One of the most misunderstood topics when it comes to nutrition - GMOs. In the United States alone, GMO’s or genetically modified organisms are used in as much as 80% of the conventional food supply. GMOs are not only found and used in food but are applied to a wide array of products. People have been genetically altering genomes for several years, ranging from animals, plants, and bacterium. Recent advances in genetic engineering have worked to advance agricultural performance and improve the production of pharmaceutical drugs. We’re going to uncover the facts, so you know exactly how GMOs are used and what GMOs really are.
What Is a GMO?
Genetically modified organisms can encompass anything from a plant, animal, or bacterium. Essentially GMOs can be any living thing, which has genetically modified code or DNA. Historically genetically modified organisms were used by pharmaceutical companies to modify bacteria and create medicine and vaccines for preventing disease. Prior to genetic engineering, pharmaceuticals were extracted from the organs of cadavers, which would result in the transfer of disease. With advancements in technology, pure forms of pharmaceuticals, that were once extracted from human organs, can now be synthesized in a purified form, making them safer and more efficacious. Insulin for example, is now a genetically modified pharmaceutical drug that was created help treat diabetes and was previously extracted from the pancreases of animals such as pigs and cattle.
In 1986 human growth hormone (HGH) was the first protein pharmaceutical made using plants. Since then, several proteins, antibodies and vaccines have been produced to help alleviate disease and illness.
GMO In Food
GMO in food, is where the misinformation really starts. GMOs are highly prevalent in agronomic crops such as corn, soy, and alfalfa. The process of genetically modifying crops involves mixing specifically targeted genes from two different sources, into individual cells. Genetically modifying crops can influence increased crop yields, reduce the cost of food and drug production, enhance nutrient composition, reduce the need for pesticides, and enhance food quality.
So why all the commotion and controversy if genetic modification has so many benefits?
Despite the fact that genetically modifying genes may yield some benefits, there are several unknown variables of genetically modifying gene expression. Such alterations include changing an organism’s metabolism, structure and growth rate. This could pose potential health risks and the possibility of exposure to new allergens and the transfer of anti-biotic resistance genes to the gut flora.
The consequences of altering genes can be clearly seen in modified fish released back into wild populations. Genetically modified populations have enhanced mating advantages which lead to a less viable offspring and may threaten wild fish populations.
However, the controversy that started it all, was the BT corn case. BT corn is enhanced with a strain of bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. The benefit of using the recombinant corn, is a reduction in insecticide that farmers need to apply to their crops. Unfortunately, seeds containing the gene expression for recombinant proteins can cause unintentional damage and exposure to non-targeted organisms of new toxic compounds.
The BT Corn controversy started with a lab study, which stated that the mortality rate of the monarch butterfly larvae was higher when they fed on their natural food supply (milkweed) covered in pollen from transgenic corn, than when fed milkweed covered in pollen from conventional corn.
The study was heavily criticized, stating that the high concentration of pollen used in the study was unrealistic and concluded the time of migration of the monarch would not place them in the vicinity of the corn during the time it sheds pollen. Over the next several years the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigated the issue and concluded that the threat of BT corn to the monarch population was extremely low.
GMO VS NON-GMO
Evidence and science being the basis for truth, there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs. To date there have been no epidemiological studies investigating potential effects of GMO food on human health.
A comprehensive review of peer-reviewed animal studies of GMOs vs NON-GMOs found roughly an equal number of research groups raising concerns about genetically modified foods and those suggesting GMOs were as safe and nutritious as conventional foods. The review also found that most studies finding GMOs foods the same as conventional foods were performed by biotechnology companies and were not independently investigated
GMOs Pros And Cons
The debate between GMO vs. Non-GMO is rooted deeply in preserving the natural state of the environment and ecological harmony. Providing GMO verification in food, gives consumers transparency into what their consuming and a choice to consume foods which have genetically modified ingredients. Producing Non-GMO foods, supports organic agriculture by reducing contamination and unknown toxic variables.
Generally, consumers consider conventional foods more safe. Whenever novel varieties of organisms in foods are introduced into commercial use some of the genes may be altered in a negative or positive way. Specific and rigorous evaluation of genetically modified foods are currently used for the safe consumption of GM foods. Similar evaluations are generally not performed for non-gmo foods.
Pros Of GMOS
- Enhancing Food Quality
- Increasing Food Yield
- Reducing Insecticide Used By Farmers
- Improving Vaccine And Medications
- Advancing Biotechnology Research
- Preventing Disease And Illness
Cons Of GMOS
- Lack Of Scientific Efficacy
- Potential For Environmental Toxins
- Threat To Ecological Harmony
- Allergenic Organisms Transferred To Non-Allergenic
What Is a GMO: Takeaway
The problem with GMOs is that their specific purpose and intention gets misinterpreted. The term “genetically modified” raises concerns to the general public, due to its applied negative connotation. Consuming conventional foods is generally thought of as more safe. The Non-GMO movement is fueled by a demand in clean and transparent labeling, and fear of the unknown. At Swolverine, we are firm believers in transparency and that it is your right, to know what you are consuming.
There are no studies investigating the harmful effects of GMOs on human health. Therefore, consuming foods that do not contain GMOs, in the consumers mind is a safer bet, than consuming a food that may contain GMOs. The fact of the matter is GMOs are vital in the basis of science and research to continuously develop new and better biotechnologies for our existence, health, and future.
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 Domingo JL, Giné Bordonaba J. A literature review on the safety assessment of genetically modified plants. Environ Int. 2011 May;37(4):734-42. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2011.01.003. Epub 2011 Feb 5. PMID: 21296423.