What Are GMOs?

The Grand Debate

GMO is an acronym for Genetically Modified Organism.  GMOs are crops or animals whose DNA has been artificially altered in order to improve one or more traits.  In many cases, foreign DNA is injected into the organism.  Today, the majority of soy and corn in the United States are GMO – their DNA altered to withstand certain pests and herbicides.  Other examples of GMOs include strawberries and tomatoes injected with fish genes to protect the fruit from freezing, salmon that are genetically engineered with a growth hormone to allow them to grow larger, and dairy cows injected with the genetically engineered hormone rBGH (also known as rBST) to increase milk production.

The most common argument in favor of GMOs is that “humans have been genetically engineering species for hundreds of years,” – the results:  larger corn plants, dog breeds that serve unique purposes, seedless grapes, etc.  However, this is misleading….what humans have been doing in these instances is called “hybridization.”  Hybridization is NOT genetic engineering.  Genetic engineering involves the combination of two entirely unrelated species in the lab – species that could never cross or coexist in nature and thus require complex techniques to “forcefully” combine the genes.

While this scientific feat is amazing, GMOs pose several challenges:

  • GMOs have not clearly been proven safe for humans over the long term.
  • The use of GMOs has not necessarily decreased the use of pesticides or herbicides.  In some cases, their use has increased.
  • GMOs are patented and pose ethical issues pertaining to corporate control of the global food supply.

Awareness of the existence of GMOs has grown in the past few years, with many consumer groups calling for labeling requirements for foods that contain GMOs.  According to Consumer Reports, more than 70% of Americans would like to know if their food contains GMOs.  What seems to be a basic consumer right – to know what is in the food we eat – has so far been ignored.  Legislation attempts by several states have failed, mostly due to heavy campaigning by food companies and the biotech industry.

So what is the Bottom Line?  Whether GMOs are safe or not is still a hotly debated matter.  However, what should not be debated is the consumers’ right to know what is in their food!



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