The acronym GMO is used a lot in the food industry. But what does GMO actually stand for?
A GMO is a genetically modified organism. According to The Non-GMO project, when something has been modified, the genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering. This means that things like bacteria, yeast, insects and plants are added to our food. Genes from different species are injected into the host organism and disrupt the natural evolution of DNA.
The addition of these substances allows scientists to have control over the internal structure of proteins within food and allows the food to take on new traits. Initially, genetically engineering food was used to fight pathogens and herbicides on farms so that the crops remain unharmed and profitable. However, GMOs have taken on a much larger part in today’s society.
The question people everywhere are asking is: Is this safe? There are many mixed reviews since GMOs can influence many aspects of our lives.
Genetically modifying food reduces the need for pesticides on farms because the crops become more resistant to damage. In turn, less fossil fuel can be burned as a result of less tillage and plowing. Livestrong.com states that the manipulation of the food may lead to nutrient increase. GMOs can also help increase food production in third-world countries. These modified foods can withstand a variety of conditions and, according to Paul Diehl, author of the article “Can Genetically Modified Food Feed The World?” stay fresher longer. With these new traits, GMOs can grow where they were unable to before, increasing food availability.
However, GMOs do cause some issues. The crops need to be replanted each year, which means farmers, specifically those who experience rural impoverishment, are forced to buy new seeds. Also, the planting of GMOs may cause many other plants to die off.
Livestrong.com also states that while some nutrients can be added to the food, modification can also alter other nutrients found in the food, posing health risks. Perhaps the greatest pitfall to consider in GMO use-related consequences is the possibility of negative health effects. There have not been enough studies to truly understand long-term consequences of ingesting this genetically modified food.
Whatever your stance on GMOs is, a troubling thought still persists: Genetically engineered food is not required to be labeled in stores. It is the right of the general public to know what is in its food and what we are unknowingly putting into our bodies. Most people cannot make informed decisions with the inadequate information provided.
If more people were aware of what they were buying, GMO consumption in this country would probably decrease steeply. Shoppers should be able to decide for themselves what to purchase — and if GMOs are safe, why not label them?
– Jillian Spratt
Printed in the 3/5/14 edition.