When it comes to food science, I often think of what food will be like in twenty, fifty or even a hundred years. I wonder about the quality of food available for my children, future grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I question whether that food is going to be good for their health or not. And at the very least, if they will have the right to know what is in the food they consume.
Like me, many people are also raising questions and concerns about the quality of our food today, in particular Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Today, the majority of the foods found on supermarket shelves are not only highly processed and laden with artificial ingredients, but are often genetically modified. GMOs are essentially plants and animals that have had their genetic material (DNA) altered in a way that does not occur naturally. GMOs are created using processes that do not occur naturally, which poses questions about their safety, and their introduction into the environment is irreversible.
Over the years some people, including those in the scientific community, have raised concern over GMOs and their potential harm to health. Concerns such as:
- Genetically engineered crops could bring (and some scientists believe they have already brought) new allergens into foods that sensitive individuals would not know to avoid.
- Genetic engineering often uses genes for antibiotic resistance as "selectable markers." The presence of antibiotic-resistance genes in foods could have two harmful effects. First, eating these foods could reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics to fight disease when these antibiotics are taken with meals. Second, the resistance genes could be transferred to human or animal pathogens, making them impervious to antibiotics.
- Many organisms have the ability to produce toxic substances. For plants, such substances help to defend stationary organisms from the many predators in their environment. Addition of new genetic material through genetic engineering could reactivate these inactive pathways or otherwise increase the levels of toxic substances within the plants.
- Some of the new genes being added to crops can remove heavy metals like mercury from the soil and concentrate them in the plant tissue.
- GMOs’ unknown harm to health. As with any new technology, the full set of risks associated with genetic engineering have almost certainly not been identified. The ability to imagine what might go wrong with a technology is limited by the currently incomplete understanding of physiology, genetics, and nutrition.
As concerns about food safety and GMOs intensify, Down to Earth has joined the Non-GMO Project to give consumers the right to choose what foods to eat and feed their families. Whether or not GMOs are safe is still in question. Our right to know what is in the food we are buying and our right to choose our preferred food should not be usurped for any reason. So if you are concerned about the effects of GMOs on your health and the health of your loved ones, the best thing you can do is choose non-GMO products. The new “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal on retail products is an excellent means to identify products that are safe. You can read more in this months Feature Article about Down to Earth’s part in the new Non-GMO Project and the benefits it can bring to you.