Ask Eartha: The unknowns associated with genetically modified foods
October 17, 2014
I have been hearing a lot about Proposition 105, labeling genetically modified food, in the news lately. I know what genetically modified foods are, but what is the importance of this proposition, and why is it important for these products to be labeled?
— Sean, Summit Cove
Proposition 105 is a citizen-driven measure that began from a grassroots organization known as Right to Know Colorado. More than 171,000 Coloradans signed petitions to get this non-partisan measure on the ballot. The basis of the campaign was that there is a basic right to know what is in our food, and what is being fed to families in Colorado. There have not been enough studies on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to know if they are harmful to the human body or the surrounding ecology of an area. Currently, all products labeled "USDA organic" and "Non-GMO Verified" guarantee that the products do not contain genetically modified ingredients. However, issues have arisen with the certification process in the past, making the case that if something contains a genetically modified ingredient in Colorado, attention should be brought to it.
So what are genetically modified organisms, and why should we label them? If you have read any previous Eartha articles on this subject, this will be a refresher for you. According to the World Health Organization, genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, mostly through the introduction of a gene from a different organism. The process allows for individual genes of one organism to be transferred to another, oftentimes an unrelated species.
GM foods are developed or created because there is a perceived need for them. Most of the time they are created to produce more yield, or to create a resistance to disease or pests.
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GM foods are developed or created because there is a perceived need for them. Most of the time they are created to produce more yield, or to create a resistance to disease or pests. This technology has not been practiced for very long. The first GM crop hit grocery stores in 1994 as the Flavr Savr tomato, which was engineered to delay ripening. Mostly, plants are engineered to be resistant to herbicides and pesticides. This results in large amounts of herbicides and pesticides to be incorporated into plants or used directly on the GM crop being grown. There are two results of this: One is that natural evolution is producing pests or "super bugs" that are becoming resistant to pesticides and poisons; the second is that these herbicides and pesticides are beginning to show up in humans, most prevalently glyphosate (an herbicide) and Bt toxin (a pesticide), causing a host of health issues.
The biggest controversy with Proposition 105 is regarding the safety of genetically modified foods. Currently, over 60 countries throughout the world have banned the sale and use of GMOs, including Japan, Australia and the European Union. Many studies are beginning to emerge that link GM crops to elevated glyphosate levels in humans, to the presence of the Bt toxin in mothers and fetal blood, and to gluten intolerance, to name a few. The use of GMOs, however, has been deemed safe by the USDA, FDA and EPA. An estimated 75 percent of all processed products contain genetically engineered ingredients. This, despite the fact that the testing of GM products was conducted and evaluated by the very companies that profit from the product.
Basically, what it boils down to is that we do not know enough about genetically modified organisms yet in order to deem them safe. They have only been on the market for the last 20 years, and there is no possible way the health authorities have tested all the possible ways that GMOs can be harmful to humans, animals, plants or the environment. Because they are being incorporated into the food system without the consent of the population, we have unwillingly become test subjects for a product we do not know the whole truth about. In addition, genetically modified crops perpetuate the use of a monoculture agricultural systems, an industry that is extremely harmful to the surrounding ecosystem and environment. So, if any of these issues are of concern to you, it would be wise to vote "yes" on Proposition 105, making the labeling of genetically modified organisms mandatory.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.