If you recently bought any boxed item from the grocery store, you more than likely ate something with GMOs in it. More than 90 percent of U.S. corn, cotton and soybeans are GMOs, and an estimated 75 percent of processed foods contain GMOs. In Dallas, many of our local restaurants are jumping on the non-GMO bandwagon and marketing their use of non-GMO products. Next time your waiter or waitress boasts of their restaurant’s GMO standards, jump in the conversation with your new GMO understanding.
GMOs are genetically modified organisms, meaning that the genetic makeup is added to or altered. DNA lies in nearly every cell in our body and codes for proteins for everything from our hair and its color to how tall we are and everything in between. Altering the genetic makeup or DNA, programs the plant or animal to make a new protein. Recently, scientists have made many advancements in genetic engineering to improve our medical health and agriculture systems. Genetic engineering is complex yet somehow simple technology, carried out in a variety of methods, which can be classified into the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Genetic engineering itself has amazing capabilities and can save lives in simple ways. Advancements in human health such as edible vaccines — the potential to immunize people around the world against many infectious diseases. The most common positive example of GMOs used is rice genetically altered to contain Vitamin A, to combat the millions of lives lost to a Vitamin A deficiency. Or watch the short, inspiring TED talk from biotech scientist Pamela Ronald, whose husband is an organic farmer, who worked for 15 years to develop a flood-tolerant rice through genetic engineering, to save the livelihood of thousands amidst a changing climate.
Genetically engineering crops can yield foods with better texture, flavor and nutritional value. Crops can be altered to create more efficient use of land such as be drought tolerant to withstand lower water requirements. Agricultural use is the largest consumer of fresh water, using an approximate 70 percent of the world’s supply. Lessening the amount of water used on crops will become more important in the future, especially in drought ridden California where most of our fruits and vegetables are grown.
The unfortunate aspect is that genetic engineering technology is abused.
Genetic engineering is usually used in the agricultural industry to make crops resistant to pesticides and herbicides. This allows the crop to withstand being sprayed with insecticide or weed killer while the surrounding plants die. The large problem isn’t so much the genetic engineering of the crop, it’s the pesticides placed on the fields. Many crops are modified to be Roundup ready, a strong chemical used to kill weeds, grass, poison ivy and basically, all plants. Roundup ready crops can withstand the exposure to harsh chemical and toxins while the competitor weeds and grasses die. Insecticides are washed, by rain, off the landscape into our water supply damaging wildlife, the environment and our drinking water while also remaining on crops we then ingest.
GMOs do not have to be labeled, making it hard to tell if the product in your hand has GMOs. Even an organic label does not mean non-GMO. If the product contains cottonseed oil, soybeans, corn or corn syrup, it more than likely has GMOs that are exacerbating environmental degradation. GMOs are not managed or regulated responsibly, and no laws have been passed, yet, intended to do so.
The water is murky — genetic engineering has the capacity to do great things but with that technology comes great responsibility to our Earth. Next time you are out to dinner, inquire what the restaurant means by being non-GMO. Do they not have any product with corn, corn syrup or soy in any of their products? All the buzz out about Chipotle going non-GMO, they even admit on their website the challenges of going completely non-GMO. Chipotle has committed to sourcing non-GMO corn and soy and source their meat and dairy from non-GMO animals, yet the grain (corn) fed to the animals most likely is GMO, and their beverages contain GMO corn syrup.
It’s important to have a basic understanding of GMOs as science research continues to investigate the effects of genetic engineering and large companies monopolize the newest technology for their own financial growth.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.