We all know that eating healthy is the first step to being healthy, which means avoiding heavily processed foods that may contain chemicals and other harmful ingredients. This also means that you need to be aware of fruit and vegetable products (and their derivatives) that may consist of genetically-modified organisms, or GMOs. As an added difficulty, many products that contain GMOs are not adequately labelled, as the Food & Drug Administration has not determined if it is necessary to tell consumers whether the food they are purchasing contains genetically engineered ingredients. Consumers need to be aware of this issue and purchase their food products accordingly.
What are GMOs?
A GMO (sometimes referred to as a GM organism or food), is any organism where the DNA has been altered by technology through “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering.” In essence, this means taking part of the genes from one type of organism and splicing it with a completely different organism to create an entirely new species of food crop. In many cases GMOs are created to increase production, decrease time to maturity/harvesting, or eliminate a perceived weakness within the food’s DNA (such as susceptibility to a particular disease or virus).
What’s the Problem?
Given the positive scientific evidence of genetically-modified strains of corn and other staple grains that can now survive drought and other harsh conditions, the public has not been exposed to the scientific studies that shed a negative light on this new technology. There is substantial evidence over several recent studies that the long-term ingestion of GMOs could lead to serious side effects and health consequences. Specifically, agencies (including the World Health Organization) are concerned with the following possible impacts of consuming/creating GMO foods:
- Allergenicity: When combining two food types, there is the possibility of transferring the allergenic properties of one food to another, which could be a significant health risk to those with severe allergies.
- Gene Transfer: Major concern focuses on whether it is possible for the genes of GMO foods to transfer to cells of the human body, particularly the antibiotic-resistant genes that are used to create GMOs, and whether this process could lead to an increase in cancer risk and other health effects.
- Outcrossing: The potential for gene-modified crops to overtake or mix with traditional crops is a real concern, as there is little that can be done to prevent this from happening without major government intervention.
Where are GMO Foods?
Although you probably don’t consider it, GMO foods are all around us, and rarely labelled as such. In fact, more than 80% of the processed food found at traditional stores contains genetically engineered ingredients. Additionally, the availability of gene-modified fruits and vegetables is increasing every day in the marketplace. If you want to avoid GMOs, it’s best to carefully evaluate the products you buy, contact the company, and avoid if at all possible. Purchasing food at organic food stores is a good way to avoid GMOs as well, so you can be healthy and avoid the negative effects of gene-modified foods. Consider visiting the WHO FAQ for more information.