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Genetically Modified Foods

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Golden rice (compared to white rice) is produced through genetic engineering.

Although the issue has become a hotly debated topic lately, Genetic Modified Foods (GM foods, or GMOs) have been around for thousands of years. Early man used the technique to engineer better, food-producing crops to feed his family. Lacking the technologically advanced methods of today’s corporations, our ancestors used a process called splicing. Under this process the weaker resulting seeds were discarded and the stronger ones retained. This process was repeated until the desired results were achieved. Take corn, for example. In its original form, corn was nothing more than a skimpy grass with slender shoots and a few kernels. Hardly the type of food you would choose to feed to your family.

But our earliest ancestors recognized the potential of this flimsy weed and, having been versed in the process of genetically altering crops, they patiently manipulated the genes of this weed until it became the wholesome grain we have today. However, the process employed by our ancestors was far different from that used by today’s huge agricultural labs. Back then, the slow, methodical process of manipulating the plant’s genes took many years to produce the product we have today.

Now, however, genetic scientist can accomplish in a very short period of time what it took our ancestors years to accomplish. Using a process called transgenes, scientists are able to take the gene from one plant and place in another, creating a whole new species of plant. Moreover, they now have the ability to transfer the genetic material from one plant species to another.

Proponents of this type of gene manipulation tout the potential benefits genetic modifications have for mankind. For example, transferring the genetic material from one plant species to another could result in more insect resistant crops. That, in turn, could mean less pesticides and, therefore, bigger and more abundant harvests. In addition, genetic manipulation has the potential to produce crops that can thrive in areas with little rainfall, reducing the need for irrigation. Indeed, the potential that GMOs hold out for farmers seems very promising—on the surface, that is. But, it is that unknown that worries critics of the program.

Opponents, for their part, remain unimpressed by the bright outlook promised by the corporations. They argue that not enough testing has been done to determine the long-term effects of GMO’s on the human body. There have already been tests conducted that produced very worrisome results. In one such test, mice were fed a constant diet of food containing GMOs. Those mice soon developed unsightly tumors on their bodies. And, of course, as damaging as this evidence appears to be, it is quickly dismissed by the big corporations as being unreliable.

With money driving the demand by corporations for greater leeway in the production of GMOs, consumers have a right to be concerned. They fear that the corporations may be more concerned about their bottom line than the public health. Their fears appear to be warranted since these same corporations so adamantly oppose any labeling requirements that would alert the consumer that a product contains GMOs.

Surprisingly, opposition to such labeling is not a global phenomenon. Most industrialized countries like Brazil and China have already adopted laws requiring the labeling of foods that contain GMOs. Some, like Greece, have even outlawed the process altogether; the United States and Canada being the only two holdouts in the Western world.

It is obvious by their actions that these countries still have some reservations about the consumption of GMOs; which makes it even more baffling that a country like the United States would take the concerns of its citizens so likely; especially when it has an agency empowered to protect the health of it its citizens: the FDA. Yet, and as difficult as this may be to comprehend, the FDA seems more interested in protecting the rights of these huge corporations to make money, than people’s health.

With the Government seemingly too impotent, or unwilling, to protect the people from any potential dangers that GMOs may hold, the only recourse left for them is to take matters into their own hands and protect themselves. To start with, they can stop eating foods that contain GMOs. But how can they when they have no way of knowing which foods contain GMOs? Well, the answer to that question may surprise you. It has been estimated that upward of 90% of the foods in America contain GMOs. So, Americans may have been oblivious to it, they are the largest consumers of genetically modified foods in the world.

The first sign that America was the world’s largest consumer of GMOs is that it also leads the world in obesity. But what does obesity have to do with GMOs? Well, as it turns out, the majority of GMO ingredients are the same ingredients found in junk food. And, statistically, Americans consume more junk food than any other country in the world. So, if you’ve been eating a lot of junk food, you’ve also been consuming a lot of GMOs.

Genetically Modified Crops in the U.S.

Presently, there are nine crops in the U.S. that are legally produced as genetically modified crops. They are: corn, canola, cotton, soybeans, yellow squash, papaya, alfalfa, sugar beets, zucchini, and yellow squash. At first glance, it may appear that keeping up with genetically modified foods and avoiding them would be easy. But, looks can sometimes be deceiving. In fact, the ingredients of these foods are so prevalent that one would be hard pressed to avoid them. They can be found in almost every processed food in the country.

Take corn, for example: Ingredients, or derivatives, from this single grain can be found in almost every product in the world. It is the high fructose corn syrup found in products like soft drinks, chewing gum, and ice cream. How many of you have chewed a stick of gum and wondered whether they were consuming GMOs?

In addition, there are literally hundreds of brands of cereal made from corn on your grocery store shelves and they all contain GMOs. And, every day millions of unsuspecting parents feed them to their children. How many of them would do so if knew these products contained GMOs? But that’s not all. Those crispy corn chips and crunchy tortilla chips you love so much are both made from corn flour. Now you’re thinking there’s no getting around this stuff. Well, that thought may be closer to the truth than you think. Even if you find foods that are not genetically modified, you may still be susceptible if you cook those foods in corn oil.

And all this time you’ve been worried about food additives. Well, even if you went back to eating foods that contain a lot of additives to get away from GMOs, you still wouldn’t be able to get away from corn and its derivatives. Corn is actually the source of many of those derivatives. In fact, additives like corn starch, xanthium gum, dextrose and citric acid are all derived from corn. Even the dreaded monosodium glutamate (Better known as MSGs) is derived from this ubiquitous grain.

Like corn, soybeans can be found in a whole host of processed foods. Health foods like tofu and soy milk are made from soybeans. But, since you’re not dieting, then you don’t have to worry, right? Wrong. Soybean oil is widely used for frying and can also be found in foods like margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressings and non-dairy coffee creamers. In fact, if you examine the labeling, you’ll find that just about every processed food in the world has soybean oil in it.

Canola oil and cottonseed oil are primarily used in frying. Industrial kitchens like those at your favorite fast-food restaurant rely heavily on these products. So, the next time you super-size that order of fries you can bet it contains ingredients from one of these GMO sources. In addition, those light and thin potato chips you love so much are also cooked in these oils. In fact, all commercially fried foods are likely to contain GMOs since they will have probably been fried in corn, soybean, canola, or cotton seed oil—all derived from genetically modified crops. Admittedly, the prospect of finding any foods that don’t contain ingredients derived from GMO crops is looking bleak. But, there is a way around it: purchase organic foods. Or, buy natural cooking oils like coconut and olive oil and prepare your favorite foods at home. This route may be a little more expensive than the traditional way, but the peace of mind, and health benefits you receive from knowing you are eating MGO-free food, far exceeds any expenditure you make.

Now we come to sugar beets. Surely there can’t be any harm in eating foods that use products derived from sugar beets? But, unfortunately, there is. Sugar beets are a GMO crop, and in addition is one of the world’s two main sources of sugar. Therefore, any processed foods that have sugar as an ingredient probably have GMOs in it. About the only way to be sure that it doesn’t is to buy only products that has 100% cane sugar written on the label; or buy organic sugar.

With GMO foods so prevalent in our society, it is no wonder that the large corporations are dead set against any changes in the status quo. GMO produced seeds has become a multi-billion business and the corporations that produce them know that if labeling becomes mandatory, almost all of the foods in the grocery store will be labeled as containing GMOs. In fact, about the only foods that wouldn’t be labeled as such are the ones that you typically fine along the store’s walls, like the fruits-and-vegetables section. In fact, it might be a good idea to do your shopping in these areas—buy fresh fruits and vegetables—if you really want to avoid foods that have been genetically modified.

Just how did the large corporations manage to flood the market with these products without the people’s knowledge or consent anyway? Shouldn’t there have been some type of Government oversight in place to protect the consumer? Well, as stated above, there is: the FDA. But they were either asleep on the job, or in cahoots with the corporations because there is a definite process corporations must go through before getting approval for any genetically modified seed they develop.

Using what is undoubtedly a lengthy and costly process corporations develop new strains of their genetically engineered seeds in the laboratory. Once the new seed is perfected and the engineers are satisfied that the product has met all of their specifications, they petition the Government for permission to conduct field tests. If the field tests are successful, the corporation must once again petition the Government for approval to market the seed commercially. Once this is done, mass production begins and those same genetically modified seeds are sold to farmers all over the country.

Now, this is no new phenomenon. The government has granted rights for the production of GMOs since 1994. Yet, opposition to GMOs hadn’t been able to gain any real traction until recently; probably because they have been effectively kept out of the loop until now. But, the chorus of voices against GMOs is growing and the present administration is feeling the pressure. Recently, more than 200 private organizations joined with Congress to demand that the president keeps his campaign promise to make labeling of all GMO foods mandatory. It will be interesting to see how the president responds.

As of now, the two sides seem to be at loggerheads. However, the corporations are the winner in any stalemate since they can proceed full-speed ahead without any legal repercussions. They have managed to assimilate GMOs into our agricultural system so effectively that extracting it seems almost impossible. They may be one reason that there is not an equally loud call for the complete removal of GMOs from our food supply. Such a move would be impractical at this time.

So, opponents of GMOs are left with trying to limit the damage that genetically modified foods can cause by demanding that the corporations stop the secrecy and let the people know exactly what’s in our food supply.

Food | Agriculture


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