Once again our intrepid food manufacturers have a better idea. From the same folks who gave us high fructose corn syrup; nitrates and other food preservatives; food colorings; pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that increase yields but not nutrition; additives to harden crops, reduce spoilage and increase shelf life, and hormones to add bulk and yields; behold – genetically engineered food, also known as GMOs. Yes that’s right; apparently Mother Nature got it wrong – again!
I won’t detail all of the items I listed above that compromise food quality, while increasing the risk of diseases, including cancer, but suffice it to say that expensive marketing programs and bright packaging can often disguise what’s really going on. Which brings me back to this latest great idea: GMOs, also known as “Franken food.”
GMOs are genetically modified organisms. This involves altering the genetic makeup of crops, animals and fish, by changing its structure in a lab. Using a technique known as recombinant DNA technology, DNA molecules from different sources are combined, creating a new molecule with a new set of genes. This “new” DNA profile is then transferred into an organism with new, more desirable traits. Desirable to the manufacturers, that is.
The risks here, unfortunately, are unknown. Do scientists fully comprehend all of the potential negative ramifications of genetic manipulation? I’m not convinced they do. The safety of GMOs in the food chain has been questioned by many, including environmental groups. Concerns include the risk of GMOs introducing new allergens, or contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance. Also, it’s not known if GMOs will overrun and wipe out conventional plants or alter their genetic structure by cross-fertilization. If that were to happen there would be no turning back once the full-range of risks are identified; there is no “do-over” switch.
Fortunately, such concerns have led to the adoption of laws and regulations that require safety testing of any new organism produced for human consumption. However, we should not underestimate the deep pockets and marketing arms of those who would benefit the most from wide-scale GMO production. (Hint; it’s not you or me.)
Not surprisingly, the food industry is fighting mightily against many proposed regulations including having to identify what food products contain GMOs. I think we have a right to know, and we should demand that we be told. Full disclosure is customary in virtually every other field, so why not here?!
One argument in favor of GMOs goes something like this: some people are starving; therefore there is a food shortage. Right now, US food manufacturers are producing 2 1/2 times more calories than the average American needs each day. In addition, our growing obesity problem – it’s now predicted that three out of four Americans will be either overweight or obese by 2020 –argues against a food shortage in this country. If there is any genuine shortage taking place in the food industry, it’s probably the lack of promotion and availability of nutritious foods. You know, those that actually help provide the foundation for good health. Look at the TV ads for fast food and snacks; they so far outnumber those for fruits and vegetables that one might guess that they are no long being sold!
Another argument put forth in favor of GMOs is that we need “cheaper” food. At first glance, it’s easy to say, “Great. I’m all for saving money, particularly in these tough economic times.” But are you really saving? Not if the result is obesity or illness. As the saying goes: It’s much better for us to pay the farmer now, instead of the hospital later.
Fortunately, and I hope this remains it’s true, GMOs are not getting a blanket endorsement. Not by a long shot! According to a recent article in The Independent published in the United Kingdom, “… fifteen years ago, many governments thought GM crops and food would become the norm, but it has not happened because of rising public resistance around the world.” And according to The Center For Food Safety (CFS), a non-profit, environmental and public interest advocacy membership organization, “We (CFS) seek to prevent the approval, commercialization or release of any new genetically engineered crops until they have been thoroughly tested and found safe for human health and the environment. CFS maintains that any foods that already contain genetically engineered ingredients must be clearly labeled.” Let’s hope they get what they seek, in which case WE, the consumer, win.