Not so long ago, there was a time when shopping for food was pretty straightforward.  If you were buying a certain food product, the choice often focused on price, taste, and reputation of the manufacturer. How times have changed.  Now, when deciding which brand to buy, food labels are bombarded with buzz words like, ‘non-GMO,’ ‘no added hormones’ or ‘gluten free.’  Food companies are well aware that the average consumer now makes their food decisions based on what’s in their food and how it will affect their health.

This change in attitude of consumer’s demands has practically forced food manufacturers to rush to slap on new food labels in response to this barrage of heightened awareness.  This has been especially so when it comes to genetically modified foods (GMOs). For example, some dairy companies use the ‘non-GMO’ label on their milk even though milk is naturally GMO-free. A canned of Hunt’s crushed tomatoes also displays a ‘non-GMO’ label despite the fact there is no such thing as a GMO tomato.

U.S. consumer’s main concern is harm to human health

Food companies are caving into consumer’s fears and misconceptions about their food.  By prominently placing these added-on words on labels, these companies justify their decision as boosting their marketing edge over a competitive product on the grocery shelf.  But what does this do to our long-term discourse of food fear-mongering running rampant across the United States and elsewhere?  Ultimately, it erodes consumer trust in eating these foods in the first place which could backfire down the road.

New research by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation tested consumer’s views of GMOs when shown different food labels displaying their discloser of containing ‘bioengineered (BE) foods.’  When shown a food label without a BE disclosure, 31 percent of the respondents had human health concerns.  But if a BE ‘plant’ symbol was on the label, 50 percent had concerns of effect on human health.  This same research found that the vast majority (85 percent) of those who avoid GMOs do so out of human health concerns, 43 percent because of the environment, 36 percent had concerns of animal health, and 34 percent avoided GMOs due to concerns over agriculture/farming.

Science says differently

How did we get to this point in human history of such worry and concern over one of the safest food supplies in the world?  The opposition was primarily started by environmentalists who argued that genetically modified crops and foods would cause irreparable harm.  Dubbing GMOs as ‘Franken food,’ their view has been GMOs would damage the environment, create seeds that would not reproduce, and were a threat to human health leading to increased rates of cancer, autism, diabetes, and obesity.  It didn’t take long for these same environmentalists with their loud arguments and misinformation, to vilify Monsanto, a Missouri-based agrochemical and biotech company, as an evil corporation throughout the world.

But what does science say?  Let’s start with the main concern the public has with GMOs – harm to their health.  Anti-GMO activist have done their best to put the fear of GMO food into the minds of consumers.  Yet a large 2016 report by the U.S. National Academy of Science concluded that “the data do not support the assertion that cancer rates have increased because of consumption of products of genetically engineered crops.” It is a well-established consensus across the international scientific community that GMO foods have no known effect on human health.

Another prominent proponent proclaiming the safety of GMO foods was a 2012 statement by the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  It said, “The science is quite clear; Crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.”

Surprisingly, even the GMO-skeptics from the European Commission stated in a 2010 report, “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risk than…conventional plant breeding technologies.”

How we each benefit from GMO foods

Here’s a startling realization to ponder. Within a matter of give or take 30 years, there will be close to 10 billion people occupying our planet.  Each will require food to live and food that can be produced to feed them.  This presents a huge challenge of how exactly we will meet this tremendous demand and do so adequately.  If fearful attitudes and attempts at putting a stop to innovative farming technology offering desperately needed methods of feeding the world continue, then those who need it most in poor countries will be denied access because of the fears and prejudices of those of us who have enough to eat.

Let’s instead take a look at the positive impact genetically modified crops have had on our food supply:

  • They have dramatically reduced the amount and toxicity of pesticides sprayed by farmers
  • Since GM crops are more efficient crops, they reduce the overall cost of food compared to non-GMO foods
  • There is no nutritional difference between GMOs and their non-GMO counterpart unless the nutritional content of the GM crop has been intentionally modified, like high oleic soybeans or biofortified crops, such as Golden Rice.
  • GMO foods help improve air quality, protect land, conserve water, and create a sustainable food production for generations to come.
  • Around the world, 795 million people experience hunger and undernourishment. Genetically engineered staple crops can help meet their nutritional needs with increased amounts of essential vitamins and minerals.
  • They can help reduce food waste. Approximately 133 billion pounds of food is wasted in the U.S., contributing to 18% of the total U.S. landfill methane (greenhouse gas) emissions.  As an example, genetically-modified apples are non-browning, eliminating unnecessary food waste.

It’s time to end fear-mongering over our food.  Embrace scientific technology that strives to solve food issues, not create them.  Education and trust in the brilliant minds who envision a world free from hunger with food plentiful for all, is the fearless path we each should follow.

To learn more about genetically modified foods, visit gmoanswers.com

Categories: Health

Cheryl Mussatto

Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City, an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, Ks where she teaches Basic Nutrition, and is a blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi and nutroutine.com, an online market place connecting nutrition experts with customers worldwide. She can be contacted here.

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