Monday, June 23, 2014

GMOs: Understand the Basics

Nearly 90 percent of corn, soy, sugar beets, canola, and cotton in the United States are grown from genetically engineered seeds.

Syringe and fruit tree

You can’t escape them — genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are everywhere, from major U.S. commodity crops to grocery shelves to labeling legislation in 26 states. They are currently occupying the media in one of the most contentious debates in modern science.

What is a GMO?

A GMO is an organism produced by transferring genetic material between two or more species that are not capable of reproducing in nature. This process is termed genetic engineering (GE) because it takes place only in a laboratory through the use of biotechnology.

Why are they in our food supply?

The following are several of the reasons agribusiness companies create GMOs:

  • Protect crops from insects.
  • Increase crop resistance to herbicides.
  • Improve the growth rate of crops and yield size.
  • Increase the ability of crops to grow in harsh weather conditions.
  • Enhance nutrition.

Why are people opposed to GMOs?

The following are concerns among some citizens and scientists:

  • Unintentional allergens may be introduced into the food supply.
  • Weeds may become tolerant to herbicides and increase chemical usage.
  • Pests may evolve resistance to GM crop toxins and require increased use of insecticides.
  • GMOs may cross-contaminate wild species and decrease genetic biodiversity.
  • The toxins of GM crops may harm non-target insects such as bees and Monarch butterflies and impact the entire food chain.

Nearly 90 percent of corn, soy, sugar beets, canola, and cotton in the United States are grown from GE seeds. These ingredients exist in our food system primarily in the form of processed foods and as feed for our livestock in the industrial farming system. No long-term studies have been conducted on the safety of GMOs for humans or the environment. The FDA is currently reviewing the first GE animal, the AquAdvantage Salmon.

By Katherine Kopfler, MSN ('13), dietetic intern, and Debra Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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