Being healthy and staying healthy has become a real life challenge in today’s society. There are so many factors that contribute to our well being but most importantly, we are unaware of what can jeopardize the possibility of living a long life. Although, in today’s society we strive to be the most educated millennials, we still struggle to know the most basic knowledge about what nurturing and caring for our bodies really embodies , especially amongst our new generation- the centennials. Therefore, learning the history of our food system and the potential repercussions is important in order to understand our world’s health’s progression and decline over the past century.
Our food system in the United States has become the poster child for the greatest agricultural phenomenon in the past century. This has created an era known for its abundance in food source and successful attractive marketing strategies. Despite such successes, we have ignored as a country the other side of the horizon- Although we have reaped several benefits from such movement we are also experiencing the most difficulties in our health, making for uneducated decisions and ignorant eating resulting in chronic diseases today. The first step with understanding the origins of our food system is important due to the growing concern about how healthy is the food we are consuming, how is it affecting our environment, our economy, but most importantly- how is it affecting our bodies and what are the potential repercussions. This can also open awareness amongst all generations, but in particular our new generations who are the future of our country and who will eventually control what we eat in the future. “Many of the most dramatic changes have taken place over the past century, ushering in an era of relatively abundant food production. With the benefits of plentiful calories, however, have come many costs, including ecosystem degradation, the loss of natural resources, rising rates of diet-related chronic disease and ongoing inequalities in access to food.” (John Hopkins-Bloomberg)
“What are GMO’s?” After watching several documentaries on GMO’s on Netflix, made me realize how only a few people in this country knew what the abbreviation GMO stood for or what it was for that matter. In order to understand this term, we must first define the meaning- GMO- Genetically Modified Organism, also known as “genetically engineered food” is any organism, in this case, crops such as plants, fruits and vegetables that are being genetically altered in order to have higher crop yields and increase the success of crop survival. In other words, plants, fruits and vegetables genes are being changed/ or modified in order to have abilities they didn’t have before. If anyone is familiar with farming, they would know that several crops face several unwanted weeds and insects. With genetically modified crops, for example, Corn- has been modified to ultimately produce its own herbicide that kills weeds. However, corn is not the only crop in the United States that has been genetically modified. Although Corn is the No.1 Crop grown in the U.S., there are also other crops such as Soy, Cotton, Alfalfa, Papaya, Canola, and Sugar beets that are being genetically modified.
According Margie Kelly from Huffington Post, “Corn is the No. 1 crop grown in the U.S. and nearly all of it — 88 percent — is genetically modified. In addition to being added to innumerable processed foods, genetically modified corn is a staple of animal feed. Soy: 93 percent of soy is genetically modified. Soy is a staple of processed foods under various names including hydrogenated oils, lecithin, emulsifiers, tocopherol (a vitamin E supplement) and proteins. Cottonseed: According to the USDA, 94 percent of cotton grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. Cottonseeds are culled from cotton, and then used for vegetable oil, margarine or shortening production, or frying foods, such as potato chips. Alfalfa: Farmers feed alfalfa to dairy cows, the source of milk, butter, yogurt, meat and so much more. Alfalfa is the fourth largest crop grown in the U.S., behind corn, soybeans, and wheat (though there is no genetically engineered wheat on the market). Papaya: 75 percent of the Hawaiian papaya crop is genetically modified to withstand the papaya ring spot virus. Canola: About 90 percent of the U.S. canola crop is genetically modified. Canola oil is used in cooking, as well as bio-fuels. In North Dakota, genetically modified canola has been found growing far from any planted fields, raising questions about what will happen when “escaped” GE canola competes with wild plants. Sugar Beets: More than half — 54 percent — of sugar sold in America comes from sugar beets. Genetically modified sugar beets account for 90 percent of the crop; however, that percentage is expected to increase after a USDA’s decision last year gave the green light to sugar beet planting before an environmental impact statement was completed.” (Kelly) Furthermore, it is important to know that the data gathered regarding GMO’s comes from all of the manufactures of these seeds such as Monsanto’s, Pioneer Hi-Bred International (a subsidiary of DuPont), Syngenta AG, Dow Agrosciences (a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, BASF , and Bayer Cropscience (a subsidiary of Bayer).
It can be said that modification of plants is not a new phenomenon. For centuries, gardeners and farmers have been crossbreeding different species of plants to create plants that produce heartier, better tasting, or more beautiful crops. However, the type of genetic engineering of foods that has caused a groundswell of concern around the world is vastly different from these traditional plant breeding practices. With modern genetic engineering, genes from an animal, plant, bacterium, or virus are inserted into a different organism (most often a plant), thereby irreversibly altering the genetic code, the “blueprint” that determines all of an organism’s physical characteristics, of the organism that received the gene. Through this technology, scientists have created tomatoes with a longer shelf life by adding flounder genes, soybeans that are resistant to weed killers, potatoes that produce their own pesticides, and potatoes with jellyfish genes that glow in the dark when they need water. Genetic engineers are also working to develop fruits, vegetables, and grains with higher levels of vitamins and foods that contain vaccines against diseases like malaria, cholera and hepatitis.
While proponents of genetic engineering believe that this technology will make it possible to produce enough food to ensure that everyone in the world has enough to eat, farmers, scientists, environmentalists, health professionals and consumers throughout the world are outraged by the growing number of genetically altered foods in our food supply and are very skeptical about the purported benefits of this technology. Since 1996, when the first large-scale commercial harvest of genetically engineered crops occurred in the United States, the percentage of genetically engineered crops grown in the United States has increased to 25%, including 35% of all corn, 55% of all soybeans, and nearly half of all the cotton. In addition, much of the canola oil produced in Canada comes from genetically manipulated rape seed. It has been estimated that as many as two-thirds of all food products in grocery stores contain genetically engineered ingredients. In fact, unless you buy exclusively organic, you will likely bring home foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, especially if you purchase foods that contain soybeans, corn, or their derivatives (soy oil, soy flour, soy protein isolates, corn oil, corn starch, corn flour, and high fructose corn syrup).
At this point in time, the health risks of consuming genetically altered foods have not been clearly identified, since few studies have been conducted to evaluate impact of these foods on human health. However, many scientists have speculated that it is likely that these foods will trigger allergic reactions in some people, create new toxins that produce disease, and lead to antibiotic resistance and a subsequent resurgence of infectious disease. The impact on the environment may be even more devastating. Many farmers are concerned that it will be impossible to prevent genetically engineered crops from “polluting” organic farms, as the wind and bees will naturally carry pollen from the genetically engineered crops to nearby organic farms. In addition, farmers and environmentalists fear that foods that are genetically engineered to be resistant to herbicides, such as Roundup Ready soybeans, will result in heavier herbicide use, further polluting the groundwater, lakes and rivers. Heavy use of herbicides may also encourage the development of “superweeds” that are resistant to herbicides, which could threaten crops throughout the country. The results of a 1999 study conducted by researchers at Cornell University suggest that genetically engineered crops also endanger wildlife, specifically the Monarch butterfly. These researchers found that nearly half of the Monarch caterpillars that ate milkweed leaves dusted with pollen from genetically engineered corn died within four days. A study conducted one year later at Iowa State University found that plants that neighbor farms of genetically engineered corn are dusted with enough corn pollen to kill Monarch caterpillars.
As more is learned about the environmental and health risks of genetically engineered foods, people around the world are demanding that food producers eliminate these so-called “Frankenfoods” from their products. While the law in the United States does not mandate that foods containing genetically modified ingredients be labeled, many proactive food producers have stopped using these ingredients and are now labeling their products as “GMO-free.”(WHFOODS.org)