From breakfast cereal to beef jerky, 80 percent of processed foods are made with ingredients from genetically modified crops, or plants whose gene composition has been altered with the addition of foreign DNA. What's so great about changing what nature gave us?
These genetically-modified “franken foods” are meant to make the whole process of moving food from seed to store easier. Crops can be made resistant to insects, herbicides that are meant to kill weeds, drought, and disease, helping eliminate farmers' worry about these factors destroying their livelihoods. Aside from making crops stronger, nutrition can be altered by adding assets like vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Or maybe it's just about consumer experience — offering juicier, faster-ripening, or more intensely flavored and colorful foods    .
Fiddling With Food — Why It Matters
Weeds and pests are always a problem with plants, but in un-modified crop fields, weed killer is sprayed only on the actual weeds to avoid killing the crops themselves (clearly farmers are not in the business of killing their own plants) . But with genetically modified plants, farmers can blanket entire fields in herbicides, easily knocking out every stray weed in sight without any risk to the big money-makers. Yep, it's quicker and easier, but what's left are herbicide-coated plants ready to hop on dinner tables everywhere . The result? A delicious looking bowl of genetically modified, perfectly juicy, ripe, and tasty fruit… covered in weed killer. And weed killer isn't just a bad guy to weeds — studies suggest ingesting such compounds can be associated with gastrointestinal, neurological, and cardiovascular problems (depending on factors ranging from age of the consumer to levels of exposure) . Plus, studies on both rats and fish have shown that ingesting weed killer causes cell and tissue damage in the kidneys, liver, heart, and adrenal glands   . Research also suggests some of the active ingredients in these "weed killers" can cause birth defects in embryos of the animals they were tested on — so the same may be possible in humans  . Maybe the organic apple is a better choice…Sounds great! But when science attempts \to modify nature, there are often unintended consequences. The debate over whether or not the actual genetic modifications are safe is rampant. The arguments range from fear that pieces of the added DNA can alter biological processes in humans to worries that the changes to one species' DNA may be accidentally transferred to other items . Some scientists also worry that transplanted DNA or genes from one plant species into another food may cause unintended consequences like deadly allergic reactions. Say what?! Yep, so peanut allergy sufferers beware: One ongoing study is experimenting with using a protein from peanuts to extend the shelf life of vegetables. Another study on soy beans enhanced with a protein from Brazil nuts found that the allergen from the nut transferred to the soy beans ! But this big debate aside, what's been suggested as one of the most direct threats and downsides to the process is that a higher level of pesticides and herbicides end up on much of the food on produce shelves.
Side Effects of Science — The Answer/Debate
The good news is that all genetically modified foods are examined and studied by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for toxicity and allergens to get the stamp of approval before they make it to grocery store shelves.
Since the 1990’s, when genetically modified foods hit the scene, they have gotten the A-Okay from the EPA, USDA, and FDA, and many studies suggest no adverse side effects, and no studies have explicitly shown that genetically modified foods are less safe than their conventional equivalents . Another concern may be that there are no long term studies on the effects of genetically-modified foods, so it’s possible that the gene mix-n-match strategy can have negative consequences ranging from allergic reactions to antibiotic resistance .
A simple solution would be to avoid genetically-modified foods, but they aren’t required to be labeled, so it’s difficult to determine which products contain genetically-altered ingredients, or which items on the produce stand are doused in potentially dangerous herbicide residue . However, more and more GMO-free foods are being labeled as such. The easiest way to steer clear of GMOs? Buy organic, since organic foods are bioengineering-free.
What do you think about GMOs in our grocery stores? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!
This article has been approved by Greatist experts Dr. Doug Kalman and Aaron Mauck.