What is the big deal with GMOs?
GMOS or genetically modified organisms are living organisms or things that have been genetically altered for specific purposes and used in the food, pharmaceutical and other scientific based industries. I mostly refer to GMOs here in regards to those that have been used in our food sources such as plants, fruits, vegetables and seeds.
Agricultural scientists have modified seeds, which enable farmers to grow corn that is more resistant to larvae that have traditionally threatened to destroy large crops. In turn, the farmer can reduce the amount of pesticides they use to ward off larva and other insects. Another example of a genetically modified organism for agricultural purposes is golden rice. Golden rice has been genetically modified to carry a higher amount of Beta Carotene, a substance that your body converts to Vitamin A during ingestion. This rice was created due to the lack of Vitamin A in millions of people living in third world countries and supplies these populations with the much-needed vitamin. Vitamin A deficiency is the most common cause of blindness in children in third world countries. The deficiency can also lead to anemia and increase the risk of multiple lethal infections.
There are many other examples of GMOs in agriculture that were designed to keep produce ripe longer, increase the size, brighten the color, as well as increase the resistance of the plant to insects and other animal threats. Another potential benefit of using GMOs to protect our food supply is in corn and other produce that has been genetically modified to grow with less water. This is important to maintain the food supply in times of drought and will serve to keep the price of foods somewhat stable for consumers. We cannot completely ignore the beneficial effects of GMOs as they have been used for decades without findings of deleterious effects.
Several groups have used social media to take a stand against General Mills’ inclusion of GMOs in Cheerios. So much so that a few years ago this story was picked up in the news media all around the world. The pressure became so intense that General Mills followed up with a public announcement stating that they will remove GMOs from Cheerios while keeping them in other specialized Cheerios products such as the honey nut variety. General Mills did not agree or disagree with these groups in regards to the safety of GMOs, but due to consumer concern, they are making these changes, and others are following suit with voluntary labeling of GMOS in their products. This is obviously just the beginning of an ongoing discussion.
The global scientific census including The U.S. National Academy of Science, The American Medical Association, The Royal Society of Medicine and The European Commission have all come to the conclusion that food sourced from genetically engineered crops are no riskier than eating foods that are not genetically modified.
In fact a recent article in the New York Times on this subject notes that the European Commission has been “extremely anti-GMO”, but even there, the scientific community is clear that genetically modified foods are safe.
I believe that additives such as sugar, sugar substitutes, corn syrup and other chemicals put into our processed foods are the real culprits in terms of increasing the risks of obesity, inflammation, diabetes, and other preventable diseases and not the GMOs.
This latest GMO debate reminds me of the noise created by several debunked studies that claimed vaccines might be the cause of childhood autism. The fear that was created by the irresponsibility of a few misguided people caused thousands of children to go unvaccinated from Chicken Pox, Diphtheria, Polio, Measles and Meningitis just to name a few. These are all severe life threatening diseases that can be lethal if our children become infected. In fact there were multiple new cases of these infectious processes over the past few years due in part to the lack of vaccines in children. All of the studies that caused this unfortunate belief have been disproven as poor science, fabrications and simply just not accurate. It has been proven in multiple studies over several decades that there is no relation to vaccines and autism in children. It’s very easy for people to want to blame one thing for an illness, disease, or disability.
As human beings and especially Americans we like to identify causes of misfortune and assign blame. It’s a natural process and helps put our mind at ease once we come to a conclusion. It’s very stressful to think that a loved one has been harmed, and we cannot identify an appropriate answer or direct cause. We have a come a long way in science and in medicine, but we also need to understand that we do not have all the answers to many diseases, disorders and treatments. And we cannot jump to conclusions – in this case with the GMO debate.
We rely on genetically modified organisms in medicine and other industries. Vaccines are often genetically modified to deliver antibodies to viruses, bacteria, and other lethal infectious organisms that have saved millions of lives around the world. I think that people are trying to place blame on the large agricultural and food manufacturers for every day illness, disabilities, and psychological disorders, and this is just not true. There really is not one thing that we can blame for allergies, infections, learning disabilities, and obesity.
In life, there are multiple factors in disease as well as good health. While I do believe it is extremely important to monitor the science that is involved in our food sources and medications, we need to do this in a responsible way. The food and drug association is responsible for overseeing this process and we have multiple other independent organizations that are continually monitoring and studying the benefits and risks of GMOs in our food sources and in the medical community.
We should not turn a blind eye, and I think it’s important to review information from multiple sources so we can make educated decisions about our lives and bodies. I strongly believe in following a healthy lifestyle and trying to reduce our overall intake of non-organic and non-naturally grown products in our diets. I think it’s important to support your local farm community and try to buy from local producers if possible. Remember non-organic does not mean non-GMO. Agriculture communities have been cross breeding and selecting crops that grow better in particular environments as well ones that grow fresher, larger, and more colorful foods for hundreds if not thousands of years. Believe it or not these are examples of GMOs produced by agriculture that have been traditionally performed in a field instead of in a lab.
While I may not have made many friends from blogging about the GMO issue, I think it’s important to discuss and make others aware of the issues at hand. It can be dangerous to jump on the bandwagon without knowing the facts, and we do not want to pass on innovative ideas and products that may benefit populations around the world. Innovation and science have benefited us in numerous ways that all of enjoy in our everyday lives though we must also keep questioning these changes while keeping ourselves informed of the potential benefits as well as the risks.
The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.
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Dr. Kulka is a board-certified family medicine physician with 20 years of clinical experience. Placing an emphasis on improving wellness and avoiding illness, Dr. Kulka has a passion for educating people about their health, weight loss options, and specific medical concerns in an easy-to-understand way.
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