If you’ve ever looked closely at a food packaging label, chances are you’ve seen a note that the food has been produced using one or more genetically modified (GMO) products. The next time you’re about to eat a food with that warning label, you may want to think twice.
What exactly are GMOs? GMO stands for genetically modified organism, or in the words of Non-GMO Project, GMOs are “living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering.” According to one estimate, between 55 and 70 percent of our processed foods found in a typical grocery store contain GMOs, which means a large portion of the average American’s diet contains “unnatural” organisms.
GMO Products Correlate to Environmental Issues
The Non-GMO Project estimates that over 80% of genetically modified crops have been designed to resist herbicides. This genetic makeup means that companies are able to use increasing amounts of pesticides and herbicides on these crops (including the notorious Roundup). More chemicals mean more toxicity for both the environment and humans. Additionally, these crops can indirectly results in populations of herbicide-resistant bugs and plants that can only be destroyed with even stronger chemicals.
Gene flow (considered contamination) can also be an issue for the environment and animals existing near GMOs. Gene flow occurs when genetically modified crops crossover with non-modified organisms, unintentionally. For example, livestock animals like pigs may inadvertently eat food that has mixed with GMO-containing feed, or pollen can spread genetic material across a distance due to natural dispersal.
Effects GMOs Have on Humans Still Not Clear
Various studies have been conducted in an effort to establish the effect that consumption of genetically modified foods have on the human body. While preliminary studies do indicate that no major side effects to eating genetically modified foods have occurred, researchers are still not yet in agreement about whether negative effects may occur down the road.
In the United States, GMOs made their first real appearance in the food system in 1994. Since then, many Americans have eaten them on a near-regular basis. One of the most realistic dangers that this consumption could involve is chemical ingestion due to the herbicides that are typically used during the growing of the food. In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration admitted that it could not adequately test the levels of pesticide residue in food the administration is responsible for regulating.
Without proper testing measures, it is difficult to assess the safety and long-term effects of consuming GMOs that have been exposed to varying amounts of pesticides.
Preparing for the Future
For consumers looking for healthy food alternatives, it will take diligence when shopping to ensure you are not consuming GMO foods. Currently, the United States has approved 10 GMO crops for production, and GMO corn and soybeans are often converted into ethanol rather than being sold for consumption.
As scientific research develops, more methods for manipulating genetic material in crops and even animals is developing. In 2015, a genetically modified Atlantic salmon that grows twice as fast as a normal salmon was designed by scientists. The fish was developed by combining genetic material with another species of fish which grows continuously throughout the year.
With so many advances in science being made every year, it is important to remain up-to-date on information about studies and trials. With so much attention being drawn to GMO foods these days, it is only a matter of time before studies detailing the effects of long-term consumption of GMO products emerge. In the meantime, consumers should be very wary of choosing foods that we do not yet know the full effects of.