GMOs: Things I didn’t know

Upwards of 90% of people think GMOs (genetically modified foods) should be labeled. Big Ag (including our own Cargill and General Mills) is strongly pushing back, insisting GMOs are safe, and have been found to be safe by the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and pretty much everyone who counts.

FC9780802123466Now I have been skeptical of GMOs all along, but I did believe that the government had probably tested and approved them. But I found out while reading World Hunger: 10 Myths by Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins, that that may not be true.

According to Lappé and Collins (in discussing Myth 3—“Only industrial agriculture and GMOs can feed a hungry world”), the FDA has not formally approved a single genetically modified crop as safe for human consumption. The review process for new GMO plants in voluntary. The FDA relies on the producers to do their own safety and nutritional assessments. In addition, no long-term studies are required for approval. Hmm.

Two decades ago, “the FDA acceded to the industry’s requests and declared GMOs ‘substantially equivalent’ to non-GM-bred crops. . . ignoring the strong doubts of some of its own scientists.” Wow. I had no idea.

Nor is there a scientific consensus that GMOs are safe (note lack of long-term studies, above). Lappé and Collins report on numerous studies (with detailed endnotes and references) and statements that are cause for caution if not concern.

  • One study found pigs on a GMO diet were 2.6 times more likely to get severe stomach inflammation than control pigs.
  • Another found evidence of kidney and liver damage, hormone disruption, and more and earlier tumors on rats fed a GMO diet.
  • Nearly 300 scientists and academics signed a statement emphasizing the lack of scientific consensus on GMOs and called for long-term independent research.

And let’s face it. Big Ag is a powerful industry. Consider this:

A review of ninety-four published studies on the effects of GM food or feed products found that of the studies in which an author is affiliated with the biotech industry, none revealed either health-related risks or lower nutrient values associated with consuming GM food or feed. By contrast, almost a quarter of the studies with no author affiliation with the biotech industry did find problems associated with consumption of GMO products.”

Another supposed advantage of GMOs is that they produce higher crop yields and with fewer pesticides. But in 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that after 15 years, GMO seeds have NOT been shown to increase yield potentials and pesticide use has remained steady (one study) or increased slightly (a different study). Huh.

I have also heard on occasion that farmers are choosing GM seeds over non-GM, suggesting they prefer them. Maybe, maybe not. I have also read stories of farmers looking for non-GM seeds but unable to find them. Some farmers have faced a problem with exports as many countries ban certain GMO foods/commodities, and 64 countries require GMO labeling.

You don’t have to think they’re bad to support GMO labeling. A lot of people aren’t sure. (Of course, a lot of scientists aren’t sure either.) I like to know the ingredients in my food. I like to know how many calories, how much vitamin C, and if there are trans fats. I’d also like to know if it’s genetically modified.

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