While biochemists, scientists and researchers should continue to develop ways of curing third-world country disease and malnutrition through efforts such as genetically modifying foods, consumers in the United States need to think about whether these foods are necessary and should be imposed on them.
In the mid-90’s, GM foods were introduced into the United States. GM foods are foods with DNA that have been changed by introducing another gene from another organism (World, 2016). Roughly 95% of soybeans and 75% of corn in the United States are genetically modified (Monsanto, 2016). Specifically, one of the most controversial modifications are the crop seeds that have been genetically engineered to tolerate a weed-killing chemical called glyphosate (also known as Round-up), developed by Monsanto. Farmers can spray Round-up onto their fields without destroying their GM crops (Pesticide, 2016). The controversy with glyphosate is that it has been proven in some studies to have detrimental effects to the organs of some animals (Gab-Alla et al, 2012) and the World Health Organization made a statement that glyphosate was ‘probably carcinogenic’ to humans (World, 2016).
There are many reasons why genetically modifying a food is desirable. In developing countries, where farms are more prone to droughts and lack the resources to battle insects, these techniques can help feed the growing populations. Also, foods can be genetically modified to increase the micronutrient content in countries that do not have access to a well-balanced diet. An example of this is in South East Asia and Africa, where there are high rates of blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency. Rice is being genetically modified to include higher levels of Vitamin A (Golden, 2016). UNIT 2: GMO FOODS EDITORIAL 3
However, in the United States, are these means necessary? The original basis for genetic modifications was to improve yield by increasing the resistance and tolerance of plants to disease and herbicides (World, 2016). The United States has access to a variety of whole foods and has the resources to battle crop disease and herbicides naturally or through different breeding techniques, such as marker-assisted selection. Why does the United States still need to produce these GM foods, especially when science has not proven them to be 100% safe?
Following the Science
Several animal-feeding studies have been conducted over the past couple of decades; a few claim GM foods are safe and a few claim GM foods are harmful to human health. The picture is not black and white. Each of the controlled studies over the past 5 years, have been on separate animal species, varying from maize to salmon. They also varied in GM foods and study lengths. The results of each of the studies also varied. Some claim there were no adverse effects in consuming GM crops while others claimed consumption of these crops will have detrimental effects to the kidneys and other organs (Gab-Alla et al, 2016; Snell et al, 2016). With these differing results on GM food studies, it seems more long-term publicly funded testing is needed for a stronger consensus on either side.
If the purpose of genetic modification is to improve yield, how is the United States faring in accomplishing this task? In a study by the National Academies of Sciences, they state that USDA data has not provided evidence of increasing yields (National, 2016). Consequently, potentially harmful foods are being consumed for reasons that cannot be justified. It seems the United States needs to decrease its use of GM foods, or at least inform consumers which foods are genetically modified so they can make their own decisions on whether to buy or not.
Identifying GM Foods
At the moment, labeling of non-GM foods is done sparingly and voluntarily depending on the manufacturer. There was a bill passed by the House and Senate that amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to establish a labeling standard for GM foods (Label, 2016). This bill followed the unpassed Deny Americans the Right-to-Know Act (DARK Act) which would have preempted States from labeling GMO foods (Label, 2016). Although the Amendment is a step in the right direction to label GM foods, there is still ambiguity for the consumer as the information on the bioengineered foods can be represented by a QR code, which needs to be scanned by smartphones. This inhibits the quick decisions consumers can make while in the grocery store to identify and make their choice on GM foods. There is a movement called Just Label It, which is fighting for simple disclosures on the packaging for consumers to quickly identify GM foods (Label, 2016).
The Right to Choose
With the increasing introduction of GM foods into the United States’ food chain, longer term clinical trials are needed for each product. A blanket statement that all GM foods are safe cannot be trusted, especially when it’s based on wavering science. The consumer needs to be aware of what they are eating and allowed to make the choices for themselves. The Marketing Act Amendment is a step in the right direction, but consumers need to be more aware of these issues and understand the possible health problems that may occur when they choose a GM food verses a non-GM food. There are also alternatives. Consumers can farm their own food or join a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, where they can pick up from farms that don’t produce GM crops. They can also pick certified organic products at the grocery store or choose a diet that doesn’t include GM foods. Consumers deserve the right to know and should demand the right to choose.
Gab-Alla, A. A., El-Shamei, Z. S., Shatta, A. A., Moussa, E. A., & Rayan, A. M. (2012). Morphological and biochemical changes in male rats fed on genetically modified corn (Ajeeb YG). J Am Sci, 8(9), 1117-1123.
Golden Rice Project. (26 November 2016). Vitamin A Deficiency-Related Disorders (VADD). Retrieved from http://goldenrice.org/Content3-Why/why1_vad.php
Just Label It. (5 November 2016). DARK Act. Retrieved from http://www.justlabelit.org/dark-act/
Living Non-GMO. (8 November 2016). GMO Facts. Retrieved from http://livingnongmo.org/learn/gmo-faq/
Maher, Bill. “President Obama: Full Interview.” YouTube, uploaded by Real Time with Bill Maher, 4 November 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXH5agV7skw.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23395.
National Pesticide Information Center. (5 November 2016). Glyphosate. Retrieved from http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/glyphogen.html
Séralini, G. E., Clair, E., Mesnage, R., Gress, S., Defarge, N., Malatesta, M., … & de Vendômois, J. S. (2014). Republished study: Long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Environmental Sciences Europe, 26(1), 1.
Snell, C., Bernheim, A., Bergé, J. B., Kuntz, M., Pascal, G., Paris, A., & Ricroch, A. E. (2012). Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: a literature review. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 50(3), 1134-1148.
World Health Organization. (31 October 2016). Food, genetically modified. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/topics/food_genetically_modified/en/