 90% of corn being grown in the US is from GMO crops. If a company creates a genetic modification technique that saves the cost and increases productivity they can actually patent this technique so that no other farmers can use it. The patent gives them the ability to dominate the market for a certain crop. As GMO crops become more popular it will be more necessary to control their production and the companies that control the different strains of crop.
Click on the links below to read more about GMO from more official sources.