Misconceptions about Genetically Modified Foods

The unknown can be a scary thought, especially when it comes to the foods that are being put into our bodies. So it makes sense that genetically engineered foods, or these “frankenfoods”, are widely unsupported. It seems as if today many will question GMOs but on the contrary will not go anywhere near a brown banana. So maybe there are some benefits that come from GMOs that, in this case, can help prevent food waste. By definition, “genetically modified foods (also GM food, bioengineered food, genetically modified organisms, GMOs) is food in which, at some point during the production process, molecules and proteins are chemically altered to give the food more nutrients, a better appearance, or a longer shelf life” (Rich and Warhol).

While some would agree that food companies are utilizing such processes to meet results such as maintaining product consistency, or maximizing the amount of produce grown, to generate the most revenue possible, this simultaneously brings up the question about why the United States has not yet banned this procedure that is viewed as harmful to the health of the consumer. Could it be because it is really not that harmful to our health or is that the public really does not have enough of an opinion to take a stand? When you look at the bigger picture, the negative connotations associated with genetically modified foods have cultivated from the companies that have abused this GMO processes and overlooked their code of ethics thus, leading to direct health issues correlated with their products. This overshadows how some of the additives, when used properly, can “improve or keep nutritional value” (Rich and Walton). Although genetically modified organisms can have health risks directly correlated with foods that are modified, when used to make sure the wellbeing of the consumer it can be beneficial.

Today, these “Frankenfoods” are widely stereotyped as harmful to the consumers health, when in fact a thousand years ago the modification process of foods began by cross breeding to make sure that the best of each crop carries on. These plants were able to withstand harsh climates and certain diseases, all through the process of cross breeding. In 1977, scientist discovered a way to fast forward natural selection and create a way to manually create a better crop. This was done by adding or removing genes to the crops DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which allows the scientists to tamper with the outcome of the plant. When rice is donated through the majority of organizations a common alteration is to lace it with vitamins, minerals, and other important substances. This is done to ensure that third world countries receive all the resources their body needs to prevent malnutrition.

Sweden, Alaska, Canada, etc. are just a few areas that do not receive sunlight, sometimes lasting six months out of the year. The sun rays are extremely beneficial for humans and animals well-being, without these rays of vitamin D it can lead to a deficiency. Vitamin D is a, “sterol essential for the deposition of calcium in bones and formed by the action of sunlight on dehydrocholesterol in the skin”(Oxford). It comes from the UV rays in the sun, and are vital to preventing depression, cancers, and many other illnesses that come with lack of this vitamin. In order to fix the problem companies started to implement the vitamin into its products. Without these modified products people living in these areas would have to use taking supplements (which can be expensive) or even using tanning beds (which can cause skin cancer) to receive the UV rays.

As of several years ago a law was passed forcing every company to slap a “G.M.O Free” or “Non-GMO” labels on all products and will go into effect in 2020, with every company having a label whether is written in small print or in big bold letters. This debate is what sparked interest in the GMOs idea and it became mainstream among the public. Spiraling up a debate that GMOs have been in the grocery stores since 1994 is a shock to many that had no idea. Who would not be concerned about what is unknowingly being put into our bodies without any form of consent or basic knowledge.

Most things in life come with symptoms and the modification of foods are not any different. Its sounds weird and unusual for the gene of, let’s say broccoli, (which is something that some people do not particularly enjoy eating) and that gene goes into, let’s say a strawberry to get the fiber benefit of the broccoli without having to eat the gross tasting tree. This is what happens through the process of modification. A gene in from the DNA and made up of genes, each gene comes with benefits that can be retrieved and put into another sequence of genes. For those that are vegan, GMOs are going to be a complicated situation, and it may be best to stay away from them since the label of GMO is on the package but not the specific genes are labeled and where they came from.

Some DNA from the local grocery store may contain bits of animal genes in them (given this is the gene not bits of animals.) But unless the people complaining about their modified foods are also the ones that refuse to eat animal products then there is no harm in them. Stated by Fagerstrom and Dixelius, “As time has gone by, the evidence for negative impacts of genetically modified (GM) crops has become weaker.” Now another debate about the process are chemicals being implemented into the crop too. These chemicals are used to kill off insects that eat the crops while growing. Before GMOs, farmers would spray a harmful substance on to the foods and wash it off before sold.

Now a chemical is put into the crop, now not only could there be animal genes in the vegetables but there could also be chemicals. Now there are no studies to show that any of these harm the consumer. But it is something to be conscious about. Chocolate is safe for humans but can be poisonous to cats and dogs. Same goes for these chemicals, it is safe for humans but to the bug it is dangerous. Preventing these bugs from getting into the crops helps these, “commodities previously listed (i.e., corn, cotton, papaya, soybeans, and sugar beets) were modified to be resistant to insects, herbicide, or disease”(McFadden). This is where GMOs come in handy, since the benefits out way the effects. And since there are no proven risks it is the matter of the consumers knowledge of the process and the consumers moral opinions.

As of today, romaine lettuce has been off the selves for several weeks. This was because of an E. Coli outbreak. E. coli, is a, “bacterium commonly found in the intestines of humans and other animals, some strains of which can cause severe food poisoning”(Oxford). This virus left many ill after eating this kind of lettuce. This outbreak in 2018, was caused by cows who were fed corn instead of the grass. As many know through personal experiences, corn is a hard vegetable to digest and the same goes for these cows. Yes, corn is cheaper for the farmers, but at what cost. It has a higher chance of releasing the E. coli virus and when the manure is used as fertilizer the romaine lettuce it transfers the disease to that crop which later is brought into the local grocery stores.

So why change the manure when GMOs can change the cow. A recent study in China shows that a pair of twins have been made entirely by science that makes it impossible for them to get HIV. This is an extreme case, but according to Shankers pig study, “Farmers… supplement pig feed with an enzyme called phytase to help the pigs digest and absorb the phosphorous…Enter Canadian Enviropigs, which are engineered to make phytase themselves, making their poop a whole lot cleaner.” Problem solved, cleaner poop, cleaner manure, cleaner crops. How can we fix the problem of GMOs to make society see the positives that could be taking advantage of this scientific tool.

Can there be a meeting ground in a way that is beneficial for the people who want to keep their bodies GMO free and the ones who find that the benefits outweigh the cost. Since a huge part of the problem is the consumers knowledge about how a GMO can affect the body, a labeling process to separate the chemical GMOs with the animal GMOs should be stated instead of putting the two under the same class. On top of implementing these two different labels there should be, in detail, the description of genes that were altered and/or added.

Showing a vegetable is vegan safe should not be the end of the labeling process, it should just be the beginning. There are pescaterian, vegetarian, and many more people that do not want certain products in their bodies. GMO free is such a broad term now that there are so many combinations that are on the market. On top of the labeling laws, many do not even know what a GMO is. In a research study by McFadden he asked a group of people what they knew about GMOs and this is the what was found on a 5-point scale,

“ 8% rated themselves as “very knowledgeable” about GM food, and the highest proportion, 32%, rated themselves as “somewhat knowledgeable,” with the remaining 60% being undecided or not knowledgeable. Results about the safety of eating GM food aligned with earlier studies. 34% believed GM food was not safe to eat, 34% believed it was safe, and 32% were in the middle.”

This shows how little the average person knows about GMOs. How can the media have such a high impact on the negatives but not incorporate the health benefits that can be met through genetic engineering? And that is because of the unknown, it is impossible to know which lengths this can go.

Genetically modified foods have no known risks to them and the reason for them to be described as the “frankenfoods” of society, is because they are just that. Stitched together to create a mighty crop to beat all other crops on the market. Genetically modified foods are combined with other animals or crops to get the benefits and without them the plant could contain diseases, herbicide, or insects. Once the consumers are well aware of what bioengineered foods are and a clear understanding why it is being done, including what benefits can be received from it then the problem and controversy will continue to be in the media.

The most important part of engineered foods is so the countries and areas that lack specific nutrients get there vitamins through the process to prevent deficiencies throughout those ares. GMOs can help prevent outbreaks just like the romaine lettuce one that occurred and many others. So you can not always put a label on whether something is harmful for the body if you are not sure how it is created.

Work Cited

  1. Bárbara Juliana Pinheiro Borges, et al. “Genetically Modified Labeling Policies: Moving Forward or Backward?” Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, Vol 6 (2018), 2018. EBSCOhost, doi:10.3389/fbioe.2018.00181/full. http://libdb.smc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsdoj&AN=edsdoj.2563f0d2a584d9ab9733eb869dae18e&site=eds-live&scope=site
  2. Grovum, Jake. “GMO Labeling Fails; Colorado Rejects K-12 Tax.” Stateline.Org (Washington, DC), 6 Nov. 2013. EBSCOhost, libdb.smc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=n5h&AN=2W61918403716&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  3. Halford, Nigel G. Genetically Modified Crops: Methodology, Benefits, Regulation and Public Concerns. University of Bristol, Bristol, UK, 2011, watermark.silverchair.com/56-1-62.pdf?token=AQECAHi208BE49Ooan9kkhW_Ercy7Dm3ZL_9Cf3qfKAc485ysgAAAkAwggI8BgkqhkiG9w0BBwagggItMIICKQIBADCCAiIGCSqGSIb3DQEHATAeBglghkgBZQMEAS4wEQQMCc0T0YJsnIJR4uo0AgEQgIIB8yMozEFkjtuEsvphMD6rf4JQAFzICa1I_XROlVdqaCFi3r_lyx1uPqpc68F6PafEHzvDVmJYZiTTaAH2i0SaJWpSSVq3ECArEZ4FKFkurrZBp75sAqwWtmcrtw0H5RzRAqEfuDVxNBTK8KHy-Poeh8RvdX6HeICZWHzJPmK34CDFeyiLEVFC1WsybUR0a-BTjqi7HrMdnmGo6OK–tJrc_rTzaCcMDe46dVkNYCt05QCqX3uJ55h3f4ej4ZHJzyjcC0yFaKzwQaUj8WzV1tgcM0KwEAWD1jw7QHrdiE4xkfmwNuvBLabStp3rDB5GrKL7-k4P2EP3Bk0aL_nuJs–yo3A_74rKfvQnV-5aFsdV7cNUv2W-G3Jj44IAwkJNNWWNF5FZU9H4tt7vi_QfO_DNVTm62k-cBVec3shL0uaqBtlSBuzIHWQerLi-CsNR6D1MTI8v-8IK0_R_t3CVly3oSwE39SfbXa6BiWK8RxEUvKebfGQecqvnjUKc2uSrG0I_yvGHcUqcWxH3LAIkTyE8eIovOsuXiwLncs4GN9RCmLRjAnNX1O-c11q1fTHTANQmSI96JF15odM0JIjEq7tgGMLCY8hDPPw5GwX0Nvfn2ZLRz_JBR8Kw9fFjBkaPUMkWURqVqxRLjy8GiHlninmHMJmbs.
  4. Hallman, William K. “PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS: A National Study of American Knowledge and Opinion.” Http://Www.foodpolicyinstitute.org, 2010, s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/39509257/PUBLIC_PERCEPTIONS_OF_GENETICALLY_MODIFI20151028-18869-15zsol2.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1543817803&Signature=BPhcFOlSmdy%2BAzcyEGiRpQoBSSg%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DPublic_perceptions_of_genetically_modifi.pdf.
  5. McFadden, Brandon R. “What Consumers Don’t Know about Genetically Modified Food, and How That Affects Beliefs.” Home, 2016, www.fasebj.org/doi/full/10.1096/fj.201600598.
  6. Rich, Alex K.Warhol, Tom. “Genetically Modified Foods: Overview.” Points of View, 2013. EBSCOhost, libdb.smc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=89158200&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  7. Shanker, Deena. “7 GMO Foods That Will Blow Your Mind.” BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed, 5 Feb. 2014, www.buzzfeed.com/deenashanker/crazy-gmo-foods.
  8. Weasel, Lisa H. Food Fray : Inside the Controversy Over Genetically Modified Food. AMACOM, 2009. EBSCOhost, libdb.smc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=251063&site=eds-live&scope=site.