Saturday, March 20, 2010

How about Genetically Modified Foods?

As I look at our meat and produce consumption, I've begun to wonder about genetically modified foods (GMOs-Genetically Modified Organisms). We have committed to pesticide-free, organic options, but I needed to do more research before making my decision about what to do with the genetic debate.

GMOs are foods that have been modified at a molecular level to contain desired traits (World Health Organization) . The traits are not necessarily selected for their flavor or nutrition, but for the ability to grow food quick, big, and cheap. For example, much of today's corn has been modified in a laboratory to include a gene extracted from a bacterium that is lethal to insect larvae. This saves a step in production and makes farming cheaper.

Certainly, there are economic and social advantages to GMOs. Food can be produced at a greater rate which means we can feed more people cheaper. And more food can survive pests, drought, herbicides, and extreme temperatures. Because of these advantages, farmers can't really afford not to use GMOs-most can't compete without them. In addition, GMOs can be used as medicine, to increase nutritional value, and to clean contaminated soil (Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?)

But I worry about how this scientific modification might impact the natural order. Some of the insect resistant plants can blow pollen onto other plants and inadvertently kill insects-which of course has it's own impact on an interlinked ecosystem. In addition, like some insects have developed resistance to pesticides, they can also become resistant to the genetic modifications. And when it comes to human health, not enough research has been done to demonstrate what the impact to humans might be. Allergies could potentially be exacerbated depending on which genes are used where (like peanut allergies). Some animal studies show possible harm,  but ultimately results are still inconclusive (ActionBioScience).

Finally, there's also the debate over ownership of the GMOs. Because they are engineered in a lab by a company, some companies have copyrighted their modifications, and it is illegal to use them without proper rights and purchasing. In fact, one farmer was sued by such a company for seeds that were growing on his property that he purports he didn't even plant; the seeds had blown off a passing truck. The Canadian Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the company (Judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada). The social and economic implications of cases like this will continue to be debated as we continue to grow and develop food.

I try to stick to my priorities when making decisions about what to consume: environment, health, and human rights. According the the World Health Organization, all GMOs on the market today are safe for human consumption. However, just because it's available for consumption doesn't mean it's the gold standard in socially responsible products. So what's my decision about GMOs coming into our house? The jury's still out, and waiting for more research (ActionBioScience). I guess you'll just have to keep following the blog to find out.

Have an opinion about GMOs? Post a comment!

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