Genetically Modified Organisms are not a new phenomenon in the food and agriculture industry. In fact, they have already been in use for over 20 years. They have, however recently been making headlines and still it isn’t clear to most of the American population, thanks to a lack of labelling, what exactly GMOs are.
While the majority of the developed world and Europe has banned or is tightly regulating the use of these modified crops and the food that contains it, in the US there are no such regulations currently. The reason for other nations to be highly cautious of using these is as real as it gets; there is no way to know whether these crops are safe or not in the long term. This is because there have been no studies or research done on its long term health and environmental effects.
This makes it all the more necessary to know what really you are eating and what could be the risks associated with it. Let’s start with the basics first.
What is a GMO?
GMOs, which are also some times called GM, Biotech or genetically engineered, are basically bacteria, genes, animals or plants developed through the gene splicing technology which alters the DNA of the organism through the introduction of DNA from other animals, plants or microbes, or pesticide genes that makes the cellular structures of the organism unstable, something which does not occur in nature.
Through this denaturation and modification of an organism the companies that do genetic engineering were able to legally patent their inventions. This itself, is a huge controversy because it fired up much debate amongst different scientific and ethical communities on the notion of owning a trademark on life.
Why is it being made?
Companies making GMO crops like Mosanto, Cargill, and ConAgra have claimed the theorized benefits of better yield, strong crops resistant to harsh weather or lack of water, bug and pesticide resistance, higher nutritional content and improved flavor. One of the biggest of these companies, Mosanto, like many others, also produces herbicides and pesticides. In fact, the company was in the chemical industry long before they started developing seeds.
How much GMOs are produced?
Half of all the U.S farm land grows GMO crops and more than 90% of U.S grown corn, cotton, sugar beet, canola and soy beans are from GMO seeds. Throughout the world $15 billion worth of seeds are planted every year.
The main GMO crops in the world are:
- Soya beans
- Hawaiian papaya
- Some squash and zucchini varieties.
How are they grown?
Just like regular seeds, GMO seeds are planted too, but they are sometimes accompanied by terminator seeds which produces only sterile seeds which are useless and the farmers are forced to buy new seeds every time from the multinational corporations, something which was never done before as farmers used to use the seeds that were created in the new harvest. Even if farmers are able to save the seeds, they are subject to patent infringement.
Problems related to pesticide resistance
Additionally, another problem arises with GMO crops which is that they are designed to be more resistant to high amounts of pesticides that allows farmers to spray the chemicals aggressively to destroy the pests and weeds that attack the crops. But this problem can further exacerbate with time as more immunity will in develop in the plants and in weeds, creating super weeds, and higher amounts of chemical will need to be pumped into the natural ecosystem that is already under much harm from the industry.
To counter this, GMO seed companies have developed seeds that grow plants with pesticides added into their DNA so they don’t need to be sprayed but that may pose as a bigger threat as the crops produced by these plants will too contain these chemicals. Although, the companies have labelled these crops to be absolutely safe saying that the pesticide found in these crops are too small and easily excreted by the human body so there isn’t any substantial evidence to prove its effect in the long term. But some evidence definitely exist which shows how GMO foods do wind up in people’s bodies.
Only immediate effects have been tested which are not sufficient enough to advocate these, as human health itself is a long distance journey where years of good or bad health practices count the most.
Which of your daily food has GMOs?
According to the California Department of Food & Agriculture 80% of all the processed food found in the U.S is made from GMO products.
Other than the most common crops mentioned above these are also fast becoming GM-ed:
Additionally, factory farm raised animals are also fed GMO diets so conventionally raised meat and dairy are subject to it as well.
So what should I do to be safe?
The main issue here now is that of labelling as the science on GMOs is still developing and consumers have the right to choose whether they want to consume GMO products or not. Labelling, just like USDA Certified Organic or Kosher, would empower the people to make their own decisions yet the covert politics in the agriculture industry is being heavily influenced by huge conglomerates like Mosanto that have continuously lobbied, invested and campaigned against GMO labelling. Currently only Maine and Connecticut have passed their own labelling bills.
In the light of these facts, the current socio political situation and the moves being made by large food companies the safest bet would be to eat food that is labelled to be either organic, GMO-free, or anything else that you consider good for your health. The official guide to the food labels in the US created by the FDA can be found here.