What Are Genetically Modified Foods?
A look at the confusing label and what it means for consumers
Genetically modified foods (GM foods) are those that have been genetically altered in order to benefit producers and consumers; these foods are often created to resist disease, grow quicker, add nutritional value, or decrease allergy levels. But are they good for you, and the environment?
Although GM foods seem beneficial to consumers, they are surrounded by controversy. The European Union, Australia, Japan, and a few dozen other countries have either banned or placed stringent restrictions on GM foods. In the United States, the largest producer of GM foods in the world, genetically modified foods are not labeled and are largely unregulated by the federal government. Without adequate testing, Americans are left in the dark, unaware of any harm that genetically modified foods may cause. For now, citizens can educate themselves about genetically modified foods and decide for themselves where they stand on these "frankenfoods."
Some of the most important crops in American agriculture are genetically modified; corn, soybeans, cotton, and rice are prime examples of this. But it’s not just the raw consumption of these products that is troublesome — it’s the multiple foods produced from these crops. The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimates that up to 75 percent of processed foods in the U.S. contain at least one GM ingredient. High-fructose corn syrup — a sweetener usually used in processed foods — is created by converting some of the glucose in corn into fructose, thus creating a sugar-like sweetness. Cookies, yogurt, cereal, candy, and sodas are just a few of the products created using HFCS corn in addition to the array of foods that contain soy or rice derivatives.
The environmental impacts of GM foods are many, affecting crop diversity and harming insects, and the soil these crops are grown in. GM crops are often altered to create their own pesticides, which don’t just kill the target insect, but other non-target organisms that are beneficial to crops and critical to our food supply, including honeybees. GM foods also have the capability of contaminating non-GM strains, leading to a reduction in crop diversity, as well.
The consequences of GM food consumption on human beings have yet to be established. A recent study by a group of French scientists yielded discouraging results. For two years, rats were fed Roundup-resistant GM corn while scientists from Caen University studied its effects on the rodents. Compared to the regular (control) group, the GM-fed rats died sooner and developed cancerous tumors. Dr. Séralini, the scientist leading the study, stated that these effects were caused by the "endocrine-disrupting effects of Roundup, and overexpression of the transgene in the GMO." Opponents of GM foods argue that results like these are an example of the dangers of genetically modified foods.
Currently, only a few dozen GM foods have been created, but it’s possible that we’ll see a future where hundreds of other foods are genetically engineered. Will the role of GM foods continue to expand in the future? If you’re cautious and want to stay away from GM foods, you may want to stick with locally grown, organic foods so you know exactly what you’re putting in your body.
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