The recent publicity and interest in “going green” has increased awareness to serious environmental issues surrounding global warming. However, genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—also called genetically modified foods or GM foods—are another significant environmental issue that has disappeared in the shadows lately.
What are GMOs?
Genetically modified organisms are created by taking genes from organisms such as bacteria, viruses or animals and inserting them into other, often unrelated, species. GM food refers to any food product containing or is derived from GMOs.
Proponents of genetically modified foods point to their many benefits which includes: boosting agricultural production and potentially ending world hunger; decreased use of pesticides by creating pest-resistant crops; and enhanced nutritional value by fortifying plants with additional nutrients.
However, critics of GMOs, warn that creating new organisms, which would never occur in nature, pose serious unknown and unpredictable health and environmental risks.
The Big Eight:
The United States is the world leader in the production of biotechnology crops accounting for nearly two-thirds of all biotech crops planted globally.
Approximately 70 percent of foods in our supermarkets contain genetically engineered ingredients including products made from these most common genetically modified foods:
1. Soy: soy flour, lecithin, soy protein isolates and concentrates (protein shakes). Products that may contain GMO soy derivatives: vitamin E supplements, tofu, cereals, veggie burgers, soy sausages, tamari, soy sauce, chips, ice cream, frozen yogurt, infant formula, sauces, protein powder, margarine, soy cheese, crackers, breads, cookies, chocolates, candy, fried foods, shampoo, bubble bath, cosmetics, enriched flours and pastas.
2. Corn: corn flour, corn starch, corn oil, corn sweeteners, syrups. Products that may contain GMO corn derivatives: vitamin C supplements, corn chips, candy, ice cream, infant formula, salad dressings, tomato sauces, bread, cookies, cereals, baking powder, alcohol, vanilla, margarine, soy sauce, soda, fried foods, powdered sugar, enriched flours and pastas.
3. Cotton: oil, fabrics. Products that may contain GMO cotton derivatives: clothes, linens, chips, peanut butter, crackers, cookies.
4. Canola: oil. Products that may contain GMO canola: processed foods, chips, crackers, cereal, snack bars, frozen foods, canned soups, candy, bread, hummus, oil blends.
5. Sugar Beets: sugar. Products that may contain GMO sugar beets: any product that doesn’t specify “cane sugar” but just “sugar” on ingredients, cookies, cakes, ice cream, donuts, baking mixes, candy, juice, yogurt.
6. Alfalfa: fed to livestock. Products that may contain GMO alfalfa: all types of conventionally raised meat, pork, poultry, eggs and dairy.
7. Aspartame: artificial sweetener. Products that may contain aspartame: diet soft drinks, diet foods, yogurts.
8. Dairy: rBGH growth hormone. Products that may contain GMO rBGH include all conventionally raised dairy products: milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, whey.
A Giant Genetic Experiment
The long-term effects of using or releasing GMOs will eventually be revealed with time. Scientists have already identified a number of potential ways in which these new “Franken-foods” could adversely impact both human health and the environment. Some of these dangers are:
Allergic reactions—Genetic engineering transfers proteins into the food supply from organisms that have never been consumed before. Some of these proteins could be food allergens. Sensitive individuals would not know which foods to avoid.
Antibiotic resistance—Most genetically engineered plants carry antibiotic genes to make them disease resistant. These genes could reduce the long-term effectiveness of antibiotics to fight disease.
Development of super-weeds and super-pests—Genetically engineered plants and animals have the potential to become organisms with unwanted effects. New weeds and pests could severely reduce crop yield and would require increased use of toxic pesticides to control.
Cross-contamination of organic and conventional crops—Experimental genes placed in crops will not necessarily remain contained. These genes can easily move via pollen to crops growing nearby.
Foods containing GMOs are not labeled in the U.S. In other countries where products containing GMOs are labeled, public outcry has forced food manufacturers to remove GE ingredients. Some developing countries have rejected biotech crops as well. GMOs have already caused ecological and economic problems in some areas where they have been grown.