GMO or Genetically Modified Organism is the result of genetic engineering and manipulation of genes in plants and animals. A gene is injected or moved to another gene to create a desirable DNA with better characteristics. It has long been believed that manipulation and modifying of genes will make plants pest resistant, grow faster, and withstand the cold. Genetically modified animals provide more meat and improved taste.
Uses of GMO
GMOs seem to be the long-awaited answer to expensive farming and increasing consumer demands. It lowers the production and maintenance cost of growers and farm owners since they do not have to spend much on the herbicide or pesticide. This eventually results to more production, lesser mortality and higher yield.
GMOs are also applied in the field of medicine. Plants, animals and even humans have become subjects to genetic engineering in developing cure to several diseases. Take for example, Insulin. This is extracted from the insulin gene found in the intestines of pigs and is injected to a bacteria. In the laboratory, the bacterium that grows and develops the insulin gene is purified to serve it medical purpose to diabetic patients. Almost all synthetic medicines have embraced genetic engineering in producing the world's ever growing demand for medications.
Food products mostly contain GMOs in their ingredients. To name one is Aspartame, which is widely used as sweetener in soft drinks and other beverages. Even our pizzas and burgers contain cucumbers and tomatoes and spices that are genetically modified.
Effects of GMO
So what does this imply? Using GMO allows consumers to avail of products at a lower cost. It also supplies and addresses the huge demand in the market. We can simply say it makes everything easier. There have been a lot of discussions as to whether GMOs are heroes or villain.
While GMO seem to provide only the beneficial genes, meaning all those unwanted characteristic of a plant or animal is taken away from its DNA, it has raised enormous contradictions all across the globe. Simply put, whatever is unnatural has negative effects to the environment and people. Many organizations pushed for an organic farming rather than applying GMOs. Here are a couple of valid points:
- Although these GM product manufacturers claim that it is the same with the organic products; even better in many aspects, they have failed to prove that. There are very few studies on the safety of GM crops and foods. This alone is alarming because if it is really safe and do not cause health problems then why is there only a few studies made to prove its safety. On the other hand, there are several researches to prove otherwise.
- GM crops did not deliver its promise and even cause increasing farm problems. Transgene supposed to provide superior produce. However, there are still flaws in the DNA which caused major crop failures. Instead of increasing the yield and economics, the instability of the transgenes becomes the culprit in their investments. It also produces superweeds that can only be killed by herbicides with higher toxicity. This does not affect only the environment but also the animals and most especially the people in the area.
GMO companies claim that they solve world hunger. But to many, one is certain: whatever is unnatural, it has negative effects to the body and the environment. Since the natural pattern is altered, there is absolutely an adverse effect that comes with it. That is why anti-GMO organizations demanded that GMO-containing products indicate the presence of GMOs in their product labels. However, to date, not all regions have a mandatory regulation regarding that.
In our groceries nowadays, even if it is our personal choice to stay away from GMOs, we cannot really know whether what we put in our cart is GM-free or not. Example soy, corn or canola oils are not GM-free. With Monsanto's advance technology, there are traces of GMOs in almost everything we eat. In a sampling done, traces of GMOs in food are actually at 98%. Why? It is because GMO pollen flies between fields through wind and insect carriers. This is affecting nearby farms not practicing GM farming.
There is a high chance of cross-contamination of GMO pollen to other cultivated lands and other areas that ‘should' be GMO-free through wind and insects. This is also because the ideal distance between farms is 50m but in the actual, it is only at 10m distance.
Since 1997, Monsanto has sued 144 farmers for patent infringement. They have won all cases though. But what actually happened is that Monsanto's GMO is dispersed by the wind and sued peasants of stealing their patents.
GM products have been in the market since 1996. The FDA has approved these products because they come from conventional foods and conventional foods are considered safe. However, several animal studies indicate serious risks of genetically modified foods. Genetically modified organisms, for example, are suspected to be responsible for everything from autism and cancer to diabetes and allergies. Another research tested GMO on mice and results are shocking. It resulted to infertility, deformation and other diseases.
Monsanto is the only manufacturer of rBGH, which is marketed under the name Posilac. Posilac is injected into cows to increase daily milk production by 10%. However, there seems to be a connection between rBGH, cancer and premature puberty.
Since genetically engineered foods are introduced in the mid 90's, numerous health problems increased. There’s been a 400% increase in allergies and ADHD, a 300% increase in asthma and up to 6,000% increase in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Other disorders such as reproductive and digestive problems are on the rise.
Don't you think FDA should take these matters into consideration?
How to identify GM produce?
The largest producer of GMOs is the US, which in turn export these products to all over the world. A research study conducted by the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers Cook College shows that only 52 percent of the USA's population knew that GMO foods sold in the shop, while only 26% know they food products with GMOs. A big chunk of the population knows that aspartame, soy, corn, corn starch, etc. are genetically engineered.
The safety issue forfeits the purpose genetic modification. After all it is our health that is of the highest priority. With strong opposition, non – GMO supporters have found a way to help consumers know what the ‘safe’ products in the market are.
PLU or Price Look Up codes
PLU or numbers are used since 1990 in stores and supermarkets in easier inventory of products. It currently ranges from 300-4999. These are 4-digit codes to help identify the classification of product upon checkout. In 2012, the International Federation of Produce Standards(IFPS) which is composed of national produce associations worldwide specifies 3 categories for the fifth digit or suffixes that will help consumers know whether a certain product is genetically modified or not. The objective of the federation is to improve the efficiency in the supply chain of fresh produce by implementing a harmonized international standard.
PLU codes in fresh produce like fruits and vegetables are globally applied.
These will help consumers determine whether the product is genetically modified/engineered or organic.
- 5-digit PLU code starting with ‘9' indicates that those products are organic.
- 5-digit PLU codes starting with ‘8' are genetically modified.
- 5-digit PLU codes starting with ‘6’ are irradiated, mostly imported.
- 4-digit PLU code starting with ‘4’ is conventionally grown, and may or may not be GM.
- ‘0' or having no fifth digit falls under ‘non-qualified produce'.
GMO Product labeling
Proper labeling is also another way to clearly distinguish an organic product from genetically modified product. Organic products are very bold in marketing their produce with the necessary markings or labels in the packaging. This strategy has increased their sales significantly.
What you can do
Be vigilant in buying certified organic food. Look at the labels; buy only food products with Non-GMO Project Label. Or better yet, grow your own food at home. This is the best way you can make sure you know what you eat. But first, make sure the seeds you will sow are certified organic. Lastly, you have to stay informed. This is very important to keep you upbeat with the latest developments with regards to GMO industry.
People have become more knowledgeable on the health effects of what they eat. This is why they dig in organic products even if it is more expensive than the others. Although GMOs are made for superior results, it cannot be denied that indeed along with technology are risks and negative effects to health and environment. Now, it is up to you to choose. Is it the value of your money or your life?