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What Does “Genetically Modified Food” Mean?

by Julia McCartney on May 23, 2012

Genetically modified foods are more prevalent in the United States than in any other country in the world. While the government asserts that these foods are safe to eat, some scientists have a different opinion. What are genetically modified foods and how safe are they?

“Genetically Modified Food” Defined

A genetically modified food is one that has been derived from a process involving the genetic engineering of an organism. This process artificially modifies the DNA of the organism. These modifications are intended to make plants more resilient to climate changes, resistant to certain common pests and resistant to viruses that are commonly associated with the individual plants that are modified. Although the aim of genetically modifying food is to make it more abundant and readily available to the general population, studies have indicated that consumption of these foods may not be entirely safe.

FDA Concerns Regarding Genetically Modified Food

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has held several hearings to listen to testimony regarding the safety of genetically modified organisms, many researchers feel that the organization’s conclusions are misguided. The FDA has decided to continue its policy regarding genetically modified foods. No special labeling is required as long as the genetic makeup of the food is close enough to the original food source that it does not cause harm to those with certain food allergies.

A group of activists hoping to convince the FDA to change their labeling policy sent a petition to the organization in March 2012. The FDA responded to the petition claiming that more time was needed to decide whether it was necessary to label genetically modified foods.

Scientists’ Findings Regarding Genetically Modified Food

Several studies concerning genetically modified foods that have been conducted on mice have indicated the need for continued studies of the long term effects of consuming these foods. One study conducted by scientists at the University of Verona in Italy indicated that genetically modified foods negatively influenced metabolic rate and liver function during the aging process of mice.

A report published through the Federal Ministry of Health, Family and Youth in Austria revealed that mice that were fed genetically modified corn feed displayed reproductive failure over several generations.

The scientific findings regarding genetically modified foods indicate that more studies must be done to determine the exact effects of these foods on the human body. The alarming connections between genetically engineered food products and adverse health issues in test subjects makes it apparent that people should avoid these foods until more information is discovered. There is a chance that further studies will reveal that these foods are not safe for consumption.

Worldwide Regulations for Genetically Modified Food

A map released by the Center for Food Safety brings to light the fact that most other developed nations worldwide have adopted policies limiting the sale of genetically engineered food products. Even those countries that allow the cultivation and sale of such foods typically require clear labeling regarding the modification of the product.

There are 10 countries worldwide that have enacted a strict ban on genetically modified organisms. Others have yet to adopt a national ban but have smaller regions that have banned the practice. Seven countries on the African continent have a policy in place that states that these countries will not accept genetically modified food that is sent to the country from abroad as a form of aid.

The United States cultivates an overwhelming percentage of genetically modified crops. Nearly 60 percent of all genetically modified crops are sourced from the U.S.

Adverse Health Affects Associated with Genetically Modified Food

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine released a statement highlighting the fact that studies have found several health problems associated with the consumption of genetically modified foods. Even though these foods are generally considered to be safe, health issues linked to genetically modified foods include serious concerns such as accelerated aging, problems with the regulation of insulin, cell growth abnormalities, organ malfunction and infertility.

Some proponents of these foods argue that the connection between genetically modified foods and health problems is simply coincidental. However, there have been multiple studies involving animals that have definitively linked these modified foods to the health issues mentioned above.

How To Be a Proactive Consumer

Because there are no labeling laws currently in place regarding genetically modified products in the United States, it can be difficult for consumers to avoid these foods in the store. The Huffington Post provides some helpful tips for being a cautious consumer. A summary of these suggestions is listed below.

  • Avoid foods that contain ingredients that are commonly sourced from genetically modified crops. The most frequently genetically modified crops in the United States include corn, cotton, canola and soy. Note that the inclusion of cotton indicates that many of the clothes and linens used in the average household are made from genetically modified materials.
  • Steer clear of any food that has been heavily processed and prepackaged. As stated above, corn is one of the most commonly genetically modified foods. Many packaged foods contain corn in one form or another because it is cheap to produce in mass quantities. Approximately 25 percent of all foods contain some form of corn, and many of these products are concentrated in the prepackaged aisles of grocery stores.
  • Read the labels on foods and choose those that are clearly marked as organic. There are regulations in place that prohibit any ingredient that is claimed to be organic from being genetically modified. However, be sure to read the details to make certain that every ingredient used in the product is considered to be organic. Some products that are labeled as organic only have a few organic ingredients.

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