The field of genetics is no stranger to controversy. Ideas of cloned sheep and designer babies have been stirring up provocative headlines for quite some time, but what about the genetic creations that are working their way into our everyday lives as we speak? Genetically Modified Foods often referred to as GMOs, have come under media fire for their lack of identification and labeling from the government. While some of us have cemented strong opinions on GMOs, most of us don’t even know where to begin in understanding these creations.
What is a GMO?
Let’s start by clarifying what a GMO actually is. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. The use of the word “organism” is pretty broad here and can apply to a number of genetic creations like mice that glow in the dark, salmon that grow twice as fast, or even cows that fart less. Where GMOs are causing the biggest fuss though is in the grocery store with genetically modified crops. These crops are carefully produced by taking a desired gene and inserting it into the chromosomal DNA of a parent crop, resulting in a new, genetically modified plant. The techniques used to implant genes are really just a more modern way of what we, as humans, have been doing for thousands of years. Selective breeding practices were used by our ancestors to create almost all the foods we know and love today. Genetic engineering of crops allows for us to achieve the exact product we want in a fraction of the time. While modification of crops seems like news, according to paleoarchaeology findings, domestication began over 10,000 years ago.
What can GMOs do for us?
Genetically modified foods can generally feed a lot of people, sometimes more than a non-modified food. One of the biggest challenges in modern agriculture is finding ways to optimize crop yield to feed our ever-growing population. GMO crops have been shown to produce 1.7 times more food than traditional crops , allowing for less land having to be devoted to agriculture. Sustainable agriculture practices like this lead to more food as well as a healthier planet; it’s a win-win.
Additionally, GMOs can be altered to be potentially more nutritious. Take for example The Golden Rice Project. Many of the regions that use rice as the cornerstone of their cuisine also struggle with vitamin A deficiency, a deficiency that can lead to things like blindness, stunted growth, and a weakened immune system . The scientists who engineered golden rice were able to increase its vitamin A content, allowing malnourished people around the world to get their daily dose. For those who support golden rice, the crop offers enormous potential for eliminating as many as two million deaths each year from vitamin A deficiency, which mainly impacts young children and pregnant women. Opponents have major concerns of the role biotech giants play in GMO lobbying, and fear the relatively expensive proposal of nutrient-enriched rice could take funding away from cheaper, more pragmatic solutions.
Not all GMOs are created for such a noble cause though; some are simply created to perfect things like texture or appearance. The Flavr Savr tomato, commonly found in grocery stores across the nation, is simply a tomato that stays riper longer and generally just tastes better than it’s non-modified counterpart . Regardless of the nature of the modification, genetic modification can go a long way in how we produce and improve the foods we know and love.
What does the research on GMOs say?
The safety of using GMOs has been a topic of debate amongst consumers. Approximately 3,000 studies have been conducted on GMOs, and a meta-analysis shows that about half of these studies have concluded that GMOs are safe for both humans and livestock . This means that the other half state the opposite or are inconclusive. There have been key risk factors pointed out by scientists regarding the interaction between GMOs and pesticides. Some GMOs have been altered to be resistant to traditional herbicides, meaning that farming corporations can spray their crops with products like Roundup without causing harm to the crop itself. With higher use of herbicides in conjunction with herbicide-resistant plants, we may be putting ourselves at risk. Luckily, the FDA has very rigid rules and regulations that need to be followed before a pesticide or GMO can be put on the market. As we continue to study GMOs and report their findings to the FDA, we’re sure to come up with even more benefits and precautions that need to be taken to ensure our safety.
But isn't all the research being done by the Agricultural Industry, and isn't the research biased?
As we said above, about half is industry funded. According to GMO Answers, "Those who follow the issue of genetically engineered crops have heard claims that there is little independent research on their safety for consumption or the environment. A new public database of research tells a different story. The resource is the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas (GENERA). The results, represented on the graphic below jointly developed by Biology Fortified, Inc. (BFI), an independent tax-exempt non-profit and Jon Entine's the Genetic Literacy Project, show that independent peer-reviewed research on GMOs is common, conducted worldwide, and based on a random sampling makes up half of the total of all research on risks associated with genetic engineering.
GENERA is a searchable database of peer-reviewed scientific studies on the relative risks of genetically engineered crops. The database includes important details at-a-glance to help people find and learn about the science of GMOs. GENERA has now entered its beta-testing phase with the first 400 out of over 1,200 studies that have been curated."
We suggest you do your own research. There is a lot of tangible information from those who support GMOs and from those who do not and both have key points of worthy discussion. However you may feel about GMOs, it is still important to make sure you are getting the right amounts of macronutrients from your foods. With an AGS Health & Wellness Genetic Test, you can explore your genetic makeup and see how it shapes the way your body interacts with the world around you and helps guide your health choices even further. No gene editing required!
To learn more about AGS’s Health & Wellness Genetic Test and what it can do for you, click the button to download our free brochure.