The words "genetically engineered" or "genetically modified" invoke a wide variety of emotions in people. While there are many debates regarding genetic engineering, the one with greatest impact at present is genetically modified foods.
Studies show approximately 80 percent of the foods we buy every day are in some way genetically modified. This process has been praised by both the scientific and agricultural communities as a major scientific breakthrough. The process works when DNA from different varieties of plants is combined to create plants that are easier to grow. These plants essentially form their own insecticide, are better protected against drought and are less susceptible to any toxins the farmer may use as a repellent.
We're already consuming these products at such a high rate many feel we are perfectly fine eating these foods. But the lack of data regarding long-term consumption has sparked debate.
What is being modified?
The most popular foods to modify are traditional crops which are usually grown in high amounts. These include soybeans, corn, canola beans and sugar beets. These foods are either sold on their own or processed and added to a range of foods. Milk is also commonly modified to increase nutritional value.
Are GMOs safe?
Research has been conducted since modification began in the early 1990s. The focal point of much of the research is whether or not the "natural insecticide" created by these plants has an adverse effect on humans. The general consensus in the scientific community is there isn't a difference between GMO and conventional foods. Studies conducted in both Japan and Poland came to the conclusion GMO foods don't pose any safety concerns. However, research remains ongoing.
So why doesn't the United States government require GMO labeling?
As the study of GMO foods continues, the call has arisen for better labeling to give consumers a choice. If labeling became mandatory, it would result in a system similar to those in practice in Europe, which require companies who modify their foods to label them as such. The current statement of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is GMOs as safe and that special labeling isn't necessary. The American Medical Association (AMA) shares the sentiment and said adding an unnecessary label could be construed as misleading and will falsely alarm consumers.
How do I avoid GMOs?
The alternative to genetically modified foods is to go completely organic. If you're shopping for organic foods, either fresh or processed, look for the seal of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which distinguishes products that are raised and processed using entirely organic operations . However, you can't be 100 percent certain you've found a non-GMO food unless it has Non-GMO Project Seal as well. Since these foods can be expensive, some retailers are working with companies asking them to voluntarily label their products non-GMO.
What are the possibilities?
As of right now, the only GMOs made commercially available are those listed above. However, scientists from AquaBounty AquaAdvantage have recently begun to genetically modify salmon to make the fish grow bigger and faster. The FDA has pushed forward its approval but, as of this writing, the salmon hasn't been made readily available.
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