Healthy Herd | Unnecessary Fear: GMOs

Most of the corn products you consume (if they are from the U.S.) contain GMOs.

The conversation on GMOs is one that hits home for me. Being from a six-generation farming operation and also as a dietetics major, I’ve found myself in a somewhat uncomfortable position.

More often than not, the agricultural and nutritional worlds don’t see eye to eye on this topic. The irony of it is that these two worlds help each other. The same goes for any regular consumer.

“I don’t get it. How do you know that GMOs are helpful? I’ve heard bad things about them.”

To begin with, “GMO” is an initialism for genetically modified organism.

The original conversation on GMOs started 30 years ago. Scientists had this new ability to change crops’ genetic makeup so they would be resistant to pests, pesticides, and the environment. The public was under the impression that scientists were putting DNA from one species of plant into another and didn’t know the effects they would have. This single idea is what implanted unnecessary fear in consumers from then on.

Also, many felt it was a moral issue. They thought scientists were doing work where humans didn’t belong.

“I have the right to know what’s in my food,” you say, starting to get irritated because you feel offended.

We agree whole-heartedly; we’re not trying to offend you. But you do know what’s in your food — just look at the label.

Marketing has confuseds many by running with labeling foods GMO and non-GMO. They know if they put a non-GMO label on a product that the buyer will associate it with being “more natural” or healthy so a consumer may be more willing to buy it for a dollar more.

However, you probably haven’t realized they put it on foods that can’t be a GMO.

Yes. This is where the lack of knowledge is coming from. Putting non-GMO on something that can’t be a GMO crop would be like putting a gluten-free label on your oranges. It should just be common sense that no gluten is found in oranges, but for people who don’t know what or where gluten comes from, it can be quite the marketing scheme.

This is a prime example of how the idea of GMOs is being vilified in certain products. Marketers are feeding irrational fears. They know many consumers have no point of reference and therefore use the fear of what they don’t know.

A real life example of this would be Chipotle. They claim to be completely non-GMO in all their products; however, the company serves conventional soft drinks, which have corn syrup in it … which is a GMO.

There are actually only eight crops with genetic modifications released on the market today. These include alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, sugar beets, soybean and squash. However, more have been developed and not yet released.

Let’s give an example of a crop with some misinterpretation attached to its name: the sugar beet.

The sugar beet plant is genetically modified to be resistant to specific herbicides. This is vitally important in sugar beet production as this saves the farmer from making multiple herbicide runs over a field, making the farmer more productive. However, the sugar itself does not have any genetic material in it.

How can this be? DNA (where the modified material is found) is made up of proteins; however, sucrose molecule (the product derived from sugar beets) contains no proteins. If there is actually no DNA in sugar from sugar beets, then there should be no problem with using sugar grown from these sugar beets.

People often forget farmers and agricultural scientists aren’t the bad guys. They’ve spent their lives making and growing these products to benefit the consumer and the environment. By creating different GMOs, agricultural scientists are able to make plants more nutritious.

An amazing example of this is golden rice. It contains more vitamin A (beta-carotene), which helps with the beta-receptors in your eyes to improve your vision. Children in developing countries suffer tremendously from Vitamin A deficiency, ultimately causing vision loss. The World Health Organization reports about 250 million preschool children in rice dependent countries suffer from vitamin A deficiency.

Don’t forget that GMO products are friendly to your wallet, too. The cost of production is lower for farmers, in turn making it a less expensive product.

There have been over 2,000 studies done showing that GMO’s are safe for consumption. Since 1987, nearly 11,600 applications have been sent to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service testing of GMO’s and more than 92 percent of these have been approved. Note: it takes ten years and over 100 million dollars to fully develop one GMO crop. Scientists have done their homework.

The hard working men and women of the agricultural world have broken their backs and put their heart and souls into growing good crops for the world to buy, only for people to worry that GMOs are bad. As technology advances, so does the agricultural world.

Instead of fighting over issues like this we need to educate each other and use it to our advantage.

Special thanks to the NDSU AES Plant Science Graduate Assistants for contributing their knowledge and expertise on this topic in hopes of educating others about the advantage of GMOs. Their advice and work are greatly appreciated by many.

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