By Naume Guveya
Are GM foods safe? Is it safe to eat GM crops? Will GMOs hurt my body? Are GM foods sustainable? What risks are associated with GM foods? What are the pros and cons of GMOs?
There’s a never-ending list of questions when it comes to genetically modified (GM) foods.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) normally stir heated debates and although they exist in pharmaceuticals and chemical production, the most conflicting ideas are those related to food production. More and more people are demanding to know which foods are genetically modified and their health profiles. This is tricky to achieve because there is no proper regulation of production and product labelling. There is also the issue of contradicting information when it comes to research conducted in favour of and against GM foods.
On one hand, we have the stellar “Golden Rice Project” in which the genes of ordinary rice were modified to curb the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency – the rice is now rich in vitamin A and the deficiency is decreasing. On the other hand, there are concerns over the health profile of genetically modified foods. Unfortunately, most research on the foods has been short and mainly inconclusive.
Despite the different stances on GM foods, it’s safe to say that each person deserves to know what they are putting into their body. Here’s a quick rundown of what genetically modified foods mean, not just for your health, but for society and the environment as well.
First things first, what are GMOs?
GMOs (also known as genetically engineered [GE], bioengineered, or recombinant organisms) are organisms whose genetic composition is artificially altered to create traits that would not otherwise occur naturally. This direct DNA editing is undertaken to achieve a desired change like improving crop yield and increasing resistance to certain chemicals and pests. To date, GM foods are basically genetically modified plant crops, but it may not be long before genetically modified animals become a normal thing.
GM foods and your health
Many studies trying to establish whether GM foods are good or not have received a lot of criticism due to their lack of depth and the varying interpretation of results. GM crops receive praise for their ability to increase yield, which in turn makes a significant contribution to food security. However, there are concerns over the effects these crops have on the body.
Some studies claim that GMOs are less nutritious than their original parents and worse still, others link them to cancer, organ damage, hormonal shifts, oxidative stress, and an increased body toxic burden. The repercussions of these problems are dire – think quicker ageing, collapsing organs, and infertility; and that’s only a small part of the list. This is possibly why people are reluctant to fully embrace GMOs. An additional concern with GM foods is their potential to cause unforeseen DNA changes including mutations that alter the function of specific genes.
The whole GMO debate is big and there are more questions than answers. So what now?
It’s important to have a holistic view when it comes to GM foods. Ultimately, the focus should be on consuming healthy food, food that is produced safely, and food that protects the environment and people’s livelihoods. Put simply, the focus should be on the sustainability of the food.
So are GM foods sustainable?
Here is the thing. Although there is no conclusive evidence of the ill effects of GMOs, there is no denying that a lot of the common herbicides such as glyphosate, are toxins.
What’s the deal with these weed killers?
Well, GM crops are herbicide-tolerant. This means that they can withstand particular herbicides so farmers can kill weeds without harming them. While this is great in terms of efficient weed killing, it also means that farmers can use herbicides more liberally across the fields without fear of harming the crops. This increases the likelihood of the toxic herbicides ending up in unwanted places such as water systems and both animal and human bodies. Some research has even established the presence of glyphosate traces in human breast milk and foods like honey and cereals.
GMOs are also helping big companies make big profits and they are leaving the ordinary farmer with little. Certain crops have become the intellectual property of big companies hence the traditional farmer is forbidden from saving any seeds from their current crop and they have to keep on buying the seeds from the patent owners all the time. This has given big companies too much control and there is a steep rise in farmer exploitation.
Additionally, one of the reasons why research on GMOs is difficult to undertake is because the big companies who own the patents keep a lot of information private and they only publish what they want to be known. Getting the full information is difficult and this lack of transparency not only raises concern over GM food safety, but on its sustainability as well. It’s also clear that GMOs are bad news for the environment. GMOs are resistant to glyphosate, but the soil is not, and neither is the rest of the environmental system. The result – beneficial bacteria and other components of the environment are being wiped out and toxins are building up. Now, where is the sustainability in that?
The Bottom line
When you look at the whole picture and not just the nutritional aspect of GM foods, you can definitely see that most of these foods are unsustainable. It may be a good idea to opt for organic, unprocessed foods. It’s also wise to read the labels since GMOs are sneaky and come in many forms like additives and preservatives. Be wary of those big ‘non-GMO’ labels because who knows what they are hiding in this age of top-level greenwashing.
When all is said and done, you cannot know everything, but if you make an effort to gain knowledge about what you are eating (e.g. getting familiar with local farmers’ markets), you will find your balance and you will know where to turn to for some good organic and wholesome food.