OMG, GMOs! Should We Avoid Genetically Modified Crops?
Are GMOs bad for human health? What about the environment? On today’s episode of “The Stich,” we’re breaking down the science on the benefits and risks of genetically modified crops.
On today’s episode of “The Sitch,” we’re talking about “GMOs.”
Although there’s a lot of hype around the subject of GMOs, not everyone really understands what they are or their potential harms and benefits to our health and the environment.
So today we’re going to cut through the fear-mongering messaging and get straight to the actual research on this confusing topic.
WHAT ARE GMOs
GMO stands for “genetically modified organism” and it refers to plants and animals created using biotechnology that inserts genes from one species into the DNA of another species.
It’s different from simply manipulating traits of plants through crossbreeding, which humans have been doing for thousands of years.
The first GMO product, the Flavr Savr tomato, hit shelves in the 1994 and the amount of GMO products in our food supply has been steadily increasing ever since.
The most common GMO crops are corn, soy, cotton, and rapeseed — which is what canola oil is made from. Over 90% of these crops produced in the US are genetically modified.
Now before we get into the potential harms of GMOs, let’s talk about the positives.
BENEFITS OF GMOS
The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released an extensive report in 2016 stating that they found: “No substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between GMO and conventionally bred crops, nor did it find conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops.”
Scientists create these organisms in order to achieve specific desired properties.
For example, they created apples that don’t brown when exposed to air, salmon that grows faster, and rice that contains beta-carotene to combat deficiencies in vitamin A in poor countries where rice is a staple in the diet.
Many people believe GMOs are beneficial and help fight global hunger by making it quicker and more profitable to produce food.
Some studies have shown that overall, genetically modified crops reduce pesticide use. This is because some GMO crops are engineered to resist insects and therefore, farmers don’t have to use insecticides on them.
However, in some cases, pesticide use has actually increased.
For example, Round-Up Ready Crops were created to be resistant to the herbicide Round-Up. This means that farmers can use more of this pesticide to kill weeds without killing the crop.
GMOs have also been beneficial in helping fight diseases that commonly affect certain crops.
For example, papaya is a major cash crop in Hawaii. In 1992, a virus threatened to wipe out Hawaii’s entire production of papaya. However, thanks to the creation of ring-spot resistant papayas, farmers were able to save this important crop and continue to be the main US producer of it today.
Another benefit of GMOs is the potential to create new pharmaceuticals using biologically active compounds created by these crops that could help fight disease – although the science isn’t there just yet.
So what’s so bad about GMO’s?
Potential Harms of GMOs
Some studies show that the creation of genetically modified insect and weed resistant crops has increased the population of other pests and created insects and weeds that are also resistant to insecticides and herbicides.
When it comes to health, despite the fact that the NAS declared GMOs safe, there actually hasn’t been any clinical studies on their effects on human health.
The safety data we do have is derived from observational and animal studies, which don’t hold the same weight as a clinical trial. While these studies show that the nutrient content of GMOs is similar to conventionally raised crops, there have been small studies that suggest otherwise.
One study found that the phytoestrogen content of GMO soybeans was 12-14% lower than conventionally grown soybeans.
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Concerns also exist surrounding the creation of allergenic proteins by these new crops.
Finally, some have speculated that genetic manipulation could lead to what’s known as “superbugs” – bacteria and viruses that are resistant to drugs.
While many of these arguments are simply hypotheses at this time, the National Academy of Sciences also stated in their report that it is “difficult to reach definitive conclusions about long-term effects” of GMOs.
That makes sense.
As I mentioned before, GM crops have only been on the market since 1994. That’s less than 30 years – nowhere near enough time to assess the long-term effects on a human life or our ecosystem.
So what is a conscious consumer to do? It’s really up to you.
The bottom line is – we don’t have a lot of evidence that the potential dangers of GMOs outweigh the benefits.
But we don’t know if new evidence will come to light in the future. And just because the GM crops that are currently on the market are considered safe, that doesn’t mean that all GM products that have yet to be created will be as well.
Each new genetically modified plant and animal needs to be considered on its own.
Currently, genetically engineered crops do not require pre-approval from the FDA before hitting the market. There also isn’t any active legislation here in the US requiring companies to clearly disclose their use of GMOs in food products.
However, a bill passed by the Obama administration in 2016 will require the USDA to come up with national standards for identifying these products to consumers by this July.
For now, if you want to avoid GMO’s your best bet is to buy organic products which are required to be non-GMO. You can also look for the third-party verification stamp from the non-GMO project, a little buttery fly with a green check-mark.
I hope you guys found this video and article informative and that I was able to somewhat demystify this controversial topic.
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Weigh in: What are your thoughts on GMOs? Do you avoid GMO products?