Genetically modified (GM) foods are produced by plants that have been adapted using cutting edge molecular biology techniques with the goal of creating desirable traits such as pest and disease resistance, herbicide tolerance, faster growth, ability to withstand cold or drought, and improved nutritional content.
In the past, such traits were achieved more slowly via selective breeding.
GM foods have been promoted as a means of feeding a rapidly expanding world population. Most GM crops are grown by farmers in the U.S., though Canada, China, Argentina, Australia, France, Bulgaria, Germany, Spain, Uruguay, South Africa, Mexico, and Romania also grow GM foods.
Approximately 40 genetically engineered plant varieties are commercially grown, including tomatoes, cantaloupes, soybeans, wheat, canola, and sugar beets. Most non-organic processed foods (breakfast cereals, vegetable oils, etc.) have some GM content, particularly if they contain soy or corn (an estimated 30,000 different products available for sale in grocery stores contain GM foods).
Many individuals and organizations have expressed concerns about GM crops, noting potential hazards and lack of regulatory oversight.
Studies have suggested that pollen from GM plants may harm monarch butterflies and that rats eating GM corn are more likely to suffer kidney and liver damage and develop tumors (though some argue that these studies were flawed and therefore do not prove anything).
There are also concerns that pests will evolve to become resistant to pesticides after exposure to GM crops in the same way that bacteria regularly exposed to antibiotics have evolved into superbugs (antibiotic-resistant bacteria).
Genetically modified organisms can also contaminate non-modified species via cross-breeding. This not only ruins organic crops, but may also lead to the development of superweeds if GM plants created for herbicide resistance cross-breed with weeds.
Risks to human health are a particular concern with GM foods.
For example, introducing genes to food plants can create new life-threatening allergies in susceptible individuals. As for other potential health risks, there has not been sufficient research conducted to prove or disprove the claims of GM food critics. However, because we know so little about the potential risks of GM foods, opponents of genetic modification argue that caution is warranted.
Genetically modifying food plants can also have dire economic and social consequences, as occurred in India where farmers went into debt buying expensive GM seeds from Monsanto in the hopes of bountiful harvests. Instead, crops failed and more than 200,000 devastated farmers committed suicide.
Currently, there is no requirement for labelling of GM foods in North America, though many have been demanding this transparency.
The best way to avoid consuming GM foods is to buy organic or grow your own produce and support organizations that oppose GM foods.
Ahmed, I., “Killer Seeds: The Devastating Impacts of Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Seeds in India,” GlobalResearch, 12 January 2012.
CBC News, “Genetically Modified Foods: A Primer,” 11 May 2004.
Corbett, J., & Gucciardi, A., “GMO Foods: Science, PR, and Public Backlash,” Global Research TV, 29 October 2012.
Whitman, D.B., “Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?” Discovery Guides, April 2000.
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