What You Need to Know About GMOs
For over a decade, organic food profits have steadily risen in the U.S. In 2018, organic food sales exceeded $47 billion dollars, a number that does not include organic non-food items. Organic products draw in consumers by boasting an absence of genetically modified organisms, also known as GMOs. But what are GMOs, and are they as detrimental to health as consumers believe?
What are GMOs used for?
Genetically modified organisms are living organisms added to plant nuclei to alter cellular makeup. Typically, one cell is treated with a GMO, and scientists stimulate its growth using plant hormones. As the cell divides and the plant grows, the result is a genetically modified plant with each cell containing the modified genetic code.
The World Health Organization (WHO) cites several perceived advantages to GMO-enhanced foods. According to WHO, consumers benefit from GMOs due to improved durability or nutritional value and lower prices for fruits, vegetables, meats, and other foods. For farmers, the major reason for GMO use is to protect crops from insects and herbicides. As WHO explains, a specific chemical is incorporated in the gene that is safe for human consumption but toxic to insects. However, in recent years insects have developed a resistance to the toxin, and agricultural scientists are exploring new avenues to prevent or delay resistance.
Are GMOs dangerous?
This is the question on any shopper’s mind as they shop for groceries. Generally, foods without GMOs are perceived as healthier and fresher alternatives to other grocery fare. So, are GMOs dangerous? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t so cut-and-dry.
In a 2015 survey, a majority of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science reported that GMOs are “generally safe” to eat. However, the overarching Pew Research Center study noted that over half of U.S. adults believe GMOs can negatively impact health. Genetic modification is nothing new in the food industry. For over 10,000 years, farmers have altered crops to become more durable against factors such as weather and pests. The carrots and corn we eat today look like distant cousins of what grew centuries ago.
Despite a history of GMOs being used in agriculture and across the food industry, many people choose to opt for more natural, fresh alternatives that have not been altered, processed, or exposed to harmful chemicals. According to the NON-GMO project, GMOs can raise concerns for both human and animal health and can be detrimental to the environment.
While there is still plenty of research to be done on the health effects of GMOs, it’s best to spend time weighing the pros and cons of purchasing foods with GMOs present.