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Genetically modified-organisms [GMOs] have been a political issue lately, with several states voting whether or not to include them on food labels. Why? Many people fear that the increase in food allergies since the mid-‘90s is a direct result of the increase in GMOs. According to some sources, almost 80% of all processed food products contain GMOs. But is the widespread public fear rational weighted in misconception?

Are They Safe?

We spoke with UC Davis Professor Carl Winter, Extension Food Toxicologist and Vice Chair of the Department of Food Science and Technology. Winter maintains that GMOs are not responsible for an increase in food allergies and breakdown no differently than their non-GMO counterparts. “As a food toxicologist, I’m not aware of any evidence of harm,” he says. Furthermore, Winter’s findings align with the consensus of the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

How Are GMOs Used?

Popular forms of GMOs take place in corn, canola, and soy products. These products, such as oils and syrups, are found in many processed foods. “One major myth is GM crops are all over supermarket. Very few crops are commercialized from this,” says Winter. The most popular genetic modification to plants has been to build up a “natural” resistance to pests, rather than relying on spray pesticides. Other endeavors include taking anti-freeze genes from Atlantic salmon and inserting them into strawberries, allowing farmers to grow crops in previously unfavorable climates. With a projected worldwide population of 9 billion by 2050, Winter notes the methods such as genetic modification and cross-breeding are needed to increase food production.

Should They Be Labeled?

Winter understand the public concern of a new scientific approach, and mentions shady marketing techniques by large corporations have created large amounts of distrust. That said, he still insists that labeling products with GMOs would prove fruitless. “The FDA doesn’t consider GM foods to be substantially different, therefore labeling would serve no purpose. That’s a very controversial issue: If you have nothing to hide, then why not label? But then if you had to label, you’d have to segregate your production. It seems logical, but not necessarily financially practical.” The Food and Agriculture Organization of America also states, “Thus far, in those countries where transgenic crops have been grown, there have been no verifiable reports of them causing any significant health or environmental harm.” In the end, Winter concludes, “The right thing to do is still eat lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains period. We lose sight of things on these infinite levels." What's your opinion on the matter? Share in the comments below. Photo courtesy of: Alice Henneman
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