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Why You Should Care About Genetically Modified Foods
Throughout history, humans have relied on animals and plants for sustenance. Our bodies have developed to properly digest a large variety of these naturally occurring substances. The body understands how to excrete portions of a given food that might be hazardous to us, as well as to isolate the nutrients we need for health. These complex relationships evolved over tens of thousands of years — so what do you think might happen if all of a sudden our food supply displayed a dramatically different atomic formation that our body could not recognize?
This is exactly what is going on in laboratories throughout the country. Genetically modified foods are the product of scientific intervention in the natural growth process. Scientists have found ways of isolating or synthesizing particular genes from certain foods, animals and plants, then inserting them into the genome of another organism to harness the perceived benefits of the original specimen.
We have managed, through this science, to create a tomato that ripens in dark trucks, raspberries that don't rot during shipment, apples that grow to twice their normal size, and more. However, genetic engineering is not an exact science. Our understanding of the specific interactions of certain portions of the genome — eventually, one sequence may be necessary to block the effects of another dangerous one or a sequence may activate an essential process — allows scientists to perhaps unintentionally create hazardous foods that show up on our grocery shelves.
GM foods are sometimes touted as the "food of the future."To feed an ever-expanding global population, GM foods are meant to yield larger crops, faster than ever before, in conditions where such foods would never have been able to grow. However, GM foods may not be all they're chalked up to be.
In large part, companies that see the immense profit to be made from developing crops that humans need to survive have funded research into the science and effects of genetic engineering. Recently, scientists have developed pesticide-resistant crops, so that farmers can spray tons of pesticides that will kill everything in sight except the pesticide-resistant plant itself. Obviously, this is a huge time- and labor-saver, but it is also a huge moneymaker for the company that conveniently produces both the resistant seed and the pesticide. This practice has effectively destroyed the competitive edge of any other type of seed.
Oftentimes, GM seeds grow inferior crops that are not as sturdy or resilient and may lack certain nutritional components. Moreover, they have the capacity to infect local crops with their altered genes, such that heirloom varieties are destroyed. The problem is that indigenous populations have harvested and selected these varieties for their ability to be uniquely productive given a specific climate.
Because the U.S. government has allowed seed manufacturers to patent life by allowing them to own their specific, scientifically-altered seeds, those farmers whose native seeds are infected by GM alternatives are now also in violation of intellectual property. When poor farmers are faced with legal action by multi-national, multi-billion dollar companies, the result is almost always in the company's favor.
Oh, and one more thing. Science has also proven able to create "the terminator" gene, which effectively causes a seed to become infertile after one crop season, meaning farmers must buy new seed each year. Saving seeds from season to season used to be a staple of the farming community, a way to select for strong, vibrant crops naturally suited to a particular environs. Now, any such heirloom seeds that come into contact with a GM seed and absorb the altered genes are destroyed, either because they become patent violations or are programmed to self-destruct. For many farmers, in the U.S. and abroad, the cost of buying new seeds every year, plus the additional price of the necessary fertilizers and pesticides engineered to work with these GM seeds, proves to be far more than they can afford. The result is farmers in desperate debt, stuck in the pockets of the very businesses that put them in this terrible financial situation. The altruistic speak of GM seed producers about how they're going to end starvation the world over seems to fade into the background once we see the big picture of who wins and who loses when all is said and done.
I am not saying that all genetically modified foods are created equal. Certainly, there may be some development in this field that will significantly improve our ability to feed everyone on earth with health-sustaining produce. But I am an advocate for our right as consumers to know whether our food has been genetically modified, meaning our government should mandate that producers provide clear labeling. I am also in favor of independent studies that examine the long-term effect that ingesting significantly altered food might have on our health —before it becomes widely available and can be found in everything from baby food to chicken nuggets. Most worryingly, it feels as though we consumers have been volunteered as guinea pigs in the experiment—and we have no idea what the consequences might be. You may weigh the risks and choose to keep eating GM foods, but at least you will have had at the chance to make an educated decision.
For more information on the way that GM foods have infiltrated our food system and dramatically changed the way we eat, check out the movie "Food, Inc." In an hour and a half, it will completely change the way you see the food that is available to you today, and make you a smarter shopper for it.
Daphne Oz is a co-host of ABC's "The Chew." To find out more about Daphne Oz and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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