GMOS: The Modifier’s Perspective

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You enter the grocery store and glance at your list: snack bars, tomatoes, frozen dinners, corn, and cookies appear. It’s more than likely that these items are genetically modified or contain genetically modified ingredients.

 

GMO Awareness states on their website that genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, is an organism whose genetic characteristics have been altered using the techniques of genetic engineering. For example, crops can be genetically modified for weather resistance, pest resistance, a certain color, and to develop a particular flavor. Genetically modified plants contain the DNA from another plant.

 

On June 1, 2013 in Connecticut, the announcement was made that GMO foods will be required to be labeled once four states pass a similar bill, and one state must border Connecticut. Also, any number of Northeastern states must approve a similar bill with a combined population of at least 20 million people. The law will take effect by October 1, 2013 as long as these two requirements are met. There are already 26 states in the United States that require GMO labeling or prohibit genetically engineered food. Although GMOs have been utilized for almost 20 years, they are just now being given a bad rap.

 

“That horse has been out of the barn for a long time,” said Jim Watson, President of Watson, Inc., a West Haven, Connecticut ingredient company that supplies to food and pharmaceutical industries, in an interview. Watson Inc. provides both GMO and non-GMO ingredients to these industries.

 

Watson stated that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims that GMOs are no more of a risk than other food products. He also believes that labeling GMO foods could an unnecessary fear to the public.

 

Genetically engineered food products are regulated by the FDA and are processed for their safety just as non-GMO foods are. Since GMO food must meet the same safety requirements as non-GMOs, they are approved as safe to consume, although skeptics challenge this. Many believe there are negative health effects that arise from GMO foods. Despite what some may think, there have not been any proven long-term health effects from GMOs, and these food products are not brought to market unless they pass the consultation process by the FDA. Approximately 80% of processed foods are genetically engineered. Corn, canola, soybeans, and cotton are the plants that are most often genetically engineered, corn being the top genetically engineered crop.

 

The internal anatomy of swine is nearly identical to that of humans as far as organ function and other bodily processes go. Many surgeons often perform complex procedures on pigs before operating on humans for practice.

 

 

If every crop were to be grown without GMOs, produce would suffer. There simply would not be enough food to feed the current population and future population.

 

 

Waton Inc. at the Institute of Food Technology’s 2011 Food Expo. Photo courtesy of Watson Inc.’s Facebook page.

A study conducted and published in the Journal of Animal Science on the effect of genetically modified grain compared to the effects of a control grain, nontransgenic near-isoline grain, which does not contain genetic material from other species (non-GMO), in pig feed. The pigs were grown to finishing and evaluated at the end of the study, where it was confirmed that there were no dramatic differences in body composition or growth observed in both cases. It was concluded that the nutritional value of the modified corn was similar to the control corn.

 

Although there are hundreds of groups, organizations, companies, and the like who disagree with consuming GMO products, Watson, Inc. holds a firm stance on the matter: genetically modified organisms do not affect the health of those who consume them.

 

When food is genetically modified, more is confirmed in the food’s gene sequencing. With this added knowledge, it is easier to determine the food’s safety.

 

Genetic engineering also has a role in better and higher crop yield. The plants do not require as much water in order to grow efficiently. The crops can develop weather resistance to survive harsh conditions. Plants can also be made to emit less carbon dioxide into the environment.

 

The genetically enhanced traits of the crops increase yield to provide food for the continuously growing population. A field of genetically modified corn would not produce as many successful ears due to damage from harsh weather, pests, and other disturbances that regularly prevent corn from growing to its full potential. This is just one crop—if every crop were to be grown without GMOs, produce would suffer. There simply would not be enough food to feed the current population and future population.

 

“We can feed millions and millions of people who are starving,” said Johnpaul Tata, the Regulatory Affairs Specialist at Watson, Inc.,  in an interview. “From a food science perspective, [GMOs are] great.”

 

Moira Watson, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Watson, Inc. also shares the same concern about feeding the growing population.

 

“As the population grows it’s going to be important that we have crops to feed everyone,” she said in an interview.

 

Rice with vitamin A has been genetically engineered for communities in Asia that eat mostly rice and become deficient in vitamin A. This deficiency is a serious health issue; it causes one to two million deaths a year according to UNICEF.

 

“It’s very difficult to compete with all the hype,” Moira said.

 

She also believes national campaigns may help agricultural groups pull resources together in hopes to communicate their side of the GMO debate with consumers.

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