The concept of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs is a consistently confusing one, even to the savviest of consumers. What really are they anyway? Are they ALL bad for our health? Is any amount of genetically modified food ok for daily consumption?
We’ve compiled some of the best information we could, to hopefully give our patients a better grasp on this puzzling debate.
What is a GMO?
A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is a plant, animal or other oganism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory. These organisms that have had their DNA changed in a way that does not happen naturally. Any living organism can be genetically modified, but there are strict laws against the creation of genetically modified humans, while the production and distribution of other GMOs is tightly regulated.
Common examples of GMOs are genetically modified crops used in agriculture (where the crop seed is genetically modified), and genetically modified organisms used in medical research.
In 1998, a lawsuit was filed by the Center for Food Safety, to which the FDA responded that there were “no dispositive scientific findings” with regards to the safety, or lack thereof, of genetically modified foods. The FDA has therefore allowed the biotech industry to regularly produce and market GMOs without supervision or testing to show that the foods are safe to consume.
It is important to remember that in nature, when organisms mate and DNA is mixed, or when DNA is copied and mutated naturally, it is not considered a GMO.
Why do we make GMOs?
GMOs are generally made for medical, environmental, or commercial reasons.
What are the negative aspects to genetically modified crops?
Genetically modified crops are associated with an increased use of chemicals, like glyphosate, that are toxic to the environment and to humans. Unfortunately, these chemicals not only contaminate our food and water supplies, but they also compromise soil quality.
It is also possible that genetically engineering food can transfer allergens from foods to which people know they are allergic, to foods that they think are safe.
Thirdly, GMOs could make disease-causing bacteria resistant to current antibiotics, resulting in a significant increase in the spread of infections and diseases in the human population.
It is uncertain whether or not genetic modification will alter the nutritional value of a consumable item.
Are there benefits to genetically modifying crops?
Genetically modified crops can help to solve issues concerning hunger or limited access to food, environmental sustainability problems and help to feed a continuously increasing global population. Genetic engineering can help to breed crops that resist drought, diseases, and insect pests, which means farmers can achieve higher yields from the crops they grow, subsequently generating extra income.
Since it is possible to have peanuts with reduced levels of the carcinogen aflatoxin or wheat without gluten, GMOs can alter negative health consequences.
By genetically increasing a crop’s resistance to insects, the use of harmful insecticides can decrease.
Certain crops have been modified to increase shelf life, which in turn also reduces the need to purchase this fresh produce as often, helping people to save money and reduce waste.
Highly processed foods (e.g. baked goods, pre-packaged items and convenience foods, etc which are often made from corn, soy, sugar beets, and other crops that are genetically engineered) are generally considered unhealthy, however, the manufacturing process is the step that decreases health and nutrition, not the origin of the ingredients.
How do I know if my produce has been genetically modified?
The chart above can help you determine the difference between an organic, conventional, or GMO item.
BUT, try your best to keep highly processed deli meats to a minimum. They may fall within the “protein” group, but the unhealthy salt, fat and preservatives in lunch meats like salami, bologna, soppressata, etc. are not recommended for daily consumption.
We all want the best for our kids, and we want to make mealtime as fun as possible while giving them the healthiest (and quickest) lunches we can. For more information on healthy eating, contact us for a free consultation with a Registered Dietitian today!
In summation, although there is no black and white answer to whether or not you should permit genetically modified foods into your meals, but sticking with whole, unprocessed foods in general is always a better choice than packaged or processed foods.
If you have further questions on the GMO debate, or even need help with your overall nutrition, don’t hesitate to contact us today.