Fri. Oct 30th, 2020

The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Genetically modified products leave consumers worried

3 min read
I want to know what I am eating, where it comes from and how it will affect my body. And, for the most part, I do.


I want to know what I am eating, where it comes from and how it will affect my body. And, for the most part, I do.

I stick to organic fruits, vegetables, whole grains and free-range meats. I don’t eat anything with an ingredient list that takes multiple breaths to recite out loud or a scientist to help me pronounce.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a system in place for ingredient lists and organic labels. However, there is no law requiring that foods be labeled as genetically modifed (GM), and this is something I want to know before my weekly grocery store visit. Genetic engineering (GE), the process used to genetically modify foods, is a technique used on many crops in the U.S. It combines DNA in a lab to create a unique species that is not found in natural crossbreeding.

A laboratory experiment on mice found that some GM foods had “toxic effects on the small intestine, liver, kidney, spleen and pancreas,” as well as disturbances to the digestive system, according to a 2008 Livestock Science study. The study also warned that GM foods may be toxic or allergenic.

However, there have been no long-term animal tests for GM foods, and no long-term human testing to address the effects on health, so the health effects are still understudied and vastly unknown. For this reason, I want GM foods to be labeled. I am unwilling to donate my body for a long-term scientific study on the effects of GM foods on human health.

GM crops are different from selectively breeding crops, in which farmers speed up natural selection. Rather, GE leads to alterations in genetic makeup. This changes the biochemical makeup and proteins of the crops, the effects of which may cause “toxic or allergenic effects,” according to a 2012 study by Earth Open Source.

GM crops were created in order to increase crop yield. Monsanto and Syngenta, the two biggest biotechnology companies that modify seeds for crops, create produce that are resistant to herbicides, allowing farmers to spray chemicals on plants without killing them.

The top ten most genetically engineered crops include corn (88 percent), soy (94 percent), canola (90 percent), cotton (90 percent), papaya (more than 50 percent), zucchini and yellow summer squash (over 24,000 acres) and sugar beets (95 percent), according to the Institute for Responsible Technology.

Corn, soy, canola and cotton, in one form or another, are used in most processed foods sold in the U.S.

Currently, the FDA does not require that companies label whether or not their products are genetically modified. It is estimated that 75 percent of foods on grocery store shelves are GM, according to Stephanie Childs of the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

Another problem with GM crops, besides potentially harmful DNA changes, is that the plant is able to survive, despite being sprayed by a chemical fertilizer that would ordinarily kill it. Herbicides are dangerous to human health, not to mention the local soil, waterways and wildlife surrounding that become poisoned.

Last fall, the first attempt at labeling foods, Proposition 37, failed to pass in California. Ever since GM fish and apples went under FDA impending approval, talk is picking up again, especially in Washington and Vermont, about requiring labels.

Despite slow U.S. government reaction to labeling, Whole Foods Market announced last month that it plans to require all of its products to have labels if they are GM, due to consumer demand of their right to know where their food is from and how it’s made. However, the plan won’t go into effect until 2018, according to a Whole Foods Market news release.

Monsanto and other companies claim that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe, despite this lack of long-term studies. So why did Monsanto top the list as a financial backer for Proposition 37? If GM foods are safe, then food companies should have no problem labeling their products. All I am asking for is the right to transparency so I can make my own choice.

For now, as consumers, we can visit the Non GMO Project online before shopping to see what grocery store products and which restaurants are verified GMO-free. Also, check with local farmers at the market to ensure their produce is not GM. Since many processed products contain GMOs, we can also cook and bake at home to avoid GM ingredients. Beyond this, we must voice our concerns and urge the FDA to require labeling.

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