GMO Foods: Part 1
I felt like eating corn yesterday, it was more of a craving, actually, you know how it goes, suddenly all you can think about is a certain food… but I had none at home, it would have taken ages to order from a certified farm… so, shame on me, went to the supermarket. I was standing there, staring at the shelves stacked with like zillion cans and I thought to myself – well, corn is one of the most GMO-ed foods. But what exactly does that mean? So let`s talk a bit more about GMOs.
This is how Wikipedia defines GMO foods: “Genetically modified foods (GM foods, or biotech foods) are foods produced from organisms that have had specific changes introduced into their DNA using the methods of genetic engineering. These techniques have allowed for the introduction of new crop traits as well as a far greater control over a food's genetic structure than previously afforded by methods such as selective breeding and mutation breeding.“
They were first introduced to the market in 1994, and the first one was, much to my surprise, I don`t know why a tomato. Commercial sale of GMO foods began when Calgene first introduced their delayed ripening new tomato. From there the industry picked up and now is primarily focused on crops in high demand by farmers. These are corn, cotton seed, soybean. Why do they need genetic modifying?
Well, let`s see.
For faster growth, resistance to pathogens, extra nutrients, better looks… It is not just fruits and vegetables that have gone under the microscope, livestock have also been experimentally developed. Good that – for now and to the best of our knowledge– none are on the market. The broad scientific consensus is that GMO foods are of no greater danger to our health than conventional foods. In 2010, the European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation reported that "The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies."
However, the genetically modified foods controversy is a dispute involving consumers, biotechnology companies, governmental regulators, non-governmental organizations, and scientists. The discussions are centered around few key areas of concerns related to GMO foods and these are whether they should be labeled, the role of government regulators, the effect of GM crops on health and the environment, the effect on pesticide resistance, the impact of GM crops for farmers, and the role of GM crops in feeding the world population.
Organizations like Greenpeace say that risks of GM food have not been adequately identified and managed.
The objectivity of the official institutions has also been questioned. In Japan, the Consumers Union of Japan say that truly independent research in these areas is systematically blocked by the GM corporations which own the GM seeds and reference materials. Independence in research has been studied by a 2011 analysis into conflicts of interest which found a significant correlation between author affiliation to industry and study outcome in scientific work published on health risks or nutritional assessment studies of genetically modified products.
There are differences in the risk assessment of GM food, and therefore in the regulation of GMOs, between countries. Food derived from GMOs is not tested in humans before it is marketed as it is not a single chemical, nor is it intended to be ingested in specific doses and times, which makes it difficult to design meaningful clinical studies.
There are several obstacles to such studies: there is no plausible hypothesis to test; very little is known about the potential long-term effects of any foods; identification of such effects is further confounded by the great variability in the way people react to foods; and epidemiological studies are not likely to differentiate the health effects of GM foods from the many undesirable effects of conventional foods. Stay tuned for the next article on what studies have been published about GMO foods possible harm on human health and the environment.