The Need-To-Knows About GMO’s

John Doe goes grocery shopping for his family. On a day to day basis, he and his family consume genetically modified foods (GMO’s). Doe shops for his everyday essentials, fills up his cart, and proceeds to the checkout line. Little does he know, up to 70% of prepackaged food in the average grocery store contains genetically modified food (“Negative”). GMO’s are allegedly more useful and beneficial to humans than the old processes of food production because it tends to be grown easier, faster, and filled with additional nutritious vitamins that otherwise wouldn’t naturally be in the genetics of the food.

Typically, when the idea of GMO’s is brought up, people take sides on the topic of interest. “On one side you’ll have the die-hard skeptics holding court about how Monsanto and big government are conspiring to poison our bodies with frankenfoods. On the other side will be the pro-science crowd ready to accuse the opposition of willful ignorance and flat-earth looney-ism.” (Hirsch) The reality of it is that it is just food. Afterall, “Seventy to 80 percent of the food we eat today contains them.” (Hirsch) The underlying question remains, what are GMO’s, and why are they in food?

Speaking of GMO’s, journalist Jimmy Kimmel said, “the fact remains that many Americans have little understanding about GMOs, yet they feel passionately about the topic, often believing that GMOs are unsafe.”(“By”). To form a reasonable opinion on the controversial subject, one must know what exactly GMO’s are. By definition, GMO’s are the result of the laboratory process of inserting different genes into a plant or organism. Only the genetics are changed, not the organism or plant itself. Often, the debates on the process is regarding the safety of the product.

Some of the safety concerns regarding genetically modified food is the use of pharmaceuticals. As pollen spreads, the genes can make it into the food supply. (“Negative”) These drugged foods are more commonly being fed to the animals we raise for slaughter to consume. Some allergens, like the BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) toxin, are used to kill pests that destroy crops. This toxin has caused some people to have an allergic reaction.

In a personal interview with biology major and teacher of 10 years, Donna Brownlee, she stated that on numerous occasions, “People who think GMO’s are bad for their bodies are often the same people who lack background information on it.” (Brownlee). All the possible negative effects of GMO’s are not known. Due to fact that GMO’s are relatively new, long term studies are often not possible to perform. The lack of studies means that GMO’s are not fully researched, raising questions among the people who conscientiously consume it. However, the known negative effects’ list lacks in length.

To scratch the surface on the topic, GMO’s weren’t intended to have negative consequences. However, the idea of being able to produce food faster and insert favorable genes was one that scientists could not pass up. “The goal is to tweak the basic cellular structure to eliminate some undesirable trait, maybe add some benefit.” (Hirsch) This goal may seem rather simple, but to say the least, it comes with many negative and positive attributes. To list all the reasons for the positive and negative traits of GMO’s may take a lifetime.

As for the environment, GMO’s have caused many negative impacts. The genetically modified crops are often larger fields as they dominate most of the current agricultural industry. Consequently, the use of pesticides and herbicides went increased. The frequent usage can lead to immunities of the insects and weeds to the product. The well-known product for exterminating weeds is Roundup. Coincidentally, the largest and most dominant corporation for supplying GMO seeds is also the creator of Roundup, which is Monsanto. Roundup Ready Soy requires an average of almost three times as much herbicide and pesticides. Insects become more and more impossible to exterminate once they become immune to the pesticides. (“Negative”).

Cross pollination also raises issues among other non-GMO farmers. Pollen from modified plants spread to and infect other plants that are not even meant to be modified. “Super weeds” can be a result of cross pollination, which has “insecticidal properties or herbicide-resistance.” (“Negative”). These super weeds are hard to get rid of. Often times, they cannot be exterminated.

Genetically modified plants and organisms have impacts on the economy as well. An estimated over 200 million dollars was invested in Flavr Savr (the first genetically modified tomato approved for human consumption), and almost none of it was able to be reclaimed. (“Negative”). Genetically modified crops have costed the United States around 12 billion dollars in only farm subsidies. Lost sales and product recalls are an addition to the cost as well. This is due to transgenic contamination. There have also been reports of massive failures of the Bt cotton in India, up to 100 percent. (“Negative”). Such a massive financial loss makes companies question how practical the usage of modified food is.

As for the testing of the long term effects of GMO’s, the results are unclear. Partially, due to the fact that the area of study is relatively new. The sources claim, “GMOs have shown no discernible health effects on the human body. Absolutely none. The one well-publicized study that linked GM foods to cancer in 2012 was roundly debunked the following year as agenda-driven pseudoscience.” (Hirsch) Weighing into the equation is also the fact that funding for said studies are only supplied to show positive results. (“Negative”). Monsanto, the largest modified seed supplier, is also coincidentally one of the main sponsors of the studies. This deems the results as biased.

Despite all the negative things that come with GMO’s there are some benefits. With an ever growing world population, the world faces hunger as a major problem. Genetically modified foods show great promise to facing the problem of malnourishment and starvation in the world. (“Benefits”). Generally speaking, GMO’s benefit most third world countries with their problems of starvation.

One of the benefits of GMOs include the creation of plants that are resistant to weeds, pests, and other diseases. One of the most popular modified food is corn. Corn is in almost every product one can think of. It is one of the most important crops and most widely grown in the United States. (“Benefits”). Bigger yields is also a major positive attribute of modified seeds. While on the topic of GMOs positive attributes, Jesse Hirsch said,“When you consider the scope of how beneficial GM technology is (and could grow to become), paired with the lack of provable health consequences, you can’t help but hope the vitriol will subside.” (Jesse).

To go into further detail on the subject of GMOs, labeling of said products has always been a problem in the food marketing industry. Labeling can cause conflict of interest, including scaring away customers and attracting the wrong ones with misleading labels. The labeling of GMOs has been proposed in bills to the United States government on numerous occasions. The most known company for GM foods, Monsanto, tries with all its power to veto these bills. Even with all its power, it could not control the state of Vermont.

In the state of Vermont, labeling GMOs was recently made mandatory. “The first law in the US requiring mandatory labels…Facing fines up to $1,000 a day per product, food makers from giants like General Mills Inc. to regional businesses like Vermont Fresh Pasta are making big adjustments, many of which extend beyond the state’s borders.” (Lusky) The idea of labeling GMOs has a negative effect on all the companies who sell them. The biggest fear of GMOs being labeled is that it will hurt the sales, given the fact that GMOs often have a negative connotation to it. The least of the worries of the GM companies, particularly Monsanto, is the fact that consumers deserve to know what is in their food.

With Vermont being set as a precedent, it kick started the process of getting the entire United States labeling GMOs. Just a few months after the mandatory labeling in Vermont, “The House of Representatives voted.. to require the labeling of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients, clearing the bill’s final obstacle before it heads to the White House.” (Strom) This marks a huge step forward for consumers and the demand to know what is in their products. “We’ve left the legislative period of this battle after seven years and moved into the regulatory and marketplace phase of it, which was where it was always headed anyway,” said Gary Hirshberg, a founder of Just Label It, a coalition that advocates labeling. (Strom) Finally, after years and years of advocating, progress has been made.

Currently, the bill is on hold to be viewed by the current U.S president, Donald Trump. His decision can make a huge impact on the food market in the United States. The decision will not only impact the United States, but the countries who buy from the country. Buyers can be criticized and less willing to buy a product labeled as genetically modified. The only thing the American residents can do is hope and advocate for labeling, as they await for their voices to be heard by the president.

Now, to go into further detail, there’s the labeling of products as “non-gmo”. Charles Dan said, “The increasingly successful movement to eliminate GMO crops from food is turning out to be organic’s false friend.” (Dan) Companies that label their products as “non-gmo” are often misleading consumers. The general person believes that GMO’s are essentially a horrible thing to eat or buy. By sticking “non-gmo” on the label of their products, more people are drawn to buy it. However, this does not mean it is organic, which can be misleading to organic consumers. “By and large, labels are supposed to be a positive marketing tool–touting product highlights and promoting credibility.” (Lusky)

With that being said, there is an underlying question. Why are corporations misleading their very own consumers if it is supposed to promote credibility? To answer this in the simplest way possible, “A seismic shift in the US consumer landscape has redefined the country’s food market in recent years, challenging big food and making it harder for legacy brands to grow sales.” (“The Food”) Major food companies are essentially manipulating the system into getting more sales by misleading consumers. This is all due to the fact that sales are decreasing due to the negative stigma attached to genetically modified foods.

The fact that “non-gmo” labeled foods are always placed right by the organic foods in grocery stores makes it obvious corporations are trying to trick people into buying their products. The conflict between “non-gmo” and organic foods have risen as it has became increasingly more popular to steer away from regular processed foods. Non-GMO fields are treated nearly the same as GMO fields. “Non-organic fields are treated essentially the same, whether the crops are non-GMO or genetically modified. Williams keeps those fields weed-free with chemical herbicides as well.” (Dan) Organic fields, however, are a completely different ball park in the sense of how things are grown.

To grow organically, most farmers use chicken litter as a fertilizer. (Dan) Farmers have to go out of their way to make sure organic food is grown properly. Growing organically is less efficient, as it takes more time and effort to grow. This is the underlying reason for the sky high prices on organic foods. Farmers want more money for all the extra work they have to put in. Even a task as easy as controlling pests, turns to being difficult. Chemical pesticides are not to be used. Instead, farmers have to grow an additional amount of crops that are known to control these pests.

In terms of sales, as genetically modified foods grow a more negative outlook among the public eye, the more companies that sponsor GMOs lose sales. Monsanto, along with other GMO companies, are aware of this. “According to the Organic Trade Association’s 2016 Organic Industry Survey, growth in the sector is reaching new highs. During 2015, US organic product sales hit US $43.3billion, up 11% from the previous year and outstripping the overall food market’s growth rate of 3%.” (“The”) With that being said, these companies try with all their power to retain their sales. However, that does not mean their efforts paid off.

Companies cannot stop popular trends. “Trends that gained steam in the US during 2016 include the rise of the ‘clean label’, a growing awareness of GMOs, increased concern over sugar consumption and higher demand for free-from products.” (“The”) With this being stated, one can safely assume that the trend will not only continue on, but increase rapidly. The consumers will buy what they want in the end, and when it comes down to it, buying and eating organic is increasingly becoming more popular in this day and age. “This kind of growth rate is expected to continue – and even accelerate – as food makers work to increase the supply of organic ingredients, as well as raising levels of investment in ‘infrastructure and education’” the OTA CEO and executive director Laura Batcha suggests. (“The”)

Even with all the effort of companies, especially the well-known Monsanto, trying to bypass the idea that GMOs might be unsafe, there is still a possibility it can be. According to Kelsey Faivre, “While an overwhelming majority (88%) of scientists surveyed by the Pew Research Center said it is generally safe to eat GMOs, public concern about modified crops still abounds.” (Faivre) This leaves out about twelve percent of scientists who think GMOs are bad for our bodies. Although this may seem like a small percentage, the amount of scientists in only twelve percent is vast. It is important to take into account that some professionals do not approve of GMOs being called healthy.

The debate on GMOs is deeper than it seems. ‘It’s not just about the science; (GMO) embodies all these concerns about values and beliefs, about not just what we eat but how we organize agriculture.” (Faivre) Additionally, the debate in turn feeds into concerns about the corporate control of agriculture, and the roles of science and technology in producing food. These important factors play a role in our everyday life. Also, the debate plays into concerns about the sustainability and the biodiversity of the plants being modified. (Faivre)

Biodiversity plays an important role in our ecosystem. To understand it’s importance, one must know what biodiversity exactly is. Biodiversity, according to Google, is “the variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem.” In this case, our plants’ variety depends on mankind and how they get bred. When plants are bred with the same genes, over and over, the line of plants can be susceptible to diseases. The similarity in genes make it easier for a generation of plants to be wiped out. However, when said plants are bred with plants with different genes, the biodiversity is sustained. Diseases and pests are the main concern revolving around biodiversity.

Given all these problems GMOs can or have caused, one may wonder, “How are GMOs even legal?” That’s a question that our USDA constantly battles with. In some countries, such as Australia, they are banned. Just knowing that GMOs are illegal in other countries should raise red flags. Why else would a country ban GMOs unless it was a for a good reason?

In conclusion, GMOs have too many unknown or uncertain consequences, and should be frowned upon. Biodiversity and health factors come into play, and seems like it is not worth it. The smartest thing to do is to avoid eating them and selling them.With everything not being fully researched the best thing to do is to not consume it at all.

Works Cited

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