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Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)

By Tanya Humphrey, BS, NDTR, CLT/The Fruiting Vine LLC

· Nutrition Blog

What are GMO's?

Genetically Modified Organisms can be all living things that have been changed or tweaked genetically. This can be crops, bacteria, fungi, and other living organisms that have had their genetic code changed in some form or another. The process of changing GMO's begins with the goal of inserting a gene into a single cell. Once the cell is modified the next step is it must be stimulated for growth and development. The cell will then divide and the inserted gene is found in every cell thereafter. Thus, all of the cells in the regenerated organism contain that new gene.

Why Do Scientists Genetically Modify?

Are you wondering why scientists genetically modify organisms? I can see there are many necessary reasons why organisms are genetically modified. One good example is found in genetically modified bacteria. Bacteria can be genetically modified to produce vaccines or medicines that can cure disease such as insulin. Insulin is a very necessary treatment for those living with diabetes as it acts as a carrier to help take glucose up into the cell so that the cell can use it for energy, repair, or storage for later use. Without insulin, there would be no regulation of glucose in the body. Furthermore, plants are also genetically modified for many purposes such as pest control, to be drought tolerant, bigger production or yield, and to control problems caused from weeds. When plants are modified to repel insects this helps significantly with lowering the need for pesticides. In addition, claims are being made in reference to genetically modified crops such as lower costs to the consumer and less soil erosion. The fact is there are so many people to feed that we need to grow more and genetic modification is seen as a solution to this issue.

Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe?

Sustainable food is a popular notion among many Americans and throughout the world. The ideal of a healthy source of food and food products for consumers that is produced in a humane way is ideal. I am a strong believer that food should be grown and produced in a responsible, but also an economically fair way. It is a great responsibility and one that should be taken very seriously. I understand the idea behind genetically modifying, but GMO's are still considered fairly new and this is where the controversy comes in. First, there isn't enough data to prove that GMO consumption in humans has a negative effect on human health. However, GMO's bring many concerns and risks related to GMO impact on human's health in relationship with allergy, toxicity and nutrition value. There are concerns that transgene protein may provoke allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. According to a study from the Biological and biomedical aspects of genetically modified food, The debate about genetically modified food is needed and should involve all participating societal groups and consumers. However, the decision must be based on objective facts, information from experts and not on subjective emotionally affected opinions. The risks and possible benefits of these foods should be assessed and evaluated individually for every genetically modified organism. The future will show how quickly and how much biotechnology change our lives” (Celiac et al., 2005). In other words, time will tell if people get sick from genetically modified foods or genetically modified organism's.

What About Long Term Risks and Side Effects As A Result of Consumption?

What we do know is that there are little studies on long term effects of consuming genetically modified foods. In a world where many people are becoming more obese than ever before, I believe food reactions are a reality in our society. In addition, stomach and digestion issues are more prevalent. We don't have any scientific studies to prove that genetically modified foods are causing these issues but we don't know that they aren't causing them. One example of this debate can be seen in genetically modified wheat. It is speculated that genetically modified wheat is what initiated gluten sensitivities. Yet, we still have fruits, vegetables, and other food products being genetically modified. Even Jello pudding has genetically modified starch in the ingredients. Veggie burgers are popular but one particular GMO burger from Impossible Foods, the Silicon Valley-based maker of the Impossible Burger will soon be clear to hit the grocery store soon and it will be unlabeled as GMO food product.

What You Should Know About PLU Codes or Stickers on Fruit & Veggies

Before the year 2015 you could tell if fruits or veggies were genetically modified by looking at the stickers placed on the food. This was and still is a voluntary system which is entirely up to the sellers of the produce to use these numbers. However, this system has changed. A five number PLU code that starts with “8” use to be a food item that was a genetically modified fruit or vegetable. For example, a genetically engineered banana would be: 84011. However, the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS) has transitioned the ‘8’ prefix to accommodate an increase in varieties of produce items as they enter the market. Though the ‘8’ prefix (83000-84999) was once reserved for GMO produce items, they claim it was never used at retail. They now claim the 83000 series will be reserved for conventionally grown items where the 84000 series will designate the corresponding organic items. There is no mention of PLU codes for designation of GMO items now or in the future. Could this be because more than half of our produce found in grocery stores is genetically modified? Is it possible that they don't want to draw attention to this fact? On the other hand, PLU codes that starts with “9” is produce that is grown organically such as 94011. The IFPS has no issue providing or distinguishing a PLU for organic produce as there are standards that must be followed in order to be declared organic. In addition, the use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products.

Many people feel that GMO's can't be considered safe until they are tested and their long-term impact is studied on humans. The truth is we can't say that GMO's are not safe but on the other hand we can't say that they are. Still, many people do not know they are consuming genetically modified foods and food products. I believe food should be grown, produced, and manufactured in a responsible way that is safe. At the least, it should be mandatory that all genetically modified foods or food products should have a label letting the public know that they are GMO or that they contain genetically modified ingredients. I strongly believe that GMO labeling should be easy to see and clearly stated on products and easily understood by the consumer. The public should have a right to determine if they want to purchase and eat these products.