When farmers plant their crops they generally worry
about three things that could prevent a good yield: insects, weeds and weather. Most of the GM crops grown around the world today address problems caused by insects or weeds (although some GMOs are currently being tested for enhanced nutrition). When it comes to insects, there are genetically modified plants that can repel only the very particular type of insect that feeds on it. With some crops, this has significantly lowered the need to apply pesticides. Other GM plants have been developed to be resistant to certain herbicides thus making weed control more straightforward and less expensive. Today, those who directly see the most benefits from GMOs are farmers and agricultural companies. As consumers, we probably donвt perceive direct benefits to ourselves just by picking the product up off the shelf (this may change in the future if the nutritional properties of plants are enhanced).
However, with many GM crops there are secondary benefits that shoppers are unlikely to be aware of by glancing at items in the aisle, such as: lower cost, less soil erosion (because tillage isnвt as necessary for weed control), less pesticide application and others. However, plants arenвt the only type of GMO that we use. GMOs are also used to produce many medicines and vaccines that help treat or prevent diseases. Before GMOs, many common medicines had to be extracted from blood donors, animal parts, or even cadavers. These medicines had a number of problems including the risk of transmission of diseases, inconsistent quality and unreliable supply. GMO medicines are more consistent and donвt carry the same contamination risk. How common are they in food? GMOs are widely used in food, especially in processed foods because staple crops such as soy beans and corn are nearly all modified.
The National Center for Food and Agricultureal Policy estimates that 85 percent of U. S. corn is genetically modified. Other widely modified crops include canola oil, alfalfa and sugar beets. What do U. S. regulators say? GMOs have been used in the U. S. food supply for about 20 years. The U. S. Department of Agriculture has deemed them safe. The U. S. Food and Drug Administration allows and regulates their use, noting on its website that, \”people have been modifying plants for thousands of years through breeding and selection. \” The FDA said it regulates food made from genetically engineered plants \”to help ensure that they are safe to eat. \” GMOs are not considered additives, meaning new modified crops can be created without seeking approval. What do critics say? Critics say genetic engineering disrupts the precise sequence of a food s genetic code and disturbs the functions of other genes in the organism, possibly altering the nutritional value of the food or creating toxic or allergenic molecules.
They claim more research is needed. Critics also claim GMOs, which are often designed for herbicide intolerance, have led to higher levels of herbicide use. How do other countries handle GMOs? The European Union requires genetically modified foods — including plants and animals — to be tested and labeled. Some European countries, such as Switzerland, Austria and Hungary ban them, while others regulate specifc crops. Japan, New Zeland and parts of Australia also ban plants and animals with GMOs. Counties in California and in other parts of the United States are considering bans. Are U. S. GMO foods labeled? There has been a movement to require food companies to label products that contain GMOs. Companies have fought labels, citing cost and difficulty. Companies also argue that GMOs are safe and labeling may cause consumers to unecessarily fear GMOs.
That said, some producers do label, putting \”Non-GMO Project Verified\” seal on some foods. And, some retailers plan to label. Whole Foods Market said it plans to have labeling on all foods with GMOs by 2018 in the United States. How do you avoid GMOs? It may not be possible to completely avoid GMOs, but to limit them, choose organic products, especially fruits and vegetables. All organic foods sold in the U. S. must be certified according to the USDA National Organic Standards, which prohibit the use of GMOs. Look at the barcode on produce stickers. A four-digit code means the product was \”conventionally grown. \” A five-digit code that starts with a \”9\” means that the product was organically grown. A five-digit code that starts with an \”8\” means that the product was genetically modified. — Tribune staff report