What do you get when you cross a potato and a jellyfish? … potatoes that glow when they are thirsty. GMOs have been a controversial topic with widespread debates about whether labeling should be mandatory. Currently in the United States there are no laws requiring labeling of food products containing GMO ingredients. We often hear that GMOs are dangerous to human health as well as the health of the environment, but how harmful are they, and should we be concerned?
GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are plants and other organisms that have had their DNA artificially changed. Also known as genetic engineering, this process involves taking DNA from one organism, such as bacteria, and putting it in a plant. So why do we do this?
This process gives crops certain advantages over wild varieties. For instance, DNA from bacteria has given corn protection from certain insects. Soy can now survive the pesticide Roundup. Other benefits include foods that stay fresh longer, higher yields, and reduced costs. They may also require fewer pesticides, provide resistance to poor growth conditions, and in certain cases produce nutrients that are difficult to get in certain areas of the world. So where is the harm?
There has been inconsistent research about whether these unnatural foods are safe. Some animal studies have shown damage to the digestive tract and other organs from eating large amounts. They can encourage unsustainable farming methods and allow the use of excessive pesticides, which can remain on the food when we buy it. Some believe it is simply not right to play with our food like this.
While these are real concerns, if we consider foods such as apples, grapes, peaches, and others, non-GMO foods can actually contain higher pesticide levels than GM foods. Although the process in unnatural, we have been carefully breeding crops for hundreds of years to develop varieties that have similar advantages.
Government agencies including the USDA, FDA, and EPA all have roles in ensuring the food we eat is safe. Although the research has given mixed signals, these agencies declare there is no clear evidence that GMOs are a major safety concern, especially when compared to other chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis, such as those from pollution, plastic food containers, and water bottles.
Considering there still may be health concerns, it may be worth avoiding certain GM foods. For one, it may be wise avoid getting most of your calories from corn and soy, but eating a balanced diet is a healthful recommendation anyway. So, if we decide that we want to avoid GMOs, how can we do that?
The USDA Organic certification prevents the use of any GMO foods in products containing this label. This includes the 100% Organic, Certified Organic, and Made with Organic certifications. Another labeling option is the Non-GMO Project, which certifies that labeled products use only non-GMO ingredients. Terms such as “natural” or “all-natural” do not mean they are non-GMO.
GMOs will remain a controversial topic until there is enough reliable research about their safety. Although there may be human and environmental health concerns with GMOs, there may be other more significant health concerns as well. If we keep this in perspective, and look for reliable and credible information, we can know what to focus on to be as healthy as we can be.