The debate: GMO vs. NON-GMO
By Chef Marie-Annick Courtier – March 21, 2017
Lately, many people have inquired about the safety of GMO foods to me. Considering the massive information, including misinformation, I must say that I was overwhelmed by the endless material. I certainly understand the confusion many feel these days. I will briefly attempt to give you some of the facts I found on both sides of the GMO battle. Hopefully, it will help you decide if eating GMO foods is for you!
Just as a reminder, according to Wikipedia, a genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques (i.e., a genetically engineered organism). The science of GMO is used to produce many new medications, genetically modified foods, animal and other goods. While nature has its own natural selection system, humans have domesticated plants and animals since 12,000 BCE, using selective breeding or artificial selection. No doubt, genetics and DNA researches will continue to advance technologies, food supplies and lives in the future.
While many developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe, the US and Canada governments do. The majority of GMO crops produced in the US are corn, soy, rapeseed, canola, cotton and sugar beet. Up to 90% of those crops grown are genetically modified. Most packaged foods in the US contain ingredients derived from GMO. While 84% of people support mandatory label for food containing GMO, one may wonder if labelling such foods is still really needed, considering such facts. Let us look now at a few comments on both sides of the debate.
Many people from the scientific, medical and farming communities feel that GMO is safe to our environment, health, life and food chain.
According to the latest studies conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; no safety reasons justify labeling GMO in food. Extensive research on the safety of GMO crops over the past 10 years, have shown no clear impacts on human health. The American Medical Association stated GMO foods are fine, based on almost 20 years of research, as no clear impacts on human health have been reported or confirmed in professional journals. Furthermore, no links where find between eating GMO crops and the rates of allergies, cancer, sterility, kidney disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, celiac disease and many other immune system disorders. Following a 2015 Pew Poll, 88% of scientists believe that eating GMO food is safe. The World Health Organization agrees too. There is also reasonable evidence that animals were not harmed by eating food derived from GMO crops. Epidemiological data show no increase in cancer nor any other health problems. GMO do not appear to be harmful to the environment either.
Here are some GMO benefits mentioned by its supporters:
GMO helps create more nutritive foods which would provide healthier benefits. Some examples: “Golden Rice" a type of rice genetically engineered to increase its beta-carotene content which could help prevent vision loss or blindness in developing nations. Meat boosted omega-3 fatty acids which could help prevent heart disease, stroke, may protect against cancer and other conditions.
GMO brought new pest-resistant crops such as Monsanto's "Bt corn" which is equipped with a gene from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which produces Bt toxin-a pesticide that breaks open the stomach of certain insects and kills them. As a result, farmers use less pesticides which is beneficial to humans.
New herbicides are being created for GMO crops. By example, Glyphosate is believed to be safer than coffee or table salt.
GMO will help double food production which will be needed by 2050, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
GMO will prevent higher food prices in the future, considering the production of higher yield crops.
GMO decreases carbon dioxide, as less forests and pastures are used by farmers.
GMO crops will better protect human health and better feed the world in the future.
Before we explore the opposite side, I must mention that it appears that many studies that promote GMO safety were conducted by the same corporations who created GMO products in the first place. GMO are also a direct extension of chemical agriculture which are developed and sold by the world’s biggest chemical companies. The fact that the same corporations have a financial influence over our political and scientific systems cannot be overlooked either.
A growing number of people from the scientific, medical and farming communities feel that GMO is a serious threat to our environment, health, life and food chain.
Per the Non-GMO Project, a comprehensive review of peer-reviewed animal feeding studies of GMOs, found roughly an equal number of research groups raising concerns about GM foods and those suggesting GMOs were as safe and nutritious as conventional foods.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) urged doctors to prescribe Non-GMO diets for all patients. They cite animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging and infertility. The American Public Health and American Nurses Association are among many medical groups that condemn the use of GM bovine growth hormone, because the milk from the treated cows has more of the hormone IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) which is linked to cancer.
Furthermore, studies have shown a growing evidence of health risks associated with herbicides, pesticides and possibly GMO crops. Among the health problems reported by The Institute of Responsible Technology, Non-GMO Project, GMO.org and other organizations were infertility, birth defect, immune disorders, allergies, major organs changes, cancer such as Leukemia, Autism, Alzheimer and gastrointestinal issues.
A study published in the US National Library of Medicine and in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology shows how several recent studies illustrate glyphosate’s potential to be an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with the hormone system in mammals. These disruptors can cause developmental disorders, birth defects and cancer tumors. Evidence shows that Roundup was recently found to be 125 times more toxic than regulators claims.
Researchers also found that GM crops may pass on certain properties to plants under the same family through cross pollination. Pesticides specifically designed for GMO crops can be particularly toxic to some species, and by introducing exotic genes and organisms into the environment may ultimately affect negatively the ecosystems.
Farmers and their workers have seen an increase in various health issues from allergies to cancer. That said, it is not that clear that those health issues are caused either by GMO, herbicides or pesticides. There is also evidence of environmental degradation to soil and water.
MY FINAL COMMENTS
Now that you are aware of both sides of the debate, I will give you my thoughts. My understanding is that consensus on GMO safety is far from being there which troubles me. I am all for scientific research and development, after all we are all living longer thanks to the progress of sciences and medicine. I am for scientific findings that have been reproduced many times and by impartial scientists, so trustworthy findings can be established. I am also not ready to give full freedom to our scientists, politicians and corporations over the control of our food chain, as their motives have not always been in our best interest.
Like many, I am not sure I can trust findings and reports from either side and that is a real problem. Not clearly knowing the reasonable effects on our health and the environment, nor the potential consequences GMOs could have on future generations is problematic. Since I always find the middle road to be wise, I must continue to recommend eating organic. Caution dictates the maintenance of a safe and sustainable alternative to GMO. Choosing organic is one control we still have over our food chain and environment. Shopping from local organic farm and cooking from scratch remain the best way to control what is in our plate, our local economy and our health.
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