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Genetically modified organism (GMO) is a relatively new trend in agricultural crops, which was created for human or animal consumption. This phenomenon is expected to primarily address the issue of hunger in the world, because it would get more resistant organisms, with better tolerance to diseases and with increased biomass. However, there are a lot of controversies surrounding GMO. There is no real answer to the question whether the GMO food is healthy or not.
For example, it is proven that the ingredients from GMO soy change the DNA of friendly bacteria that normally live in our bodies, turning them against us. Also, toxic substances from genetically modified corn were found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn babies. Still, the level of danger those changes create is not that big to consider the whole GMO trend dangerous.
Since 1996, when the first meal made from GMO foods was served, many claims about the unhealthy impact of these foods have been reported. Although there isn’t a single proof that relates the GMO to the increase of chronic diseases in America, people are being suspicious. Same goes for increased occurrences of food allergies, problems with digestive systems, etc.
However, the US Food and Drug Administration FDA (Food and Drug Agency) accept GMOs as something natural and safe. The principle of substantive equality which allows GMO foods, exists also in Japan and Canada, and is endorsed by the World Health Organization. The problem might not be in the genetically modified organisms, but in a number of new herbicides, pesticides and other toxins that are used since the late nineties.
Pros of GMO Foods:
- A better resistance to pests and diseases. Genetically modified crops can produce variations that are more resistant to pests and diseases, thus reducing deficits and dependence on pesticides. For example, the gene that gives the wild plant resistance to fungal infection can be inserted into an edible plant that does not have this protection. Such crops are less vulnerable to all sorts of diseases.
- Higher tolerance to stress. Genes which provide a higher tolerance to stress, such as drought, low temperature or salt in the soil, may also be inserted into crops. Such gene can expand their distribution, thus opening new areas for cultivation.
- Faster growth. Crops can be modified to grow faster in order to be processed and collected in areas that have a shorter period of favorable climate. This may increase the amount of crops in new areas or even allow two harvests in areas where one harvest per year is usual.
- Nutritious foods. Plants and animals can be altered to produce higher amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, in order to solve the problems of the healthy diet in some parts of the world. Changes could also include changes in the amount of proteins, carbohydrates, and the content of saturated and unsaturated fats. All this could lead to the production of food designed specifically for a healthy diet of all consumers.
- Ability to manufacture drugs and vaccines. It might be possible that plants and animals produce useful medicines and vaccines to prevent and treat human diseases.
- Resistance to herbicides. Crops can be changed so that they become resistant to certain herbicides, making it easier to resolve the problem of harmful plants. Farmers would simply use an herbicide on the entire arable land, destroying unwanted plants while not damaging the GMO. For example, genetically modified rapeseed – the source of canola oil – is resistant to a chemical that is widely used to control weeds.
- A better taste. Food can be modified in order to have a better taste, which could encourage people to eat healthier foods that are now unpopular because of its taste, such as spinach and broccoli. Perhaps, it would be possible to insert genes that produce different flavors.
Cons of GMO Foods:
- Unexpected side effects. Some of the effects of genetically modified foods on human health can be unexpected. Many of the chemical compounds in the food behave in extremely complex ways in the human body. If the food contains something which is not present in the human diet, it is difficult to say whether it has adverse effects over time. Although genetically modified foods are rigorously tested, there may be subtle, long-term effects that we cannot yet identify.
- Problems with labeling genetically modified foods. Customers may not be clear what they eat when they eat genetically modified food. Not all states require mandatory labeling of foods or ingredients as genetically modified and even if it is properly labeled, people might not take the time to read the information. People who are allergic to a particular ingredient can be unexpectedly vulnerable to those genetically modified foods containing that ingredient. Vegans might get in touch with foods whose genes actually come from animals.
- Reduced diversity of species. The genes that make crops toxic to harmful insects can kill the other, beneficial insects, and thus continues to affect the food chain. All this can lead to reduced diversity of species in the wild and even extinction of sensitive species.
- Ecological damage. There is a possibility that the genes that protect the GMO crops from insects and diseases can be harmful to indigenous plants. Pollen from genetically modified crops with the help of insects or the wind will be transferred to wild plants and thus create new, modified plants. This could lead to weeds resistant to herbicides or to uncontrolled growth of certain plants, all of which could harm delicate ecosystems.
- Effects on crops that are not genetically modified. Pollen from genetically modified crops can get spread on those crops that are not. Over time, this leads to crops that are not genetically modified containing the material of genetically modified crops. It happened at least once – a well-documented case of a long legal battle between a farmer and a GMO company, shows it.
- Excessive use of herbicides. Planting crops resistant to herbicides could lead to a relaxed and more frequent use of herbicides, because they cannot adversely affect the GMO crop. In doing so people will not have in mind that all the ingredients would end up in the soil, washed off by rain and will eventually end up in rivers. Such chemicals could poison the fish, wild animals and plants, but could also enter get into the human drinking water.
- The problem of access to genetically modified food. The production of genetically modified foods can grow into a monopoly, held by a small number of private companies. The owners of the rights to the production of genetically modified foods may be reluctant to allow access to technology, or genetic material to a broader public. At least not for free. That can make certain countries dependant on these companies, which can lead to all sorts of political problems.
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