Steve Shenk

Did you know that since 1996, Americans have been eating genetically modified ingredients in processed foods and that roughly 60 to 70 percent of the food products sitting in grocery stores are genetically modified?

Most people are completely unaware of what genetically modified food is, let alone that they are consuming it on a regular basis. A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism that has had its genetic structure altered by having a gene with a desireable trait incorporated into it. This practice is more widely known as “gene splicing.”

The first food produced from this practice was the Flavr Savr Tomato. The intent was to create a tomato that does not get “softer” as it ripens–something a natural tomato is supposed to do. By splicing a gene into the tomato’s DNA to curb the breakdown of the tomato’s cell walls, this tomato could stay firmer longer and thereby be transported across the country and arrive at the grocery store looking as if it had been picked that morning.

In addition to producing a firmer tomato, companies have inserted genes from bacteria and viruses that have never been in the human food supply to produce similar types of “benefits.” However, none of these so-called benefits benefit the consumer in terms of price, nutrition, or safety.

In fact, our safety is one of the most troublesome outcomes of GMOs and it appears the level of concern over it paralells most people’s awareness. Because GMOs are not and do not have to be labeled, people are unaware of them and are suffering their effects unbeknownst to them.

The largest and most obvious concern with GMOs lies in the increased risk of allergic reactions. For example, a person with a known allergy to peanuts could eat a GMO that contained the allergenic protein from the peanut and thereby have an allergic reaction. In fact, a soy allergy in the United Kingdom increased by 50 perecent soon after a genetically modified version of soy was introduced into the market. More alarming was the fact that human subjects showed an allergic reaction to genetically modified soy, but did not to natural soy.

In the limited studies that have been conducted on labrotary animals, a study of rats fed genetically modified potatoes found the subjects to have smaller, partially atrophied livers. The subjects also showed excessive cell growth–often a precursor to cancer–not to mention other damaged organs and compromised immune systems. A study of mice found that mouse embryos from parents who ate genetically modified soy functioned differently than those whose parents did not eat genetically modified soy.

Now, most people would be quick to rationalize away any fear from these findings with the belief that government agencies like the FDA would not let something harmful reach their family’s dinner table. The truth is the lack of government regulation over GMOs is staggering.

Unlike drugs, there are not human clinical trials for genetically modified foods.

Begining with the Reagan administration and continuing to present day, the FDA, USDA, and EPA have put into place rules and regulations that have served only to create a weak and patchwork-esqe regulatory system.

The FDA allows biotech companies to police themselves in determining whether their genetically modified foods are safe. In some cases, these companies have been found guilty of hiding the toxic effects of their chemical products. (It should be noted that the creator of this “fox guarding the hen house” policy was the former attorney of one of these companies and later their vice-president.)
Moreover, in case you think this is just the result of a poor system, think again. GMOs are big business and the way the government spends your tax dollars shows where their true interests are. During an 11-year period from 1992 to 2002, the USDA spent $1 on risk-related research for every $100 spent on biotech development.

We are still in the dawn of the GMO age and no one knows definitvely what the future holds. The only way to keep you and your family safe for sure is to avoid GMOs altogether. Continue to monitor this story closely, but in the meanwhile stick to foods that are labeld as GMO-free. You’ll be glad you did.

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