The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

September 21, 2013

GMOs are controversial

By Sue Winter, Master Gardener
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The genetic modification of food is nothing new to Americans.

In fact, GMOs have been a part of our diet since the 1990s. You almost certainly eat GMO foods if you have cereals, crackers, cookies, soy milk, soda or anything with corn syrups in your pantry. We eat these daily, although the long-term health effects are unknown.

What are GMOs? According to USA Today in an Oct. 28, 2012, article, “These are plants that have had a gene from another plant inserted into them to give them some ability they didn’t have before. Today there are two common genetic modifications. One is for herbicide tolerance: Plants are given a gene that protects them from harm when a farmer sprays them with herbicides to kill weeds. The other is a gene from a soil bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis that allows plants to produce their own insecticide.”

For example, genetically modified corn contains a pesticide that does not wash off. Most genetically engineered crops are “Roundup Ready.” This means that it can withstand spraying of Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide and live, while weeds around it die.

The percentages of genetic modification in the top seven crops are: corn, 88 percent, frequently labeled corn syrup in processed foods; soy, 93 percent, names include hydrogenated oils and emulsifiers; cottonseed, 94 percent, used for frying foods, such as potato chips; alfalfa, fed to dairy cattle; papaya, 75 percent; canola, 90 percent; and sugar beets, 90 percent.

Many U.S. farmers are planting GMO seeds to create a crop more tolerant of drought and pesticides, which will achieve higher yields.  In the future, increased yields will be needed to feed the world’s expanding population. The chemical companies that create GMO seeds, such as Monsanto, patent them so farmers must buy new seeds each year.

Until recently, Americans have made little fuss about GMO crops as compared with Europeans, who require such food to be labeled. But, as Americans increasingly question what they eat, there has been a movement to label food from genetically modified crops.

In 2012, California proposed a law to label GMO foods, a battle for votes ensued. Opposition to the proposal was led by biotechnology companies, Monsanto and DuPont, and food giants such as Kellogg’s and Kraft, who launched a $45 million campaign. Supporters of labeling raised $9 million. The California labeling initiative was defeated by 53-42 percent vote.

Meanwhile, Whole Foods Market has announced that by 2018, all products in its U.S. stores must be labeled if they contain GMOs. This is the first chain to set a deadline for GMO labeling. As an advocate for organic agriculture, Whole Foods’ policy reflects this quote from on Feb. 6: “The National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that, ‘Approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from cancer. The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons.”

The NCI report states, “The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals” and recommends “choosing foods grown without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones.”

In today’s world, the future global impact of GMOs should be something for us all to take into consideration.

Other sources used were The Week, the Seattle Times and Discover Magazine

Winter is a member of Garfield County Master Gardeners.