What Is Genetic Engineering in Food?
Genetic engineering is the development of desired traits in a plant or animal through gene transfer. Now, you’re probably asking yourself, “How is this different from the thousands of years of cross breeding that have been done in agriculture and the domestication of animals?” Cross breeding can only occur between closely related species, while genes from completely separate and unrelated species can be inserted into one another with genetic engineering techniques.
Seems pretty futuristic, right? But the reality is that 70% of processed foods in our supermarkets contain ingredients that have been genetically modified. So what’s the controversy with these foods? Critics take issue with the unintended environmental and public health consequences of some genetically engineered species.
Concerns Over Genetically Engineered Food
Many genetically modified crops are engineered to be pesticide and herbicide resistant, allowing farmers to spray at will and destroy unwanted plants and pests in the fields. Unfortunately, these plants have been known to cross pollinate with weeds and grant their resistances to them, requiring even more use of pesticides and herbicides that pollute the environment.
These genes can also be unintentionally spread through pollination, whether by birds, insects, or simply the wind, and irreversibly alter the genetic make up of other plants, carrying on these selected traits indefinitely.
There are also health concerns. Largely, the effects of consuming genetically engineered food are unknown, but it’s postulated that they could trigger food allergies and may have less nutritional value. There have been few studies on the effects of consuming animals that are fed genetically engineered grain and for now we remain in the dark about the ramifications.
What Can You Do About Genetic Engineering in Food?
Buying and eating Certified Organic food is a surefire way to avoid consuming genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Some brands also label their products “No-GMOs” or “GMO-free,” indicating that they do not contain genetically engineered ingredients and were not fed them during the course of production in the case of animal products.
[Photocredit: Treehugger; LauraKowaleski]