By Marlena Norwood
As we have seen, our food supply is inundated with GMO’s. Rather than looking at GMO’s as black and white, it is more accurate to take them organism-by-organism – considering the pros and cons affiliated with each.
One caveat: GMO’s, by their nature, involve messing with evolution. Even when a GMO has not demonstrated adverse effects in the short term, the question of long-term impacts – to human health and to all of nature – of artificially changing the DNA of life forms deserves strong caution.
Corn and Bacillus Thuringiensis
Genetic modification of crops is often used to replace pesticides. Lots of our corn has been genetically engineered to contain the bacteria Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) that acts as a pesticide by killing any insect that ingests it.
Even though the corn is not being sprayed with Bt pesticide, Bt is still being produced and therefore ingested into the digestive system. Bt is a toxin that is believed to lead to food intolerance. Some argue that Bt is naturally broken down by our digestive system, however studies have found very high levels present in pregnant women and their babies.
Soy and Monsanto’s Roundup
One of the biggest controversies surrounding Monsanto is their use of “Roundup Ready” crops. Monsanto has created an herbicide – glyphosate – and genetically engineered crops to be resistant to glyphosate.
GM crops, especially soy, sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup have been found to contain extremely high levels of glyphosate. Scientific studies have linked consumption of glyphosate to many health problems including gastrointestinal disorders and heart disease.
GM Oranges to Fight Disease
Genetically modified oranges may be the only hope for orange juice lovers. Over the past few years, Florida oranges have been ravaged by a disease outbreak. Florida orange growers have tried everything to save their crops, but the future is grim – losing 9% of their total crop yield per year.
Genetically modifying oranges to be resistant to the disease is possible but controversial. Many people don’t like the idea of drinking GM orange juice. In scientific studies so far, the specific genetic modification has shown no adverse health effects. If long-term environmental and health affects are minimal, it could be the saving grace for Florida oranges.
Golden Rice and Vitamin A
Genetically modifying for nutritional enhancement has philanthropic appeal, especially in the case of Vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. The Gates Foundation has endorsed “Golden Rice,” rice that glows a yellow/golden hue due to the seeds being modified to produce a large amount of Vitamin A through the beta-Carotene molecule. Golden Rice has the potential to decrease malnutrition worldwide, but only if people can accept eating genetically modified rice.
These are just a few examples of GMO’s that have negatively or positively affected our health and our environment. As you have seen, simply being a “GMO” doesn’t necessarily mean that the food has been demonstrated to be bad or harmful. It does no good to rule out all GMO’s just because they are genetically modified or “unnatural.” And yet, again due to the uncertainty around the long-term impacts of changing the natural course of evolution, we urge caution.
And, there are definitely ones to stay away from – even to advocate against.
What can you do?
- Sign a petition to ban glyphosate used in agriculture – therefore banning Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GM crops and glyphosate pesticide combo — (there are many, but here’s one that needs to get to 200 signatures and here’s one addressed to the EPA
- Read up on the Florida orange article and decide if you want to support GMO’s that have obvious benefits that outweigh hypothetical costs, like in the case of Florida oranges.
- Research the kinds of GMO’s that you are eating: be cautious about buying GMO’s, but understand that for some GMO’s, there’s not much to fret about.