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To GMO, or Not to GMO? — an article on the Smart Living Network
May 7, 2009 at 9:12 AMComments: 2 Faves: 0

To GMO, or Not to GMO?

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Using genetically modified organisms (GMO) as food is increasingly common in our society. GMOs are the result of combining the genes of different organisms, usually for the purpose of improving quality, quantity, and sustainability of sources such as plants and animals. You may have also heard the terms "genetically engineered" or "transgenic" to describe this process. The question here is whether or not this seeming improvement is truly beneficial, or if it will lead to greater problems in the future. The reason for the uncertainty is that the practice has not really been around long enough for us to know how it will affect life after several generations. Is it possible that interfering with the genetics of our food will disrupt our own genetic makeup? A study out of the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety has already confirmed that genetically modified corn can hinder the reproductive health of mice. Other studies suggest that rats, mice, buffalo, and pigs might experience damaged sperm cells, sterility, premature births, low birth rates, or death after eating GMOs. Consider the following statements made by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho of the Institute of Science in Society: "The genome is remarkably dynamic and 'fluid', and constantly in conversation with the environment. This determines which genes are turned on, when, where, by how much and for how long. Moreover, the genetic material itself could also be marked or changed according to experience, and the influence passed on to the next generation."

Ho goes on to say, "The rogue genes inserted into a genome to make a GMO could land anywhere; typically in a rearranged or defective form, scrambling and mutating the host genome, and have the tendency to move or rearrange further once inserted, basically because they do not know the dance of life. That's ultimately why genetic modification doesn't work and is also dangerous." According to the Human Genome Project, 252 million acres of GMO crops (mostly soybean, corn, cotton, canola, and alfalfa) were planted in 22 different countries in 2006. Among the benefits they list are:

  • Crops
    • Enhanced taste and quality
    • Increased nutrients, yields, and stress tolerance
    • Improved resistance to disease, pests, and herbicides
  • Animals
    • Increased resistance, productivity, hardiness, and feed efficiency
    • Better yields of meat, eggs, and milk
  • Environment
    • "Friendly" (their quotation marks) bioherbicides and bioinsecticides
    • Conservation of soil, water, and energy
    • Better natural waste management
  • Society
    • Increased food security for growing populations

Most of these factors look good at first glance. Of course, the same web page goes on to state these drawbacks:

  • Safety
    • Potential human health impacts, including allergens, transfer of antibiotic resistance markers, unknown effects
    • Potential environmental impacts, including: unintended transfer of transgenes through cross-pollination, unknown effects on other organisms (e.g., soil microbes), and loss of flora and fauna biodiversity
  • Access and Intellectual Property
    • Domination of world food production by a few companies
    • Increasing dependence on industrialized nations by developing countries
    • Biopiracy, or foreign exploitation of natural resources
  • Ethics
    • Violation of natural organisms' intrinsic values
    • Tampering with nature by mixing genes among species
    • Objections to consuming animal genes in plants and vice versa
    • Stress for animal
  • Labeling
    • Not mandatory in some countries (e.g., United States)
    • Mixing GM crops with non-GM products confounds labeling attempts
  • Society
    • New advances may be skewed to interests of rich countries

Sound like a socially, economically, heathfully, or environmentally fair trade off? The bottom line is that we just don't know what might happen. In the meantime, pay attention to where your food comes from, and how it was raised. You communicate with grocers and food manufacturers with your dollars and purchases. If the people who supply GMOs start seeing drops in their profits, it could force them to alter how they produce your food. You deserve to know what you're eating. Try sticking to basic, organic food that was grown as nature intended, even if that means slightly smaller tomatoes or chickens. The smaller portions might even turn out to be a good thing!

Sources:

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/12/06/major-threat-to-human-fertility-and-very-existence-of-human-life-on-earth.aspx
http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/gmfood.shtml

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2 Comments

  • Hi Jan. Check this link out for more info:

    http://www.republicmagazine.com/magazines/issue13/#/45/

    Enjoy!

  • Do I really need to make the case for local produce? Just in case, check out this piece on GMO’s. Knowing and supporting the source of your food is key.

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