Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Well I have avoided this topic for sometime now due to the complexities of it. After Jimmy Kimmel recently did a short segment on it, I figured it was time. What is this topic you ask? Genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Chances are you have at least heard of them or perhaps seen a label on a product touting it was GMO free. Before I delve into the world of GMOs, here is the segment that Jimmy Kimmel did where he asked people their thoughts on GMOs and if they even knew what GMO stands for…

What is a GMO?
GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals.

Why are there GMOs?
Plants or animals are genetically engineered to exhibit desired traits. However, these desired traits do not occur naturally in nature and cannot be achieved through crossbreeding. To help me illustrate what a GMO is, I am going to refer to my dog. The breed of dog that I have is a maltipoo, a crossbreed of a maltese and poodle. She is not a GMO. Without going into too much detail, her mom is a poodle and her dad is a maltese. Now you are probably wondering how could I make my dog GMO? As cute and snuggly as she can be at times, I will admit that she can be a tad barky at times.  Let’s say that before I got her, I had a scientist take her DNA and insert the gene of a duck quack in place of the barking gene (this is fictional by the way). Instead of barking my dog would quack. I would like to think that quacking is slightly less irritating than barking. Anyways, this would make her GMO since her DNA was altered in an unnatural way with that of another species. 

In terms of foods, some of the desired traits that current GMO plants exhibit includes: drought resistant crops, herbicide and/or insecticide resistant crops, and enhanced nutrition. One example of a nutritionally enhanced crop is golden rice. Due to the high rates of vitamin A deficiency in Asian children, rice was genetically modified to contain a form of vitamin A.

What are the most common sources of GMOs?
Most processed foods contain some amount of GMOs due to the crops that are mostly likely genetically modified. These crops include: alfalafa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beets, and zucchini, yellow summer squash, and papaya from Hawaii. Dorky fact of the day: The papaya crop in Hawaii was nearly wiped out by a plant virus back in the day, but scientist developed a GMO papaya that is resistant to said virus which is now what is mostly grown in Hawaii.  You're welcome!

Recently the USDA approved a GMO potato that is engineered to reduce the amount of a potentially harmful chemical that occurs when the potato is fried (French fries and potato chips). In addition, the potato has been engineered to resist bruising, which can occur during harvesting, shipping, and storage. Like I said, this has just been approved so it will take some time before it hits the stomachs of consumers.

Are GMOs safe?
Well, there are obviously two sides of the story on this one so I am going to layout the facts of each side for you.

Pro-GMO Groups Claim:
There are no inherent differences between foods produced from genetically modified (GM) plants and those from non-GM crops. The GM plant is just modified to express a desired trait that the non-GM plant does not. Companies that wish to release a GM seed or the product of a GM crop are required to test the safety of that product and has to be approved by the USDA. No one has substantiated a single human death, or even illness, as a result of consuming GM foods.

Anti-GMO Groups Claim:
There are too few independent (non-industry) studies of the health effects of GM foods to have confidence in their safety. In animal studies, there have been some negative health effects when they are fed a diet of GMOs. Additionally, this could lead to the introduction of allergens into otherwise non-allergic foods. More research is needed. 

How do GMOs impact the environment?

Pro-GMO Groups Claim:
GMOs are better for the environment by decreasing need of insecticides and herbicides, increased crop yield, decrease water usage, and decrease use of chemical fertilizers.

Anti-GMO Groups Claim:
GMO crops will do wide-reaching damage to the environment. Insect-resistant crops may harm species that are not their target, such as monarch butterflies. On the other hand, the insects that the GM crops are designed to kill could develop resistance into a "super bug," ultimately requiring farmers to use more aggressive control measures. Also GM crops may transfer their genes to other crops, which could lead to the development of "super weeds."

Can GMOs help alleviate world hunger?

Pro-GMO Groups Claim:
Through GM seeds even the small farmers can produce bigger, more reliable crops. GM seeds will help poor farmers grow more food for themselves and more profitable crops to sell. Nutrition-enhanced GM crops now in development can directly address the effects of malnutrition, both for the farmers who grow those crops for themselves and for poor consumers in developing-world cities. In the long term, GM crops may be the only way to ensure that worldwide food production keeps pace with the growing population—which may double to 12 billion by the year 2050.

Anti-GMO Groups Claim:
The real causes of hunger are poverty, inequality, and lack of access to food and land. GMOs will do nothing to alleviate these problems. Most GM crops available so far do not address the needs of food production in developing countries. They offer conveniences to the farmer—the ability to apply more or less pesticide spray—but do not produce higher yields. Adoption of GM crops by farmers in the developing world will actually increase hunger by making poor farmers reliant on the few multinational corporations that control the market for those seeds. A better way to improve the lives of farmers is to teach them ecological farming methods by which they can grow better crops without the expense associated with GM seeds.

What are other countries doing?
64 other countries around the globe require GMO products to be labeled as such, however the US is not one of these. Some countries flat out ban the import of GMO products and the use of GMO crops.

How can I avoid GMOs?
Since labeling is not mandatory in the US at this time, there are two options. You can look for this label on processed foods to help you select items that do not contain GMOs...

You can also purchase foods that are 100% organic or certified organic/USDA organic by looking for this logo...

Note: Organic products are usually GMO free but there is a small chance that a GMO may be present due to loopholes. Also, the term natural on a package is just more nutrition mumbo jumbo and means nothing so don't fall for that one. 

Breaking it Down
In the US we do a slight have a hunger issue, but not to the extent that countries such as Africa and India do. People who are food insecure in the US have access to plenty of cheaply priced processed foods that typically contain GMOs. What they do not have much access to is affordable fruits and vegetables, which in the US are not typically genetically modified. Also of note, most Americans do not suffer a vitamin or mineral deficiency so nutritionally enhanced plants are necessarily a priority. Not to say that there may not be a use for GMOs in developing countries if they are deemed safe.

What is my "expert" opinion on this you ask? I am not going to shove my "expert" thoughts down your throat. I think that the research is still up in the air on GMOs. Are they natural? Are the Panthers having a good season? No!
Sorry not sorry Cam...
What I do know is that GMOs are mainly found in processed foods, which aren't that healthy for you to begin with. Want to avoid GMOs? Eat your fruits and vegetables (with the exception of French fries, potato chips, and papaya from Hawaii) and you will avoid most GMOs. Oh and just a tip so that you don't end up on one of Jimmy Kimmel's segments looking like a tool, do a little research for yourself on something before you make an opinion on something. Until next time!

Keep it Fresh,
Keep if Green,

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