Every single human being, regardless of socioeconomic status, should be given the right to choose what goes into their bodies. However, one cannot make this choice if they are unaware of the contents within their food. Those suffering financially may also have little control over their diets due to usual high costs that accompany good-quality foods.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are genetically altered to contain genes from another specie. Many farmers genetically modify their crops to make them withstand harsh temperatures and be resistant to insecticides and herbicides (Jimenez & Pulos, 2016). We may be unware that many of our foods likely contain GMOs as food labels fail to disclose this information.
There are a variety of contradictory studies regarding the safety of GMOs. Some studies suggest foods containing GMOs may be harmful to human health while others disprove these claims. Despite the extensive amounts of research about GMOs, these controversies still exist and there is no absolute certainty of whether they are completely harmful or harmless.
Many food containing GMOs are engineered to resist the herbicide glyphosate. Through various studies, glyphosate is proven to impact the reproductive health of females. It is shown to have detrimental effects on the endocrine system (Thongprakaisang, Thiantanawat, Rangkadilok, Suriyo, & Satayavivad, 2013). Behaving similar to the estrogen hormone, glyphosate acts as foreign material in the body and can disrupt the development of a fetus (Aris & Leblanc, 2011). Through a study testing the urine samples of 71 pregnant women, glyphosate was detected in 93% of them, confirming that glyphosate exists in some foods (Fairbanks, 2018). Neuroscientist, Deborah Kurrasch, suggests that there is an insufficient amount of information available to assess the behaviour of glyphosate in the body. She questions if glyphosate actually interferes with the function of hormones, arguing the ambiguity of the molecule that binds with glyphosate. (Zimmer, 2018) Based on the level of uncertainty, definitive claims about glyphosate should not be made.
These contradictory claims make me apprehensive about GMOs. As a female, I can understand why pregnant women may not want to take the risk of consuming genetically modified foods. Why eat something that can potentially be harmful to not only themselves but also their baby? Pregnant women should be aware of the contents within their foods for the sake of their own and their child’s health.
Glyphosate is also thought to be carcinogenic. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer proposed that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic in humans” (Guyton, et al., 2015). A year later, following various tests on rats and mice, the WHO and FAO reveal that glyphosate does not appear to be a cancer-causing agent in rats but at increased levels, can be harmful towards mice. This leads to the conclusion that glyphosate may not necessarily be a cancer-causing agent for humans (Tarazona, et al., 2017). These claims are concerning as they still make me question the safety of GMOs containing glyphosate. How effective are animal studies in predicting the true effects of glyphosate in humans anyway?
It is important to consider that introducing GMO information on food labels will likely increase the prices of these food products (Byrne, Pendell, & Graff, 2014). According to a poll commissioned by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, approximately 88% of Canadians are in favour of GMO labelling on food products (Smith, 2016). The remaining 12% of Canadians may not be in favour of GMO labelling fearing that there will be an increase these food products. Considering the social determinants of health, it is important to consider that investing in an organic diet is not realistic for everyone. Organic foods may be quite costly for many average and lower-class Canadians. The choice to eat organically in order to avoid the potential risks of GMOs may be out of their budget and therefore beyond their control.
Despite the studies, I remain unsure and skeptical about GMOs and their effects on human health. Regardless of one’s stance towards this biotechnological phenomenon, I am confident that many people want to know what is going into their bodies. Ultimately, food labels should contain information about GMOs and there should not be an increase in price for doing so. Every single person deserves the right to know the contents within their food. We should be able to make the choice for ourselves about whether or not we want to consume GMO containing products.
I would send my work to Maclean’s, a Canadian magazine, as my topic deals with a health and social justice issue. My editorial contains research about the opinion of Canadians on GMO food labels. I also consider the socioeconomic status of different Canadians and how this may impact their opinion on whether food labels should contain information about GMOs.