When considering what foods to feed your family, what do you look for? Fat? Carbs? Fiber? GMO’s?
Wait, what? If you’re new to this topic, you may find yourself wondering what exactly a GMO is. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. And you won’t find it on any food label. At least, not yet.
Feeding The Beast
According to a recent study by the Environmental Working Group, Americans are consuming approximately 193 pounds of genetically modified foodstuff per year. That’s almost as much as the average weight of men in the US, 196 pounds, and more than the average weight of US women, 160 pounds. (Weight average according to a Gallup wellbeing poll conducted in November 2011.)
This means Americans are consuming at least their own body mass in genetically modified foods annually. The question remains, however, as to whether or not all that consumption of GMO’s is detrimental to the overall health of Americans in the long run.
You Are What You Eat. Or Are You?
So what makes GMO’s different from so-called ‘natural’ foods anyways?
With genetically modified crops, a farmer can supposedly insulate the harvest against pesticides. This has many perceived benefits for the farmers, as they can use pesticides liberally without affecting the overall integrity of the product they’re growing. But of course the downside is the consumer is eating food that has been heavily doused in chemical pesticides. That’s not to mention the environmental impact of all those toxins being sprayed over crops and getting into soil and water.
Other uses for genetic modification include increasing the product’s overall resistance to environmental elements and various parasitic diseases, and increasing its durability in post processing to allow it a longer shelf life. This not only increases the farmers’ overall profit, but allows savings to be passed on to the consumer as well, which is partly why processed foods are so cheaply purchased nowadays.
But Is It Safe?
For now, the verdict seems to be out on that question. So far, no extensive long term studies have been done to evaluate the potential impact of GMO’s on the human body; either for better or for worse.
This fact has lead for many people to push for a full disclosure system of accountability and education concerning products containing GMO’s. It is believed by many that the consumer has the right to choose foods with varying degrees of GMO’s in an informed and reliable manner, which has led to an initiative in California for labeling of foods with GMO ingredients.
Though many believe this is an important first step, others believe it is not enough. Future extensions of this act could pave the way for increased standards regarding genetic DNA testing for foods containing GMO’s in the early stages of development. In such cases, a manufacturer of GMO’s would have to pass a structured legal DNA test to meet requirements for continued production.
Where Does This Leave Us?
Despite much of the uproar over GMO’s, there are those Americans who are unconcerned over the process, viewing it as a natural extension of progress. For others, there are concerns about just how far science is going and the impact of GMO’s on both our bodies and our environment. As world-leading geneticist Dr David Suzuki puts it:
“Because we aren’t certain about the effects of GMOs, we must consider one of the guiding principles in science, the precautionary principle. Under this principle, if a policy or action could harm human health or the environment, we must not proceed until we know for sure what the impact will be. And it is up to those proposing the action or policy to prove that it is not harmful.”
That seems logical. Regardless of where you stand, there is no question that the debate is only going to intensify.
Chris Keenan is a green and general blog writer. He also maintains a personal cooking blog.