We seem to be living in an era where food has become just as equally fearful as pleasurable. Declining health rates due to poor nutritional consumption have the science and medical world scrambling to make sense of where we went wrong, where we stand right now, and how we can forge ahead to fix this problem. With the unrelenting advent of numerous health and food-related blogs that portray a screaming "look at me!" in your face approach, one is constantly bombarded with conflicting attitudes and ideas of how we should be managing our health and consumption. The solution ideally seems to be GMO's but what are GMOs.
Dissecting credibility, fact from opinion and relevant case studies become an overwhelming task that leaves us more confused and no better off than before. In fact, it's most likely making things more confusing and problematic. GMO's, in particular, has become such a major dispute that imperative information has gotten lost and only rabid opinion marks the cases being made. So in order to take a few steps back and make our own educated decisions, a non-biased approach through simple facts start with a simple question: what are GMOs?
The science behind our food choices has been studied with such fervor and is argued to stem way back to being carried in our mother's womb. From what she ate while pregnant and breastfeeding, to having had formula as an infant in our formative years. The fight raged on throughout the years trying to decipher the good from the bad: fat vs. sugar, carbohydrates vs. protein, calories vs. activity.
When that didn't seem to be solving the equation, stomach bacteria, preservatives, and manufactured foods came into play with where our health was and why it was spiraling out of control. With cancers and heart disease on the rise, we struggle to point fingers desperately figuring out how to make a positive change. One of the accused that made a giant leap into the forefront, with no backing down from both sides of the debate has been GMOs. In order to understand fully which side of the debate you stand firmly with, let's start with asking the most fundamental question: What are GMOs?
What Are GMOs?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. Let’s break it down word by word. Genetically refers to genes. Genes are made up of DNA, which is a set of instructions for how cells grow and develop. Second is Modified. This implies that some change or tweak has been made. Lastly, we have the word Organism. When it comes to GMOs, many people only think of crops. Yet an ‘organism’ isn’t just a plant; it refers to all living things, including bacteria and fungi.
Genetically modified organisms (GMO) date back as far as 30,000 years. Before the concept of genetics with our ancient ancestors, they were still able to influence the DNA of other organisms by a process called "selective breeding" or "artificial selection." These terms, coined by Charles Darwin, describe the process of choosing the organisms with the most desired traits and mating them with the intention of combining and propagating these traits through their offspring.
Repeated use of this practice over many generations can result in dramatic genetic changes to a species. While the artificial selection is not what we typically consider GMO technology today, it is still the precursor to the modern processes and the earliest example of our species influencing genetics. In deciphering what are GMOs, we're more likely to look towards the plants and vegetation that we consume, the many food products we feed to our families and ourselves.
For centuries farmers have used breeding to modify the genetics of plants, searching for ways to improve traits that include yield, disease resistance, and flavor. Advancements in biotechnology over recent decades have given breeders the ability to exert greater and more precise control over the breeding process. Biotechnology critics coined the acronym GMO in an attempt to stigmatize genetic engineering.
The desire to regulate genetically modified foods and products has resulted in the creation of several often contradictory definitions of GMOs. So exactly what are GMOs? In a nutshell, a genetically modified organism. Are they harmful or beneficial? Well, it seems the jury is still out on this hot topic, so it's best to keep probing.
What Are the Effects of GMO?
As the prevalence of genetically modified organisms continues to rise, there has been an increasing public interest for information regarding the safety of these products. Human consumption, as well as environmental factors, are of concern, with the emphasis placed on the health of the populace consuming these products.
Concerns ranging from nutritional content, allergic response, toxicity, and organ damage has brought about over 100 research studies comparing the effects of traditional to genetically modified food. Upon multiple studies having been conducted in rats using potatoes, sweet peppers, and tomatoes, the histopathological examination of tissues and organs showed no difference between their consumption of GMO and non-GMO produce.
In addressing the buildup of toxicity over time, three additional generations of rats were studied comparing the use of GMOs to non-GMOs. Tracking body weight, bone, eye, thymus development, and general retardation, no significant differences could be found in differentiating between the two diets. No build-up nor inheritance of toxicity took place over the multiple generations.
So what about the environmental factors associated with GMOs? Toxicity becomes a major issue surrounding the pesticides and herbicides that are commonly used with GMOs, with bees and butterflies being a major concern. Weed resistance is becoming a growing concern with the additional need for more and more herbicides and pesticides being administered to the crops that we're consuming.
Yet nothing on the forefront suggests imminent danger, and we have a long way to go in determining the long-term effects. Any concerning effects on the forefront haven't presented themselves quite yet, but in terms of a long, ongoing process, we have yet to see what we may all be in for.
What Are the Risks of GMO?
In determining what are GMOs and assessing their effects, which are inconclusive and undetermined at the moment, we still have to take in the probability of certain risks they pose and be prepared to address the severity they may cause. It's important to take note that the majority of GMO foods that we consume on a regular basis come in the form of processed foods.
That plays a major factor when taking into consideration all the additives and preservatives we consume alongside the GMO. On that note, the risks possibly associated are determinations of longtime use. From organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders accelerated aging, and infertility, are all valid concerns related to our use of GMOs.
The environment and the insects needed to cultivate crops are at a disadvantage with unfamiliar new crop genes being introduced, posing a deadly threat. Removing the natural way of planting and cultivating can have devastating effects upon the landscape causing threats to the environment. GMOs spread to neighboring farms can threaten diversity in agriculture. If crop diversity decreases, a direct impact on our entire ecosystem will affect the population dynamics of other organisms. Unwanted residual substances from these plants can remain in the soil for extended periods of time, for upwards of 5 years or more.
After more than 20 years of monitoring by countries and researchers around the world, many of the suspicions surrounding the effects of GMOs on organ health, our offspring, and our DNA have been addressed and tested. GMOs have been found to exhibit no toxicity, in one generation or across many. Though each new product will require careful analysis and assessment of safety, it appears that GMOs as a class are no more likely to be harmful than traditionally bred and grown food sources.
When asking yourself and those around you, what are GMOs, chances are there will be a headstrong, steadfast opinion to follow their definition. But in properly dissecting that question, it must be the right definition. Such a controversial subject such as this deserves the adequate research and scientifically open mind before becoming easily swayed by the fantastical news of the day.
We're at a point where we've been on the diet fad rollercoaster, exercise do's and don'ts, and simple pleasures from coffee and eggs, flip-flopping from diet disasters to honorable holistic health choices. The never-ending flood of information, fanciful food and health blogs, social media "gurus," and YouTube videos bombarding our every sense doesn't do us any favors in deciphering fact from opinion.
In doing our best to follow the path we deem most healthful for us, our children, and future generations, we have to approach a constant influx of an ever-changing environment with an open mind. Being too close-minded and reliant on old "tried and true" methods may exclude us from exciting, beneficial advancements.
On the other hand, getting too caught up in the latest wave of "breakthrough technology" without properly assessing all factors first can lead to unpleasant and unexpected outcomes, we are still truly having to ask what are GMOs and their long-term effects. With two sides to every coin, take your time to research, educate, inquire, and explore, affording yourself the ability in navigating our ever-changing world with the utmost confidence.
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