You’ve probably heard of GMO foods whenever you shop at the grocery store or read nutritional articles. But what are GMO foods? And why is it such a controversial subject?
First of all, GMO stands for genetically modified organism. The name is pretty self-explanatory — scientists alter the genetic material of an organism using genetic engineering or transgenic technology. The process of modifying organisms has occured throughout history, even before humans walked the Earth.
Evolution is defined as changes in organisms over many generations. Because it’s determined by the organism’s environment, it’s a very slow process. To break it down, imagine a plant growing on an island with a hot environment. Over a couple of thousand years, the weather changes from hot to cold and wet. Individual variability allows certain plants to tolerate this change in weather, and as a result, this plant population is now adapted to cold and wet climate. This process is called natural selection, and it is driven by genetic variability. Genes best suited for survival are passed on to the next generation.
When humans began farming and herding, they started to breed various domesticated plants and animals. This process is called selective breeding, because humans chose to breed animals and plants with the most ideal characteristics. Therefore, crops such as corn produce a surplus of food, and cows produce more milk. This genetic modification happens a lot faster than evolution. However, when technology develops to the point where scientists can transfer a gene from one organism to another, it creates an even more precise and efficient way of genetic modification than selective breeding.
So what’s so bad about eating GMO food? The reasoning behind the controversy behind GMO food is centered around the large ambiguity in the risks and effects of eating GMO foods. People who support GMOs argue that genetic modifications will be a necessary solution to food shortages, while most people who choose not to eat GMO foods believe that eating them is unhealthy. They believe that GMOs create an unstable combination of different genes that are unnatural, which can lead to unknown health risks. Ultimately, there is no evidence to date of GMO foods being harmful to humans, nor are there any animal studies suggesting GMO foods are unsafe. However, the lack of abundant information and evidence about GMO foods generates much opposition and debate over this situation. Regardless of opinions, it is a fact that producers in the United States aren’t required to label whether their products have GMOs in them or not.
Therefore, if you choose not to consume GMOs, be wary when buying produce as there might be GMOs used to feed the animals that produced the food or in the ingredients.