By now, most of us have at least heard of the term GMO or genetically modified foods. Many people also seem to have strong opinions regarding the topic of GMO’s in our diet. Unfortunately, articles and stories tend to only choose one side of the argument to present and we, the consumer are left overwhelmed and confused about what GMO’s really are and whether or not they are safe to consume. GMO’s are defined as foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally. This means that a gene from a completely unrelated organism is added to the DNA of something such as a soybean that causes them to last longer with less pest infestation. There are many advantages and disadvantages to genetically modified foods and with GMO’s becoming more popular, here are a few pros and cons to help the consumer make the best choice possible.
Better overall quality and taste:
- A large number of GMO foods were originally modified in order to last longer and improve production. One example of such includes sugar beets. GMO sugar beets are modified to improve production because beets grow relatively slowly and must battle for light and nutrients with nearby weeds. Tomatoes are another example of a food modified for increased quality. GMO tomatoes are created to last longer in order to hold up to the process of transportation to get to grocery store shelves and ultimately, to your kitchen.
More resistant to disease:
- In order to decrease the amount of chemicals in the air and soil, companies are also genetically modifying foods to be more resistant to insects. One example of this is corn modified to include an insect killing gene so that the insect will die once it eats the corn, thus eliminating the need for pesticides.
More nutrition benefits:
- Recently, companies have been experimenting with genetically modified foods to provide increased vitamin/mineral levels to be used in developing countries where hunger and vitamin deficiency diseases are common. Golden rice has been modified with added beta-carotene, a pre-cursor to vitamin A, so that vitamin A consumption can be increased. This is an advantage to people in developing countries since they often survive of a diet comprised of rice and beans. Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness in 250,000-500,000 malnourished children in developing countries; therefore adding vitamin A to such a food staple as rice is extremely beneficial.
- By altering what is normally done in nature, there is always the potential of negatively impacting the environment. There have been instances when weeds that can be crossed with GMO plants have become resistant to herbicides thus, causing the need for more GMO efforts in order to combat the new problem.
No economic value:
- While GMO plants are often more resistant to normally poor growing conditions, they do not grow any faster or more abundant than their normal non-GMO counterparts. This means that there is little economic value in choosing to grow GMO foods.
Unknown effect on human health:
- This may be the largest con of all. We are simply unaware of the potential negative impacts that GMO foods may have over time on our bodies, our health, and our environment. This is further impacted by the overall use of GMO’s within our food system. Of the GMO’s grown within the USA, ninety-three percent and eighty-six percent of soy and corn, respectively are genetically modified. In addition, the United States and Canada do not require GMO foods or products using GMO foods to be labeled. This means that even if a consumer is trying to avoid GMO foods, it is extremely hard to choose products that do not at least use genetically modified ingredients.
Overall, there are so many things to consider when thinking about GMO foods and research is constantly being done because this is a fairly new science. Reading up on the research and being able to explain both the pros and cons of GMO foods will allow the consumer to have the most knowledge in order to make the best decisions for themselves and their family.