Green Corner: GMOs: Do you know what you’re ingesting?

The acronym GMO is tossed around a lot in the food industry. But what does GMO actually stand for?

A GMO is a genetically modified organism. Modified — what does that even mean? 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 the foods we eat. Genes from different species can be injected into the host organism and disrupt the natural evolution of DNA.

The addition of these substances allows us 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 and around the world.

The question people everywhere are asking is: Is this safe? This has become a controversial subject. There are many mixed reviews, since GMOs can influence many aspects of our lives.

There are both pros and cons of GMOs. 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 for longer. With these new traits, GMOs can grow where they were unable to before, increasing food availability.

However, GMOs do cause some issues. They 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 beneficial native 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 health effects. Will these bacteria negatively affect the naturally-occurring bacteria produced in our stomachs? There have not been enough studies to truly understand long-term consequences of ingesting this modified food.

Wherever you stand on GMOs, a troubling thought still persists: Genetically engineered food is not required to be labeled in stores, wherein lies the real issue. It is the right of the general public to know what is in their food and what they are unknowingly putting into their bodies. Most people cannot make informed decisions with the inadequate information given.

If more people were aware of what they were buying, GMO consumption in this country would probably steeply decrease. Shoppers should be able to decide for themselves what to purchase — and if GMOs are safe, why not label them?

– Jillian Spratt, Lawrenceville Eco-Rep

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