Genetically Modified Foods: Good or Bad?

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Genetically modified foods make up a good majority of our favorite foods. GMOs are strange ingredients that cannot be tasted, seen, or smelled. Genetically modified foods, or GMOs, are not listed on food labels here in the United States. And from a science standpoint, GMOs do not involve testing with control groups or studies showing how these genetically-altered foods might affect people years from now, especially children. Still, there are many people, including the government, who contend that genetically modified foods are not only safe, but they are beneficial and practical as well. I will be presenting both sides of the GMO controversy and then drawing my own conclusion as to whether or not genetically modified foods are good or bad for people.

The creation of GMOs began in 1935, when a Russian scientist isolated pure DNA. This eventually led the way to the FDA’s approval for the first GMO: insulin produced by genetically engineered E. coli bacteria. By 1999, GMO technology began to dominate the market, and over 100 million acres of land around the world were planted with seeds that had been genetically engineered. Today, millions of Americans consume food products of all types that contain and are made from genetically modified corn and soybeans, and the majority of people do not even know it because the labels do not convey this information.

GMOs are in the majority of people’s diets today. According to Stephen Lendmen, in the United States alone “over 80% of all processed foods contain them” (“Potential Health Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods”). Everything from baby formula and bread to snacks, cereals, and salad dressings has genetically engineered ingredients. Processed foods such as tomato sauce, peanut butter, and margarine have GMOs too. Even dairy products and meat and animal products are genetically modified. It is evident that GMOs are hard to escape in the food industry as we know it today.

Perhaps the biggest part of the anti-GMO debate is the health risks associated with genetically modified foods. While the FDA declares that they are safe, some evidence may prove otherwise. GMOs are harmful to animals, and experiments show this. In one study, rats were fed potatoes that were genetically modified, and the results showed that they had damaged immune systems as well as smaller brains and testicles.

The rats in the experiments also suffered from spleen damage, liver atrophy, and enlarged intestines. According to Urban, “the organs of rats who ate genetically modified potatoes showed signs of chronic wasting, and female rates fed a diet of herbicide-resistant soybeans gave birth to stunted and sterile pups” ("8 Reasons GMOs are Bad for You”). Many scientists are also concerned that these foods may pass their mutant genes on to bacterium in the digestive system. These new bacteria strains could affect our bodies in many unknown ways, and they may also pass along resistance to antibiotic drugs.

Another reason genetically modified foods are bad for us is that GMOs require pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, which are basically poisons. In the 1990s, chemical company Monsato created and patented soybeans that were genetically engineered. These soybeans were different because they were engineered to withstand and survive the company’s heavy dousing of their weed-killer, Roundup. These GMO soybeans would make up more than half of the soybeans planted just a little over a decade later. And all this was unknown to the public at the time.

Many food products that we consume on daily basis also have a new kind of patented corn that has the ability to make its own pesticide. All of the parts of the corn plant produce doses of a toxin that is genetically engineered. This hybrid corn also withstands weed-killers. Corn is essentially a huge part of the country’s food crop, as corn syrup, cornmeal, and cornstarch go into a significant portion of processed foods.

Another reason that GMOs are bad is that genetic engineering disrupts the precise orchestration of thousands of genes that has evolved over millennia in the normal plant’s genome. Simply put, genetic engineering disturbs nature. The manner in which GMOs are created “disrupts the plant’s DNA in unintended, potentially harmful ways. In genetic engineering, “a single gene is removed from one organism and forcibly inserted into another” (The Good, the Bad, and Ugly about GMOs”). Plus, genetic engineering inhibits genetic diversity. This means that plants with this reduced genetic diversity will not be able to withstand drought conditions, insects, or fungus invasions like natural plants can.

There have been efforts to let people know about the dangers of GMOs, but they have all been brushed aside. According to Lendman, there has already been a book written by Jeffery Smith which stresses that efforts to let people know about GMOs have been thwarted:

“…attempts to inform the public have been quashed, reliable science has been buried, and consider what happened to two distinguished scientists – UC Berkeley’s Ignacio Chapela and former Scotland Rowett Research Institute researcher and world’s leading lectins and plant genetic modification expert, Arpad Pusztai. They were vilified, hounded, and threatened for their research, and in the case of Pusztai, fired from his job for doing it.”

There is another side to the GMO food controversy, and that is the side that supports genetically modified foods. Farmers and food manufacturers say that they are genetically modifying their crops to reduce susceptibility to disease, improve flavor, and reduce costs. Supporters of GMOs believe that genetically modified foods are the answer to malnutrition around the globe.

Supporters also believe that GMOs can also help with issues such as anemia, which affects more than half of pregnant women worldwide. According to Globalization 101, “food can now be fortified with iron through genetic modification, which may help contain a global health crisis” ("Highly Beneficial: Increased Yield and Hardiness"). Through genetic engineering, scientists also created the “golden rice” with added vitamin A that has aided in preventing blindness in poor children globally.

Advocates of GMO foods say that that these products cause less environmental damage than products that are not modified. Supporters believe that “this is because foods can be engineered to be pest-resistant, decreasing the amounts of toxic chemical pesticides that need to be applied to plants and crops” ("Highly Beneficial”). They also claim that the “components of a genetically modified plant that drive insects away are not harmful to human consumers” ("Highly Beneficial”). Some supporters even go so far as to claim that genetically unmodified food is not as safe as food with GMOs. Even the World Health Organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the United States Academy of Sciences have all concluded that genetically modified foods do not pose any health risks for humans.

After presenting and evaluating both sides of the genetically-modified food controversy, I have concluded that GMOs are harmful to people and that they should be avoided at all costs. One of the main reasons for my conclusion is that there is so much that is unknown about genetically modified plants and food. The unknowns about genetically-modified food are even scarier than what is known about them. The fact that there have not been any controlled studies about the possible effects of these GMOs is something to definitely be suspicious about.

The bottom line is that GMOs have not been proven to be safe for human consumption. In fact, many studies show that they are not safe. And more and more people around the country are beginning to believe that genetically modified food is bad for us. According to Michael White, “a July Gallup poll found that 48 percent of respondents believed that GM foods ‘pose a serious health hazard,’ compared to 36 percent who didn't” ("The Scientific Debate about GM Foods Is Over: They're Safe”). The number of people who believe GMOs are bad will surely climb over the years as new risks are discovered.

Many consumers also want their food to be labeled if it has genetically modified ingredients of any kind. It seems as if not enough consumers want labeling of GMO products, because I-522 recently died in the election with 47.05 percent of voters for the labels. The best thing that a consumer can do is attempt to avoid eating genetically modified food at all costs. Though this is extremely difficult due to the amount of foods on the market that contain GMOs, it is possible. To avoid GMOS, eat only organic food because they are not allowed to contain GM ingredients. Even the small percentage of non-organic ingredients allowed in foods labeled organic is not allowed to contain GMOs.

Today, consumers are kept in the dark. They are part of an uncontrolled mass human experiment, and no one knows the results. There are so many unanswered questions as to what the damage will be years from now. No one knows, but the answer may unfortunately be in the future health of our children.

Works Cited

"Highly Beneficial: Increased Yield and Hardiness." Globalization 101. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov.2013. <http://www.globalization101.org/highly-beneficial-increased-yield-and-hardiness>.

Lendman, Stephen. "Potential Health Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods." Global Research. N.p., 17 Oct. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <http://www.globalresearch.ca/potential-health-hazards-of-genetically-engineered-foods/8148>.

"The Good, the Bad, and Ugly about GMOs." Natural Revolution. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <http://naturalrevolution.org/gmo-resources/the-good-bad-and-ugly-about-gmos/>.

Urban, Shilo. "8 Reasons GMOs are Bad for You | organicauthority.com - Organic Living." Organic Living. N.p., 23 Aug. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <http://www.organicauthority.com/foodie-buzz/eight-reasons-gmos-are-bad-for-you.html>.

White, Michael. "The Scientific Debate About GM Foods Is Over: They're Safe." Pacific Standard. N.p., 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <http://www.psmag.com/health/scientific-debate-gm-foods-theyre-safe-66711/>.