Should We Be Saying “No” To GMO’s?
What are GMOs?
It’s pretty safe to say that there is a lot of misinformation on social media nowadays. One of the common topics that I see generate a lot of heat is the topic of GMOs. After seeing the negative attention GMOs have received, I decided to do some research on some non-biased, evidence-based sources backed with some good quality evidence. I can imagine when a person encounters the term GMO (genetically modified organism) in relation to food, we become a little bit weary of what that entails. For some reason, seeing the words genetically, modified, and food put together in the same sentence brings us a mental picture of a scientist injecting a tomato (or what other vegetable you have in mind) with a syringe of chemicals. That is not the case. So… what are GMOs then?
GMOs are any organism (plant, animal, or microorganism) that has had its genetic material altered through genetic engineering in a way that does not occur naturally. This procedure allows for select genes to be transferred from one organism to another. This can also happen between species that are not related (which you would never see in nature). Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to GM foods. GM foods have been approved for sale in Canada since 1994 with the four main crops grown including canola, soybean, corn and sugar beet.
Why are GMOs used?
Farmers use GMOs to reduce yield loss or crop damage from weeds, insects, diseases, and severe weather conditions. This is because these crops have adapted genes from other organisms that help the plant thrive in the presence of elements that would traditionally damage them. Genetically modified crops also require less pesticide application as they become more resistant to the diseases that threaten to destroy them. Also, GM crops do not need to be tilled as much since one of the reasons why tilling is done is to help control weeds. Reducing the amount of tilling can be a positive thing because tilling in itself, can cause soil erosion and water runoff while letting greenhouse gases to escape.
Another reason why GMOs are used comes from the nutrition side of things. GMOs can be used to help enhance nutrition in food. This can be very important in parts of the world where people rely on a small number of crops to get their complete nutrition. A well-known example of this is golden rice which is a GM rice with added beta-carotene (a precursor for vitamin A), giving the grains of rice a yellow colour. This rice was developed to help fight the blindness that comes with vitamin A deficiency found in rice-based societies. Research on this rice suggests that it is both safe and effective for preventing vitamin A deficiency. If you would like to read more on golden rice, just click here.
Are GMOs safe?
Let’s get to the point on this one: there is no evidence to show that GMOs are harmful to our health. Since GMO crops have been introduced, more than 2,000 studies have been conducted to look at the health and environmental impacts of these crops. The majority of these studies have not shown evidence to indicate that GMO foods are harmful. There has been one study conducted with rats that brought some attention however, that study have been retracted due to its flawed design. The general consensus is that GM food are no more a risk to our health then that of crops developed through traditional breeding techniques.
In Canada, it typically takes seven to ten years of research before a company has collected enough data on their GM food to submit to Health Canada. This data is collected from assessments completed by a team of molecular biologists, toxicologists, nutritionists, chemists, and microbiologists. From these assessments, they have to provide data with regards to the GM food such as the process used to make the GM food, documentation of the nutrition make-up of the GM food, evidence that the GM food does not contain toxins or allergens as well are other important information.
The Bottom Line
So, after reading the points mentioned above you may think I am a promoter of GMOs but is not entirely the case. My job is to present you with the evidence so you can make an informed decision. The main message I am trying to get across is that there is no solid evidence that would make me want to steer people away from GMOs especially since eating enough fruits and vegetables is a challenge for many people. Why make that challenge unnecessarily more difficult? It would be unethical for me to promote something that may cause stress for some people when there is no good quality evidence to suggest harm from GMOs. With that being said, it is a personal choice and there are people who prefer to go the non-GMO route and that is fine. Just don’t be overly concerned if that route is unrealistic for you.
If you would like to read more about GMOs, I invite you to check out the Genetic Literacy Project website. If you have any further questions around GMOs or any other nutrition topic, feel free to send a message through the North Shore Family Team facebook page.