The Fear of the Unknown:
Genetically Modified Organisms
By: Tracy S. Williams
Genetically modified organisms have been a technology used for 20 years with benefits confirmed by research. Consumers may think that GMOs are a new technology because of the hype of fear given by some media outlets. A GMO is a crop developed with use of scientific methods to introduce new traits or characteristics to an organism. GMO seeds allow crops to become resistant to insect infestation and disease, withstand adverse climate changes, and provide better quality products that boost nutritional quality of the population’s diets.
According to the Organic Center, in Washington D.C., there are nine GMO crops on the market today. These include: corn, soybean, cotton, sugar beets, alfalfa, canola, Hawaiian papaya, yellow crookneck squash, and zucchini. Those crops usually end up in the following foods when processed: corn syrup, corn starch, corn oil, beef, milk, farmed fish, soy lecithin, soy protein, vegetable oil, cottonseed oil. GMO crops have been shown to have many benefits, but consumers still have questions, so more conclusive research needs to be done.
Currently, GMO research is being done by businesses, the government and universities. There are three types of GMO products being studied. The first category includes crops with enhanced traits such as herbicide tolerance, better insect resistance, and better tolerance to environmental stress. The second category includes added output traits for nutritional enhancement for animal feed. The third category of crops includes those that produce pharmaceutical drugs, improve the processing of bio-based fuels, or produce products beyond food and fiber. Conclusive research studies need to be done to see if GMO foods cause an antibiotic resistance, allergy concerns or development of cancer.
Although GMO seeds have been used to grow food for 20 years with no adverse results, there is a consumer push for labeling foods containing genetically modified organisms. Currently, there is no federal requirement that GMO foods be labeled. In May 2014, Vermont became the first state to be requiring food labeling. Maine and Connecticut are well on their way to requiring labeling. By regulation, organic foods cannot contain GMOs. Eating organic foods will help consumers limit their exposure to genetically modified organisms.
In conclusion, more needs to ease the fears of consumers with more research and education. Some big questions need to be researched, such as antibiotic resistance, allergy concerns, and the development of cancer. Would a federal labeling law and more unbiased education ease consumer fears? Is it enough for consumers who fear GMOs to simply purchase organic products that do not utilize GMOs? Joan Levin, J.D., MPH, of Illinois Right to Know, says, “With every purchase we vote with our dollars. When we buy only what conforms to our concerns about health, the environment, human rights or other things important to us, we send the marketplace a clear message. We have many examples of how effective this can be to keep in mind when shopping for food or anything else.”
Tracy Williams has her degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Dominican University. She lives in suburban Chicago. She enjoys educating her community by doing nutrition presentations as wellness and nutrition consultant. She also enjoys writing about nutrition topics.