Monday, December 14, 2009

Food Gone Frankenstein

Food Gone Frankenstein

How Genetically-Modified Food is Taking America by Storm

applefrankWe usually look for the reddest tomatoes and the biggest ears of corn because we believe them to taste the best, but did you know that a good bit of the produce you purchase at the grocery store is genetically modified?

Genetically modified foods (GM) are foods that undergo DNA changes through genetic engineering to enhance desired traits, such as nutritional value and resistance to herbicides and pesticides, while eliminating unwanted traits in the process. GM foods are fairly new to the market, first commercialized and marketed in the early 1990s. The first commercial GM produce was the tomato, genetically engineered to be more resistant to rotting. Then, in 1996, soybeans genetically modified to be more resistant to herbicides were released for commercial sale. Currently, GM ingredients make up the majority of all processed foods in the US. However, there are no laws in the US requiring companies to label their foods as genetically modified.

So why should we be concerned about buying and eating genetically-modified foods? After all, they seem to have many advantages like resistance to chemicals and insects, better taste, high nutritional value, and increased shelf life. Unfortunately, GM foods have their disadvantages. Critics say GM foods are unsafe, misleading, and damaging to the environment.

Top Tips

Because the US does not require any special labeling for genetically-modified foods, it may be difficult for you to find foods that aren’t GM. However, there are ways to avoid genetically-modified foods.

  • Buy food labeled 100% organic. While the FDA does not require companies to label GM food as genetically-modified, it does not allow 100% organic food to be genetically modified.

If you’re on a budget and can’t afford to buy all 100% organic groceries, save a little money and spend it on the foods that are most likely to be GM. Soybeans, corn, rice, alfalfa, canola, and dairy are just some of the foods that are commonly genetically modified.

  • Shop at your local farmer’s market. Not only will you help support local farmers, you will be buying quality produce as well.

  • Grow your own food. It seems that gardening is on the upswing, given the First Lady’s affinity for this hobby and the current economy. Not only will you feel safe when eating a salad created from crops grown in your backyard, a sense of pride will linger as you think about how hard you worked growing your own garden.

  • Reduce the amount of processed foods in your pantry. Instead of buying pre-packaged foods or eating at fast food restaurants, buy whole foods that you can use to create delicious, from scratch home-made meals.

  • Look at the Bar Code number on produce. According to, the price lookup codes (PLC) on produce are not just there for quicker checkouts. The numbers tell a story of how each piece of produce was made.

    • A 4-digit number code means the produce was conventionally-grown

    • A 5-digit number code beginning with the number 9 means the produce was organically-grown

    • A 5-digit number code beginning with the number 8 means the produce was genetically-modified

Other Considerations

  • Benefits of genetically-modified crops. Supporters believe GM crops are helpful to the environment for the following reasons.

    • Crops that are engineered to be more resistant to chemicals like pesticides and herbicides need less spraying, decreasing the amount of these chemicals in our water supply. Crops that need less spraying may be safer for farmers as well.

    • GM crops can be engineered to resist drought

    • GM crops can be engineered to be more beneficial and convenient for people. For example, rice with added vitamins, watermelons without seeds, and potatoes with more protein.

    • GM plants are being engineered to produce more chemicals for the creation of plastics, new vaccines, and even drugs. For example, scientists are trying to modify rapeseeds to produce more oil for use in biodegradable plastics.

    • Environmental Effects from GM foods. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, genetically modified crops pose environmental risks.

      • GM crops can become weeds, plants that produce undesirable effects.

      • GM crops could become channels through which new genes move to other plants, causing these plants to turn into weeds.

      • GM crops that are engineered to produce viruses could produce new, more widely spread viruses.

      • GM crops may have unpredictable, rippling effects through natural ecosystems, effecting wildlife, cross-pollinating with other plants, and affecting the organic nature of organic crops.

      • GM crops might threaten centers of crop diversity.

    • Although no serious environmental impacts have occurred in the time period that GM foods have been in existence, some scientists say that it is too early to measure if and how GM crops will impact the environment. Although small changes in animal and plant populations have occurred, these changes aren’t radical enough to garner attention.


…to your health

Your health can be directly related to what you eat. Buying organic food can reduce your exposure to pesticides, and eating locally likely ensures that your food will be fresher and full of nutrients.

…to your wallet

Buying whole foods that are in season usually costs less than buying processed foods or out-of-season imported foods. Organic food usually costs more than food grown with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. But with giant retailers and agribusinesses getting into the organics game, the cost of pesticide-free food is coming down.

…to the Earth

Responsible food consumption can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support environmentally sound agriculture and aquaculture practices that conserve soil and protect waterways, and transform the inhumane and unsustainable practices in the livestock and fishing industries.

Learn More

Healthy Eating

10 Ways to Eat Well

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