Caution needed concerning genetically-modified food

by Lindsey Hubbart

As we walk up and down the aisles at the grocery store looking for our favorite foods, it is close to impossible to avoid processed food without genetically modified (GMO) ingredients. According to the Center for Food Safety (CFS), “upwards of 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves—from soda to soup, crackers, and condiments—contain genetically modified ingredients.” The biggest culprits include corn, soybeans, cotton (seen in food as cottonseed oil), canola and sugar beets. If you glance at the ingredients list on your favorite snacks, I guarantee that you will find one of these products.

The CFS lists “toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression, and cancer” as potential health impacts. In terms of the environment, genetic engineering can cause “uncontrolled biological pollution, threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction and the potential contamination of all non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possible hazardous genetic material.”

However, not everyone is in agreement on the dangers of GMO foods. Greg Jaffe, director of biotechnology at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, insists that we have no conclusive evidence of the danger of these ingredients.

In the midst of all the hype about the consequences of GMO products, it is important to understand why we genetically engineer food in the first place. According to the Human Genome Project Information site, genetic modification can make crops “herbicide- and insect-resistant,” which helps maintain an adequate food supply. GMO products also have “enhanced taste and quality,” “reduced maturation time” and “increased nutrients, yields, and stress tolerance.”

There has been much debate surrounding the potential benefits and dangers of GMOs. Some health and environmental advocates have proposed a complete ban of GMOs, as they have done in many other countries including Australia, Japan, Germany, Ireland, and Switzerland, according to “The Examiner.” However, others are quick to emphasize how important GMOs are to an adequate food supply and reject an outright ban.

I believe that, as a society, we need to fall somewhere in the middle. Even though I try to avoid GMOs whenever possible, I would be fearful of banning them right now. We cannot afford to have anything affect the food supply. Also, from an economic perspective, it would be very costly for companies to have to suddenly change the ingredients of their food due to legislation.

However, I believe that we need to invest in educational measures to allow consumers to make more informed choices about the foods we eat.

One way to go about empowering consumers to make better choices is to put labels on all foods that contain GMO ingredients. This measure would allow customers to know what they put in their mouths. Health-conscious consumers can make the decision to purchase something else.

We have significant power as consumers. If, as a society, we make a collective decision to shift the demand away from GMOs, companies will have no choice but to change their ingredients.

That is the power of the free market, and I believe we ought to use that to our advantage to make a difference in the quality of our food.

Contact Lindsey Hubbart at lhubbart15@my.whitworth.edu

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