If you are a health-conscious consumer, you probably have noticed labels on some foods that read, “Non-GMO Verified.” GMO stands for “genetically modified,” and this type of food has been a source of much controversy in political and health spheres. Most of us have a natural wariness towards genetically modified foods, and our bias prevents us from truly evaluating them. It’s understandable for people to be scared of GMO foods, especially when people loudly denounce it online. But if people are to make an informed decision about GMO foods, they should set aside their bias against it and really ask, “Are GMO foods OK?”
A little history on GMO foods is helpful in making an informed decision regarding this type of food. Genetically modified foods were first introduced en masse to the public in the mid-1990’s. From tomatoes that delayed in ripening to herbicide-resistant soybeans, many types of food were being altered, and enhanced, by this new way of production. The technology behind this new process was introduced in the 1970’s. Using biotechnology, scientists were able to genetically engineer the DNA of organisms, basically tinkering with the genetic code of foods in order to modify existing traits or to add new traits to the organism. The ripening-delayed tomato is an example of a trait that was simply modified, and the herbicide-resistant soybean is an example of a completely new trait given to the bean by genetic modification.
Obviously, the people genetically modifying these foods want to benefit people from the changes, not to create detrimental monstrosities out of normal foods. One of the biggest goals for making GMO foods is to produce enough food to feed the entire world population, as many countries cannot produce or obtain enough food to feed their people. Typical means of food production are inadequate to feed everyone in the world; using genetically modified food increases food production and, as a result, can provide people with the food they need to live.
So what’s all the hullabaloo about GMOs then? Basically, lots of people don’t like the idea of scientists tinkering with the DNA of their food. It doesn’t sound safe! As Americans have become more health-conscious, they generally regard food that has been genetically modified as unnatural and therefore unhealthy. Another factor is a lack of immediate benefit for the consumer. Americans in general are asking, “What do I get out of it?” when they consider buying a product. Consumers don’t see immediate benefits for choosing GMO foods. The nature of its production has scared many people, and easing their conscience would be no small task. However, there is wide agreement amongst scientists that genetically modified food poses no health risk for consumers. No negative health effect has been linked to consuming GMO foods. Another consideration for the safety of GMO foods is that these products undergo extensive assessments to make sure that they are safe for consumption. GMO foods far surpass traditionally produced foods with regards to the many tests they must pass before being sold. A great article by the World Health Organization addressing the frequently asked questions regarding GMO foods can be read here.
What does this mean for health-conscious grocers? GMO foods seem to be OK. The scientists who know what they’re talking about are saying that there aren’t negative health effects from consuming GMO foods. Their opinion should be considered over noisy protestors on social media sites who don’t know anything about genetic engineering. GMO foods can also provide food that millions of people around the world don’t have. Technology has benefited all of us, and GMO food is another example of technology working for the good of people. But, admittedly, this is only an introduction. Keep researching, and keep your biases in check. Despite the controversy, GMO foods are a biotechnological marvel that shows the ingenuity of people who are thinking hard about how to use their knowledge and skills to provide for people worldwide.