GMO: What is it? Can it be harmful?

GMO: What is it? Can it be harmful?

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism used to produce biotech or GM foods. To genetically modify or engineer means to alter the genes of one species and/or remove and add them to another species. The purpose of genetic engineering is to create more durable, pest resistant, much larger plants or animals for faster and more available consumption. It has been in practice for over twenty years but has recently come to light regarding its pros and, mostly cons due to the fact that there have been no labeling requirements. This covert practice has given some people reason for alarm.

The Beginning

As man continues to ‘push the envelope’ in science and other applications, gene splicing has taken on a prominent role. DNA transference was discovered in 1946 and the first plant produced in 1983. From there antibiotic resistant tobacco and delayed ripening tomatoes followed suit leading to many other food sources such as rice, soy, corn and many more.

The Process

Say no to GMOs

Genetic engineering begins in the laboratory with careful sequencing and testing to determine how a better species can be produced. For instance, genes from an Arctic flounder have what are called ‘anti-freeze’ properties meaning that they can withstand the cold Arctic waters. Engineers have removed this gene and added it to certain tomatoes enabling them to withstand crop killing frost. The problem is that this gene manipulation is not precise giving great concern to future effects on not only crops but also on human health. Many GMO advocates describe this process as the same practice as traditional breeding techniques. They are often argued against due to the fact that it is laboratory manipulation and not natural mating results.

Is GMO Dangerous?

People have been consuming GMO foods since their inception, however, changing DNA sequences may take generations to create an adverse affect in humans. However, there have been some cases that are theorized to be the result of genetic engineering. One in particular took place in 1989 when a new disease erupted in the U.S. affecting upwards of 5,000 people. It was traced to an L-tryptophan supplement added to food that was created with GM bacteria. At the time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 37 people died from this tainted supplement with 1,500 permanently disabled. They stopped counting in 1991 but the company responsible for the additive, Showa Denko, blamed the GM process even though the US Government deemed it a purification failure. Some say that the environment will suffer due to new farming practices that decimate weeds and other plants to make way for GMO crops. In addition, strains of new diseases may also result. Only time will tell.

Should I Avoid GMO Foods?

It is not easy to avoid GMO foods as they are practically in everything we eat.  However, you can purchase certified organic foods to reduce your exposure. Legislature to require labeling of GM foods is necessary so that consumers can choose.  We should after all have the right to know what’s in our food.


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