Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are contained in most of the processed foods we find every day in the grocery store, yet many people are unaware of their existence or know little about them.
Since their introduction in 1996, genetically modified (GM) foods have become a topic of controversy. GM foods are created from plant or, (in much less common cases, though that may change) animal sources that have been genetically manipulated and changed. GMO stands for “genetically modified organism”; the term GM or GE (genetically engineered) is used to describe foods containing these unnatural ingredients. The end result is a laboratory creation that has traits and characteristics that are deemed desirable (for example, papayas that resist the ringspot virus and produce that resists spoiling so it can be stored longer). It hasn’t been found that GM foods pose any short-term threat to health, but we don’t have any way of knowing what long-term effects may be. An important part of the controversy surrounding GMOs is our right to know when–and why–we’re consuming them. Also controversial is the dearth of independent studies done on long-term effects of consuming genetically modified food.
What are the most common examples of GM foods?
A summary of crops, foods and food ingredients that have been genetically modified in the U.S. as of May, 2010: Currently commercialized GM crops in the U.S. include soy (94%), cotton (90%), canola (90%), sugar beets (95%), corn (88%), Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%), zucchini and yellow squash (over 24,000 acres).
Other Sources of GMOs:
- Dairy products from cows injected with the GM hormone rbGH
- Food additives, enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet) and rennet used to make hard cheeses
- Meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals that have eaten GM feed
- Honey and bee pollen that may have GM sources of pollen
- Contamination or pollination caused by GM seeds or pollen
Some food ingredients that may be genetically modified: Vegetable oil, vegetable fat and margarines (made with soy, corn, cottonseed, and/or canola)
Ingredients derived from soybeans: Soy flour, soy protein, soy isolates, soy isoflavones, soy lecithin, vegetable proteins, textured vegetable protein (TVP), tofu, tamari, tempeh, and soy protein supplements.
Ingredients derived from corn: Corn flour, corn gluten, corn masa, corn starch, corn syrup, cornmeal, and High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).
Why is labeling important?
Every consumer has the right to know what the products he buys is made from–even more so for products we eat and feed our children. Currently the European Union, Australia, Brazil, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Venezuela require labeling of foods containing GM ingredients. Absent from this list of countries is both Canada and the United States. In November of 2012 a proposal to label GM containing foods in the state of California lost by a slim margin of 52% to 48%.