Genetically Modified Michigan: Our Future

Photo courtesy of Grist.org
Photo courtesy of Grist.org

I think I’m starting to irritate my Facebook friends.

Since getting my Facebook account back recently, I have been told that I am quickly becoming “that girl” by constantly discussing the food on my plate, in my garden, and on the grocery store shelves.

I can’t help but share my passion for whole food and organic plant-based lifestyles (and the health benefits associated with eliminating processed foods), research into which has led me to an issue of growing importance in the Mitten right now: the GMO labeling debate. Let’s talk about Michigan’s genetically modified future.

What are GMOs?

The term “GMO” stands for “genetically modified organisms”- those foods (and by-products) which are the result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. The foreign genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals, or even humans.

You can find genetically engineered food all around you; corn, soy, and canola are some of the top GE crops and their by-products can be found in up to 80% of conventional processed foods. You know, those things on the label that you can’t pronounce, including derivatives and modifications of corn syrup, corn starch, soy protein, and lecithin. GE corn is fed to cattle, adding meat and dairy products to the list of at-risk GMO foods (not to mention the addition of controversial hormone rBGH- also manufactured by the creators of GE crops- to many US dairy products).

Photo Courtesy of No GMO 4 Michigan
Photo Courtesy of No GMO 4 Michigan

What are the risks of GMOs?

According to research done by the Instititute for Responsible Technology and the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), “several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified (GM) food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.

The FDA claims no difference in traditional foods and those which have been genetically altered with DNA from dozens of other plants, animals and bacteria. However, memos made public by a lawsuit revealed that FDA scientists had repeatedly warned that GM foods can create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects, including allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems. They urged long-term safety studies, but were ignored (check out the lawsuit and learn more details at www.biointegrity.org).

What are the benefits of GMOs?

Genetically engineered crop producers, Monsanto, advertise their seeds as the solution to world hunger, due to the seeds’ increased yields and pesticide resistance. Independent studies have shown a reality of decreased yields, higher costs, and a greater cost on the environment for GE crops as opposed to their conventional counterparts.

GMOs also play a role in the industrialization of food production. As fewer people choose to shop locally for their produce, major chains need to ship in large quantities of these foods – making a longer-lasting product advantageous for travel. GMO crop supporters suggest their produce is better-tasting and stays fresh longer.

What would it take to eliminate GMOs?

Labeling GMOs would be a difficult process across the entire food industry, hence the resistance to the issue. Food manufacturers would need to change their labels, but there are even deeper costs. Seeds from genetically modified corn and soy often cross pollinate with surrounding plants, making the detection of GE and non- GE products (a necessity if labeling were to become required) a difficult and costly change.

Photo courtesy of www.sweetgreens.com
Photo courtesy of www.sweetgreens.com

However, as genetically modified food products are being banned in countries across the world, there is a growing consumer demand in the US to be informed about what we eat. Whether you believe GMOs are a health risk or not, every consumer has the right to know what they are purchasing.

How can I get involved?

The best thing you can do is educate yourself! Expert opinions on both sides of the issue are available online, as well as scientific documentation and further information.

Groups like No GMO 4 Michigan have been gaining momentum across the country in their efforts to educate the public on the issue of GMOs in our food supply. To learn more about genetically modified organisms in Michigan or to get involved with a group near you, visit www.nogmo4michigan.org and sign up to receive email updates.

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