The topic of genetically engineered food is hot right now. There is a debate between food labeling advocacy groups and large food industry producers over the need to label foods that are genetically engineered (GE). The term GMO (genetically modified organism) refers to a food that has been genetically engineered. The following points can help clarify what the debate is about and why it may be important to your family to be informed.
What is a GE or a GMO?
These terms are essentially interchangeable. A genetically engineered food has had foreign DNA bred into the plant (or animal, although at this point GMOs are all crops), which results in DNA that would not otherwise naturally occur in that food. The goal of genetic engineering from an agricultural standpoint is to produce crops that tolerate pesticides or to breed pesticides into the crops. Virtually all genetically engineered seeds contain viral or antibiotic DNA (or both).
What foods are GMOs?
GMO foods include sweet corn, zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and papaya from most parts of Hawaii. Other crops include those used to make corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, canola for canola oil, cotton for cottonseed oil and livestock feed, soy and corn for minor processing ingredients. There are many more GE crops and animals that are in development now.
What is the concern about GMO foods?
The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has never said that consuming GMOs is safe. There have not been any long term safety studies done on GMOs by the FDA or any government agency. Some consumers and other advocacy groups are concerned about the potential effects of ingesting viral and/or antibiotic DNA and food genetically engineered to contain pesticides. Consumers have long been consuming GMOs in foods every day that they most likely were unaware contained GMOs. Currently there are bills being introduced to require GMO labeling on foods so that people can make an informed decision about their food purchases. Examples include SB-1666 in Illinois and I-522 in Washington. Similar labeling laws have been passed in Alaska, Connecticut, and Maine; and 60+ other countries already label GE foods.
How can I avoid consuming GMOs?
All foods that are certified organic do not contain GMOs. Eating less processed foods in general will decrease exposure to GMOs. Also, read food labels and look to avoid ingredients such as those listed in the second bullet point section above.
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