Genetically Modified Organisms, also known as GMOs, are “living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering,” (The Non-GMO Project). While genetic engineering has the capability of being beneficial to our society, The Non-GMO Project argues that it “creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods,” (The Non-GMO Project).
GMOs are very prevalent in our contemporary food industry; The Non-GMO Project website states that “in the U. S. , GMOs are in as much as 80% of conventional processed food,” (The Non-GMO Project). New traits are introduced to plants which do not occur naturally in the species, such as “resistance to certain pests, diseases, or environmental conditions, reduction of spoilage, or resistance to herbicides, or improving the nutrient profile of the crop,” (Transgenic Plants Overview, paragraph 1).
While these traits appear to be beneficial, the insertion of GMOs into agriculture begs a problem: is the introduction of GMOs safe for both humans and the environment? None of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit. There is also evidence to support that GMOs are associated with “health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights,” (The Non-GMO Project). This problem is quite prevailing and has led to a counter movement, known as the Anti-GMO Movement.
Although GMOs are still widely used in the food industry, the anti-GMO movement seeks to eliminate the use of GMOs and better the quality of our food by preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. However, there is a counter-argument to what the Anti-GMO Movement fights for, which states that the introduction of GMOs into agriculture has allowed for improved crop production, the growth of more nutritious foods, the development of improved and alternative pharmaceutical products, and improved health of plants and animals.
The Non-GMO Project A large contributor to the Anti-GMO Movement is the Non-GMO Project. The organization was started by retailers and the project currently works with stores all over the United States on shelf labeling, product policies and other consumer education programs (The Non-GMO Project). The Non-GMO Project works in different capacities to help support informed choice and to ensure the availability of non-GMO products. The Non-GMO Project is North America’s only third-party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and products (The Non-GMO Project).
The goal of the organization is to “educate consumers and the food industry to help build awareness about GMOs and their impact on our health and food systems,” (The Non-GMO Project). One of the intrinsic risks of genetically modified crops is that they contaminate non-GMO crops and foods through cross-pollination and contamination; therefore, the organization works with “food manufacturers, distributors, growers, and seed suppliers in order to develop a standard for detection of GMOs and for the reduction of contamination risk of the non-GMO food supply with GMOs,” (The Non-GMO Project).
Negative Impacts of GMOs on Human Health One of the reasons for the existence of the anti-GMO movement is the potential negative impacts on human health from GMOs. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine cites animal studies that “show organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility, as well as human studies that show how genetically modified food can leave material behind inside us, possibly causing long-term problems,” (Smith).
For example, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine found that “genes inserted into genetically modified soy can transfer into the DNA of bacteria living inside us, and that the toxic insecticide produced by genetically modified corn was found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses,” (Smith). There is evidence to suggest that after GMOs were introduced into our agriculture system in 1996, many health problems worsened (Smith). For example, in just 9 years, the percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% o 13% (Smith).
Although there is not enough research to confirm that GMOs are a contributing factor to these health problems, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine still urges people to use the precautionary principle, because it could be detrimental to everyone’s health if we continue to consume an abundant amount of genetically modified food. Negative Impacts of GMOs on The Environment Another prominent reason for the existence of the anti-GMO movement is the negative impacts on the environment from GMOs.
One harmful effect that GMOs have on the environment is that they can cross pollinate and their seeds can travel, which makes it impossible to fully clean up the contaminated gene pool. Economic losses have also resulted from GMO contamination (Smith). Organic and non-GMO farmers are now having difficulty keeping their crops GMO free, which means that they can no longer sell the crops that are contaminated (Smith). Another harmful effect that GMOs have on the environment is that they increase herbicide use, which allows for more toxins to be present.
For example, the company Monsanto produces a herbicide known as Roundup, and the company then sells Roundup Ready crops, which are designed to survive the implementation of Roundup (Smith). The overuse of Roundup, however, results in superweeds that are resistant to the herbicide, which causes farmers to use even more toxic herbicides every year (Smith). Genetically modified crops and herbicides have also been linked to the harming of insects, birds, marine ecosystems, amphibians, and soil organisms, by reducing biodiversity and polluting water resources (Smith).
Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup has been shown to “cause birth defects in amphibians, embryonic deaths and endocrine disruptions, and organ damage in animals even at very low doses,” (Smith). The Anti-GMO Movement Around the World Efforts around the globe have taken place in order to regulate the amount of GMOs that are present in the food industry.
In the journal article Traceability of genetically modified organisms, Henk JM Aarts, Jean-Paul PF van Rie, and Esther J Kok discuss how the European Union regulations of GMOs equire the labeling of food products containing GMOs unless the GMO content is due to accidental contamination and does not exceed the 1% level at ingredient basis (Aarts, Rie, and Kok, abstract). The European Union also ensures full traceability at all stages of GMOs being placed on the market. Aarts, Rie, and Kok argue that “both of these regulations secure consumers right to know, facilitate enforcement of regulatory requirements and are of importance for environmental monitoring and postmarket surveillance,” (Aarts, Rie, and Kok, abstract).
The United States should seek to emulate the efforts of the European Union in order to regulate GMOs in our food industry. In the journal article How to Deal with the Upcoming Challenges in GMO Detection in Food and Feed, Sylvia R. M. Broeders, Sigrid C. J. De Keersmaecker, and Nancy H. C. Roosens discuss the challenges that arise in GMO detection in food once GMOs are regulated. Now that the commercialization of GMOs in many countries is strictly regulated, there is now the need for traceability and labelling of genetically modified food (Broeders, De Keersmaecker, and Roosens, abstract).
In order to trace the amount of GMOs in certain foods, detection methods are needed. Although GMOs are beginning to become regulated across the country, it is apparent that there are still many difficulties surrounding the regulation process; however, the difficulties should not deter the United States from regulating GMOs as many countries already have. The People Have the Power The people of North America have the ability to remove GMOs from our food system.
Polls consistently show that a significant majority of North Americans would like to be able to tell if the food they’re purchasing contains GMOs. The Non-GMO Project cites one poll in particular that took place in 2012, performed by Mellman Group, which found that “91% of American consumers wanted GMOs labeled,” (The Non-GMO Project). And The Non-GMO Project cites another poll from the New York Times, which found that “53% of consumers said they would not buy food that has been genetically modified,” (The Non-GMO Project). Educational initiatives, such as The Non-GMO
Project’s seal for verified products, are essential in order to give the public an opportunity to make an informed choice about which food to consume, and to illuminate awareness about GMOs. Conclusion The Anti-GMO Movement encourages the notion that “everyone deserves an informed choice about whether or not to consume genetically modified organisms,” (The Non-GMO Project). While it may not be plausible for GMOs to be immediately eradicated from our food industry, North American citizens have the capability to slowly remove GMOs from our society by making informed choices surrounding food consumption.
There appears to be enough evidence to support the claim that GMOs are detrimental to our society, whether it be from negative impacts on human health or negative impacts on the environment. It is essential for us to educate our society so that people have the ability to make informed choices about what they eat if the United States is ever going to halt the production of genetically modified organisms in agriculture.