Tag Archives: genetically modified

GMO’s – Good or Bad?

I recently listened to a very interesting podcast about bananas on Freakonomics. It highlighted how modern farming techniques have made producing bananas fairly inexpensive. Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the world. However, this plentiful fruit is at risk of extinction due to a fungus. This risk is partly due to our production efficiencies that make it so affordable.

The podcast highlighted something I hadn’t thought of before. You go to the grocery store. How many kinds of apples are there? Probably at least half a dozen. How many kinds of bananas? One. The whole world (for the most part) consumes one variety of banana. However, this variety is threatened by a fungus that could literally wipe out all the banana plantations. For THIS variety of banana.

Interestingly, some scientists have found a solution. They have successfully modified the DNA of some banana plants to be resistant to this fungus. The scientists have put one gene from a wild banana plant into the current banana plant used and found that it is immune. One gene. Brilliant, right? Except, this hasn’t taken on like wildfire because of the widespread concern over GMO’s in our food.

Now, I’m not telling you that you have to be for or against GMO’s. I think everyone is entitled to an EDUCATED opinion. But I would strongly encourage you to learn more about what we actually do and do not know about GMO’s related to our food supply.

It reminds me of a speech I heard from a food scientist years ago. He talked about how as healthcare professionals we (often) tell people to stay away from food additives. But then we complain about the cost of fresh foods and it being unavailable for all people. He pointed out you can’t have it both ways. The scientists came up with the additives to lower the cost of food and increase availability.

I just think it is important to understand both sides. You don’t want GMO bananas? That’s fine. But don’t complain when they are basically non existent or very expensive in a few years.

For the record, I don’t have a firm opinion on GMO’s. I think there is a lot of information out there, good and bad. And a lot we don’t know yet. I just post here to remind us that when we form one opinion, we have to accept the ramifications.

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GMO Fact or Fiction, Part 3

Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve been discussing what GMOs are, where they are in our food supply, and the pros of using these in agriculture. If you haven’t read those posts, I recommend you read them before embarking on this one.

Today, I will be discussing the cons of GMOs in food. I will try to touch respond to any pros if there is another side to the story as well as bring in any unique ideas.

-Improved yields aren’t helping feed a growing population. Many countries, including China and some in Africa, will not import GMO products from the United States. So while improved yields could help us feed the millions of people who are starving worldwide, they aren’t helping if we can’t get that food to the people.

-Improved yields through self-fertilization and drought resistance are ideas that have been promised by companies, but few to no GMO crops are actually available that have these characteristics.

-With herbicide tolerant crops, chemical herbicide use actually increased rather than decreased. Since the crops themselves are not sensitive to the herbicides, farmers can spray more herbicide without worrying about harming their crops. (However, some would say that the herbicides used may be more environmentally friendly.)

-Weeds have now become resistant to the more common herbicides available to farmers. Several different weeds now have resistance to Round-up, the most common herbicide used.

-We aren’t sure about safety. While there are studies that would suggest consuming GMO based foods are safe, many of these studies are from older generations of GMO crops. Also, since these are relatively new, we don’t have long-term data on safety yet.

Next week, I’ll bring it all together and share my thoughts on using GMO crops in food. Happy eating!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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GMO Fact or Fiction, Part 2

Last week, I outlined some of the basic facts about GMOs. What they are, how we eat them, where they come from, etc. Even if you think you know a lot about GMOs, you should read it just as a refresher.

Today, I will try to highlight some of the pros of using GMOs as part of our food supply. I acknowledge at the outset that some of these facts are disputed by opponents, but I will get to those opinions next week. As with all issues, there are two sides to the story, and each side has numbers to back up what they say. I’m going to list some of the benefits of GMO crops and how being a GMO gives that benefit.

-Improved yields. This benefit comes from a variety of factors. Some GMO plants are made virus resistant, so less plants succumb to disease. Other plants are made more resistant to drought. One of the most common is plants that are engineered to be protected against insects. All of these lead to higher yields at harvest time – up to 22% according to one study. With a growing world population to feed, it is not hard to realize we need to be as efficient as possible in agriculture.

-Reduced chemical use. With the development of insect and herbicide resistant crops, farmers are able to use less chemicals or at least milder, more environmentally friendly chemicals on their plants. One study found that use of GMOs reduced chemical pesticide usage by 37%.

-Reduced greenhouse emissions and soil erosion. With the herbicide resistant crops, farmers are able to plow their soil less. This reduces carbon emissions from farm equipment and helps preserve the soil.

-Improved nutrient profile. None of these products are currently in the market. However, a few GM plants have been created to help with nutrient deficiencies worldwide. Golden Rice, for example, is rice that has been engineered to be high in beta-carotene, a nutrient often lacking in countries with rice dominated diets. It is hoped that this could help prevent blindness. Again, none of the products like Golden Rice are currently commercially available, but it is an area for expansion in the future.

-Improved profit for farmers. While here in the US we associate GMOS with “Big Ag” like Monsanto, most of the farmers who use GMO crops are in the developing world. They do not have huge farms. Many of them are women. Studies have shown that farmer profits can increase up to 68% with GMOs. As we try to lift developing countries out of poverty, increased profits for their population can be crucial in improving an economy and way of life.

Hopefully, this has opened your eyes to at least some of the possible benefits of using GMOs. Next week, I’ll go over the opposition. Happy eating!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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GMO Fact or Fiction, Part 1

I bought a box of Cheerios last week and noticed that they are labeled as GMO free. Chipotle Restaurants also recently announced that their menu is going GMO free (more on that later). Add these to news articles, blog posts, etc that I have seen in the past few weeks, GMO foods are definitely a hot topic in the nutrition world. Unfortunately, I feel like many people are making decisions without all the information. In light of that, I’m going to do a series of posts about GMO foods over the next few weeks. Hopefully, you will come away better able to make an informed decision.

Part 1: What are GMOs?

GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. GMOs are also referred to as GEs (for “genetically engineered”). GMOs are organisms (usually plants, but sometimes animals) that have had their DNA altered in some way to give it a more desirable characteristic. A plant can be made to be more hardy and withstand drought, heat, or other nature extremes. Resistance to herbicides or pesticides are also common traits used in genetic engineering. Nutrients can also be added, such as beta-carotene added to rice in the product Golden Rice.

GMOs are a modern extension of centuries-old practices in agriculture of breeding. Farmers have been cross-breeding plants for a long time. GMOs take that practice and add a dose of modern science. Instead of just breeding plants together, scientists can add genes directly into a plant that could not be added through breeding. For example, a gene from fish can be added to tomatoes to make them last longer post-harvesting.

GMOs are regulated by the government. The Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Agriculture all have roles in the regulation of GMOs. Food products are not required to be labeled if they contain GMOs. However, all food certified by the USDA as “organic” is GMO free. The USDA also recently announced a voluntary certification program for labeling foods as GMO free.

Corn, soybean, sugar beets, squash, papaya, and canola are the only commercial GMOs in the food supply in the US. Most of us consume these products in processed foods, such as corn oil, soybean oil, and high fructose corn syrup. It is estimated that 70% of processed foods contain at least one genetically modified ingredient.  Animal feed often contains GMOs as well.  I was unable to find information on how this changes the composition of the meat or poultry we consume.  But it is another way GMOs can enter our diet.

I hope some of this information is helpful. My next installment will discuss the pros of GMOs. Until then, happy eating!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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