You are on page 1of 10

! Juliana Mavellia Malcolm Campbell Engligh 1103 4 December 2013 Yes or No to GMOs: Do We Need to Worry?


I was walking in the familiar, crammed aisles of the supermarket doing some muchneeded grocery shopping. The refrigerator at home was looking a little low on fruits and vegetables so I decided to go to those aisles first. Out of habit, I started looking for the fruits and vegetables that had the organic label. For the past few years my family has been eating strictly organic food, because recently they have been hesitant about eating other foods that are genetically modified (GM), or could be GM and not be labeled as such. According the Environmental Commons, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are organisms, such as food crops that have altered genetic material through artificial insertion of genes from bacteria, viruses, and other animals (What You Should). The Natural Health

Magazine also explains that by manipulating the DNA of common food crops, engineers can
make the crops have larger yields, added nutritional value, self-produced insecticides, and resistance to herbicides, such as Roundup, that are able to kill other natural-growing plants (Young). In the article GM Foods: The Real Story in the Australasian Biotechnology Journal, Simran Kaur Dhaliwal explains that engineers can obtain a desired characteristic through a process called mapping, which they can identify and isolate the gene that triggers a certain trait. The gene then goes through a process called a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in order to copy the desired gene so that it can be inserted into plant tissues and other target organisms.

Mavellia!#! As I grabbed the organic apple, I began thinking, Are there really any concerning risks

to eating GM foods? Why go through the hassles of looking for a more expensive type of food when GM foods are just as nutritious, maybe even more so? I have never really questioned my familys views on GM foods, because it seemed obvious to me. Of course, I would want to eat something naturally grown. However, could technology provide advantages in food production that could be useful for our health and the environment? I picked up the GM apple in the other hand, weighing each apple in my hands as I contemplated which apple to take home. According to The New York Times, GM foods were first introduced in the United States in the mid-1990s, and have been available commercially since 1994 when Calgene, a company in California, introduced the FlavrSavr tomato. The FlavrSavr tomato was the first genetically modified crop available to the public, in which it was altered to slow down its decomposition after being picked. Yet, it was later removed from the market when Monsanto, a company known for its GMO seed production, bought the company due to controversy over Monsanto refusing to label it as GM (Winerip). In spite of this, genetic modification has become widespread in the United States with 94 percent of soybeans, and 88 percent of corn being genetically altered, along with other common foods such as soy, corn, canola oil, and cottonseed oil that are frequently used as ingredients for meals (Smith, GMO Reality). The United States is one of the largest producers of GM products, with 70 percent of foods in grocery stores containing byproducts of GMOs (Young). This increase in GM food production causes concern for the environment because with this increase comes the increase of Roundup Ready Crops, which are crops designed to be tolerant to glyphosate, an active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup (Young). Even though many GMO activists agree that the use of Roundup has increased, they argue that it is less toxic


than the herbicides used previously. On the other hand, many counter that GMOs do pose a threat to the environment because GM plants could cross-pollinate with another species of crop or wild plant. This contamination may create a public health threat with the creation of superweeds which could require farmers to use an increased amount of stronger herbicides. This increase in toxic chemicals to the environment could result in the extinction of rare species of plants that allow nature to have biodiversity. Pamela Ronald, Ph.D., professor of plant pathology at the University of California, reaffirms that organic production and genetically engineered crops have coexisted side by side for 20 years, and both types of crop production are thriving (Young). Still, the National Research Council claims that an overuse of Roundup Ready is presently causing cross-pollination, and therefore causing an increase in superweeds (Young). Although proponents of GMOs say it can reduce pesticide use, other research suggests otherwise. In the U.S. specifically, pesticide use has actually increased by about 318 million pounds in the past 13 years as a result of planting GM crops according to the Organic Centers 2009 report (Smith, Say No). These results therefore suggest that GM crops can result in more serious consequences for the environment. Many GMO activists agree that GM foods can be detrimental to the environment, but only if they are not managed correctly. They conclude if monitored correctly, GM crops require fewer pesticides and herbicides. PG Economics, a UK company that specializes in plant biotechnology and commonly provides advice to natural resource based industries, conducted a study that concluded that countries that have been using GM crop production methods have reduced their use of pesticide and herbicide by 15 and 20 percent respectively (Dhaliwal). This


conclusion extremely contradicts the Organic Centers findings in the U.S., which causes us to question whether the PG Economics results are realistic, or just idealistic. However, GM crops not only require pesticides and insecticides, but also have those chemicals built into their genes, therefore causing us to question whether there are harmful health effects induced by the consumption of GM foods. Many corporations and regulation agencies like the FDA, USDA, and EPA argue that there is no evidence of harmful side effects in consuming GM foods (Smith, Say No). Other numerous studies have been conducted that agree that there are no adverse side- effects as well. The EU Commission, the executive body of the European Union, financed 81 scientific studies over a 15-year period to determine whether GM products were unsafe. No evidence was found to prove that GM foods were causing harm to humans (Dhaliwal). Even though many GMO advocates claim the Roundup is not as harmful as other herbicide, other studies have suggested otherwise. Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, found that Atrazine, the most widely used herbicide found in Roundup, is causing frogs to mutate due to trace amounts of the chemical being absorbed in the water. It was discovered that the chemical mostly affected male frogs, in which males were found to have eggs in their testes instead of sperm. He found that the same gene that caused frogs to lose their testosterone is also found in humans, and involved in the development of breast cancer (Riffe). As a result, this shows that there are potential side-affects of pesticides not only on the environment and other animals, but also possible consequences for humans as well. Similar results were found when the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), an organization made up of physicians, did a study on rats in which the rats were fed


GM soy. Male rats that were given GM soy experienced changes in the structure and function of their testes that involved the hindering of sperm development, while in pregnant female rats, more than 50 percent of their offspring died within the first three weeks compared to only 10 percent of those who had mothers that ate non-GM soy (Smith, Say No). In addition, non-GMO activists and some physicians claim to have evidence there are potential side-affects of GM foods on humans as well. The AAEM declared that there are serious health risks associated with eating GM foods that include infertility, immune system problems, accelerated aging, disruption of insulin, cholesterol regulation, and gastrointestinal systems, and even organ damage through on-going experiments involving rats. The organization also completed a study on humans, which revealed that in some people, the herbicide-resistant genes from soybeans transferred into the bacteria DNA of the intestines. A non-GMO advocate and author of Genetic Roulette, Jeffrey M. Smith explained that, This means that long after we stop eating GMOs, we may still have potentially dangerous GM proteins continuously produced inside of us (Smith, Say No). Amy Dean, D.O., an internal medicine physician at Ann Arbor, Michigan, and president of the AAEM, states that she is worried over the increasing numbers of autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis occurring today (Young). The new proteins created by GMOs may activate the immune system and make the body attack itself, which can increase the risk of GMO-induced food allergies. Still, some disagree with Deans assessments such as, Steve L. Taylor, Ph.D., co-director of the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program at the University of Nebraska, who states, The products on the market today have been thoroughly assessed for allergenicity, and theres no allergic risk (Young). In other words, presently there are no GM foods that have been distributed in the market that have been


shown to cause harm to humans. Yet, Taylor does mention that this might not be the case for future GM foods (Young). I feel like Taylor is suggesting that we really dont know what the side-effects of GM foods will be in the future 20, 30, 40 years from now, which makes me a little hesitant to stray from organic food. It is a little frightening to think that many people who are experiencing allergies could be reacting to GM foods, and are being wrongly diagnosed. Even though these conclusions are not proven, they involuntarily arise in the back of my mind when buying a GM food product, or not certified organic product. My fear of GMOs is strengthened with the fact that according to the Better Nutrition

Magazine, The New England Journal of Medicine found that an allergen from a food could be
transferred to another food through genetic engineering. In the United Kingdom, reports of symptoms related to soy allergies have increased including irritable bowel syndrome, digestive problems, and skin conditions such as eczema. It was found that GM soy has more trypsin inhibitor, which is a soy allergen, and higher levels of herbicide residues than non-GM soy. These herbicide residues and increased amount of trypsin inhibitor have the potential to cause reactions that can trigger allergens not found in non-GM soy (Smith, Say No). Even though many agree with Taylor that GM foods are being rigorously tested, others argue that this is not the case. Many claim that GM foods are being regulated inadequately by the FDA, EPA and the USDA due to these agencies considering genetic bioengineering as traditional agriculture. According to the Environmental Commons, even though companies must consult with the FDA, there is no requirement to test the food before distributing it on a large-scale, unless a Life Science company, a company that uses modern biological techniques with the goal to improve human and animal health, crop production, and current manufacturing methods,


considers the genetic insertion a food additive (What You Should). A food additive is an additive to food intended to improve its flavor, appearance, or shelf life. In addition, due to no mandatory labeling, many consumers are eating GM foods and do not even know it. Due to disagreement over the benefits and drawbacks of GM foods, there is much controversy over labeling. According to the Better Nutrition Magazine, 90 percent of Americans want GM foods labeled, and more than a million people signed the Just Label It petition that asked the FDA to implement mandatory labeling (Smith, GMO Reality). According to The

New York Times, in California one million voter signatures were submitted to place a GMO
labeling initiative on the ballot last year. However, corporations like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, that manufacture GM products, spent millions of dollars to fight the effort, and the initiative was later defeated by voters (Strom). PespiCo, Coca-Cola, and other soda company products are know to contain the most common GMO ingredient, high fructose corn syrup, which is a sugar from GM sugar beets (GMO Awareness). According The New York Times, Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain, became the first retailer in the United States to require labeling of all GM foods in March of 2013. The new labeling requirement is to be placed in 5 years. The president of Whole Foods, A.C. Gallo, explained that this choice was made in response to consumer demand. Other companies as well have shown more willingness to consider labeling, with 20 food companies, including Wal-Mart, having met recently in Washington to discuss labeling. Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, called Whole Foods decision a game changer (Strom). He explained that 22 states have some sort of pending labeling legislation as a result of the Just Label It campaign, and now Whole Foods, one of the most successful retailers in the country has agreed as well. He went on to compare the Whole Foods announcement to Wal-Marts decision to stop selling milk from


cows treated with growth hormones several years ago. As a result, a small number of cows are now injected with hormones, therefore implying that a decrease in production of GM foods might become a reality. This has already been seen in response to Whole Foods announcement, in which the American Halal Company, a food company whose products are sold in Whole Foods stores, introduced the first frozen food that has been certified organic (Strom). Other initiatives have qualified for the ballot in Washington State and Missouri, while other non-GMO proponents have been creating more controversy over the issue by putting warning stickers on foods suspected of having GMO ingredients from companies that oppose labeling. They insist that consumers have the right to know the ingredients they are eating. However, companies that produce GM products, and oppose labeling explain that these labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk (Strom). However, even though the Unites States is now becoming more aware of GM foods, and pushing towards labeling, the European Union and Australia have always required GM foods to be labeled. In addition, there are far less GM foods stocked on European grocery shelves than the U.S. In the E.U., genetic modification is common in animal feeds, but not in foods. In the past 14 years, they have approved only one genetically modified crop (Galbraith). This is a huge difference from the U.S., which has about 70 percent of foods in supermarkets containing ingredients of GMOs (Young). Although, no safety or health issues have been proven to be directly associated with GM foods, I feel there is still much ambiguity concerning GM foods with its relationship to the environment and especially to humans. I believe that we can only know the consequences of GM


foods in time; therefore even though the GM apple was bigger and shinier in the dim light of the grocery store, I put the organic apple in a grocery bag and placed it in my cart.

Works Cited Dhaliwal, Simran Kaur. GM foods: the real story. Australasian Biotechnology Journal 22 (2012): n. pag. Web. 20 October 2013. Galbraith, Kate. Attitudes on Crops Are Modifying. The New York Times. The New York Times. 10 July 2013. Web. 28 October 2013. GMO Sodas. GMO Awareness. 2011. Web. 29 October 2013. Hayes, Tyrone, and Jed Riffe. Atrazine and the Environment. 9 June 2011. Web. 20 October 2013. Smith, Melissa. GMO Reality Check. Better Nutrition. Cruz Bay Publishing, Inc. 2009. Web. 27 October 2013. Smith, Melissa. Say No to GMOs. Better Nutrition. Cruz Bay Publishing, Inc. 2009. Web. 28 October 2013. Strom, Stephanie. Major Grocer to Label Foods with Gene-Modified Content. The New York

Times. The New York Times. 8 March 2013. Web. 28 October 2013.


What You Should Know About Genetically Modified Foods! Environmental Commons. n.p. n.d. Web. 1 October 2013. Winerip, Michael. You Call that a Tomato? The New York Times. The New York Times. 24 June 2013. Web. 29 October 2013. Young, Allison. GMOs: Friend or Foe? Natural Health. n.p. n.d. Web. 1 October 2013. !