To Eat, or Not to Eat? GMOs & GEs

GMOs are found in 80 percent of processed food in our grocery store shelves, but how much do we really know about Genetically Modified Organisms and their counterparts?

Though GMOs have become a controversial topic in recent years, the manipulation of crops is nothing new. Farmers have manipulated crops for generations to obtain desired traits. These practices can range from fermentation to classical selection.

There’s also GEs. These are foods that have been genetically engineered using modern biotechnology techniques, transferring DNA traits from different species – something that’s not possible through traditional fermentation techniques.

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Image Source: Donna Cleveland, Creative Commons

Biotechnology companies originally started modifying crop DNA to express specific traits like pesticide tolerance, which facilitated increased food production. But when DNA is modified to include DNA from a new species, questions about the ethics and purposes arise.

That’s seemingly why so much controversy surrounds GMOs and GEs: because we know so little about the effects these new crops will have on our well being and society. Arguments can be made in favor of and against both, but the immediate question remains: are there health risks associated with these practices?

An experiment published by Elsevier showed that rats fed with GM potatoes containing a gene for the protein lectin did poorly and suffered internal organ damage. This was allegedly due to the release of “Starlink” into their system, which demonstrated that allergens could be introduced into otherwise non-allergic foods through genetic engineering.

The study was heavily criticized and a year after it was released, Elsevier published a retraction. Nevertheless, this leaves consumers with unanswered questions. Can we safely eat GMO foods, or are we risking our health? It seems the United States hasn’t decided.

Some countries, including Australia, Japan and all of the countries in the European Union, have restrictions or bans on the production and sale of GMOs. Yet the United States does not require these foods to be labeled for consumer awareness. Instead, the few foods that haven’t been modified are labeled as non-GMO.

Are we voluntarily surrendering the right to know what is in our food? We go to the market and select products based on their appearance, but do we even read the label and their nutritional information? We assume the FDA and other government regulations will protect us, and so we feel confident that what we are consuming is safe. But if science hasn’t yet really answered the question of GMOs’ safety, what are we to do?

It seems the only thing we can do is to be more proactive while we wait for further research: learn more about the food you eat and where it comes from, and make as informed a decision as possible.


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