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In my never-to-be-humble opinion, most people are prone to knee-jerk reactions and will believe and repeat, reblog, repost, Tweet, and share nearly anything without fact-checking. A good example of this is the ridiculous but staunch belief by some that jet-airplane contrails are actually “chemtrails”— a government plot to make people stupid. My reply is that most of the people in government are already too stupid to devise such a plot (sic).

Genetically Modified Organisms, (GMOs) is a huge controversy. People rant and rave about them without knowing the facts.

There may be no harm to the actual food. (scientificamerican.com/article/why-people-oppose-gmos-even-though-science-says-they-are-safe). Research has shown that many GMO practices are harmless and don’t change the nutritional value at all. We’ve been genetically modifying our food since ancient times but without the help of modern science.

The biggest controversy seems to be over how the foods are changed. GMO (aka GE) foods are often altered in ways that nature could never accomplish. For example, artic fish genes gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost, and more absurdly, potatoes were experimented with so that they glow in the dark when they need water.

“A GMO (genetically modified organism) is 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. Because this involves the transfer of genes, GMOs are also known as “transgenic” organisms.” (responsibletechnology.org/gmo-education)

Hybrid fruits and vegetables, are a manipulation within the boundaries of natural processes. One might argue that this is also genetically modifying the food. Meyer lemon is an example. It is a cross between a lemon and either an orange or a mandarin. The most popular vegetable in modern times is the potato, with the Russet leading the way (It is what French fries and mashed potatoes are made from).

potato wikimedia.com

This common tuber was created by Luther Burbank from another hybrid potato (the Burbank) to counteract the disease that caused the Irish potato blight. You don’t hear anyone ranting about them being an “offense against god” or GMO poison. Maybe the “mother” of all intentionally altered foods is corn. It was modified some 7,000 years ago in Mesoamerica from a tiny grass called teosinte, into what we have today.

Some other altered foods we eat and enjoy are bananas, medjool dates, kiwis, seedless grapes, beets, carrots, cashews, and oats. Although there are differing opinions about the health value of these—and most every food—they have been consumed for a long time and have never been proven to have negative health benefits.

On the other hand, some GMO practices make it possible for a crop to be so saturated with pesticides and herbicides that they can destroy beneficial insects, especially bees. Bee-killing glyphosate pesticide/herbacide is creating a world-wide crisis. Modern farming can do a lot that our ancestors couldn’t, but they cannot replace bees. Without bees, humanity would likely starve. Generally, crops cannot produce without pollinators and we have no way to manually pollinate acres of food. The debate rages over whether glyphosates in herbicides and pesticides are solely responsible for Colony Collapse Disease (CCD), Evidence is mounting that the practice of saturating GMO crops with this poison is a major player. (huffingtonpost.com/carey-gillam/fda-finds-monsantos-weed_b_12008680.html)

Are GMO practices that simply change the nature of the fruit or vegetable dangerous? For example, we can now grow apples that stay white after being cut instead of turning brown. Browning in fruit is a result of oxidation and a natural part of many fruits. Does altering that process change how we digest the apple?

apple cut wikimedia

Some fruits that were originally only able to grow in cold climates can now thrive in heat. We have heat-tolerant blueberries, for example. Are these benign? Or are they unhealthy? Studies can be confusing and contradictory. For instance, some scientists claim that GMO foods (as opposed to traditional hybrids) are safe, others claim they are not. The jury is still out on that issue. Even if many studies are flawed or not large enough, they don’t prove that GMOs are safe or dangerous. It just shows the need for more and bigger studies.

Fueling this controversy is “confirmation bias.” By nature, people will gather evidence that prove their beliefs. To support and confirm our dearly held beliefs, we will edit, twist, and bloat evidence, facts, and information. Politics is an excellent example of this. For an example of a good website, plagued with confirmation bias, go to (geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/11/13/10-studies-proving-gmos-are-harmful-not-if-science-matters). It debunks GMO studies showing they are dangerous but says it has been hacked by others to prove just the opposite.

For some, the biggest issue isn’t whether GMOs are safe to eat or not, it is more that these agricultural practices could give huge agribusiness such iron-fisted power over the farmers’ choices of how to grow their crops because the seed from GMO plants (like hybrids) are not reusable, and pesticides and herbicides often end up being added to food crops in massive amounts. These claims are refuted by some researchers. For example it is noted that most farmers don’t save seeds anyway because it is more cost effective to buy them fresh each season.

Safe to eat is not the same thing as beneficial to eat, i.e. diet sodas and microwave popcorn are relatively safe, but these foods are known to damage our health.

diet soda and mentosDiet Sodas: Susan E. Swithers, a professor of psychological sciences and a behavioral neuroscientist.states, “Findings from a variety of studies show that routine consumption of diet sodas, even one per day, can be connected to higher likelihood of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and high blood pressure, in addition to contributing to weight gain.”

“Daily consumption of diet soda was associated with a 36% greater relative risk of incident metabolic syndrome and a 67% greater relative risk of incident type 2 diabetes compared with non consumption in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)” – therenegade pharmacist.com. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19151203)

microwave popcornMicrowave Popcorn: “Most manufacturers have removed the health-damaging ingredient diaceytl from their products, but there are some allegations in news reports that the ingredient now used to provide the butter flavor is just another version of the same chemical. Government scientists have been quoted as saying that the new “diacetyl-free” microwave popcorn poses the same danger as the old stuff” (drweil.com/diet-nutrition/nutrition/microwave-popcorn-threat)

 

In the United States, there is an increasing demand to have more transparency in what goes into our food and on our food. The organic movement is rapidly growing, so much so that even General Mills cratered and took GMO ingredients out of Cheerios. Other companies are following suit. But is it a newfound conscience about creating products that are basically useless calories for carb and sugar addicts to stuff into their mouths, or is it giving in to people “voting with their wallets?” I vote for the latter.

In addition, the safety of foods as “proven” by past scientific studies, is definitely not evidence of actual safety. For example, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, numerous pharmaceuticals, many food dyes and additives (i.e., carrageenan) that were “studied” and proven safe, approved by the FDA, and labeled Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), have since been shown to be dangerous or even potentially lethal. Tobacco is a prime example.

smoking ad

For more ad samples of health claims for smoking go to (buzzfeed.com/copyranter/healthy-cigarette-ads?utm_term=.isydRJPWx#.tbEXA8jpJ )

Food safety is a fickle and changing business. Some things are certain, such as botulism, salmonella, and such. Others are less certain and change as science and testing improve. Fats were once considered the main culprit in heart disease. That sacred belief is now being challenged as we begin to better understand the human metabolism.

“The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show.” – NY Times, (nytimes.com/2016/09/13/well/eat/how-the-sugar-industry-shifted-blame-to-fat.html?mcubz=3)

Remember when coffee and chocolate were said to be unhealthy? Now they are touted as being among the healthiest foods around. With those foods, however, the big controversy is that many of the cacao and coffee farms use slave labor. But that’s another story.

chocolate

“Dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health. Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet. Studies show that dark chocolate (not the sugary crap) can improve health and lower the risk of heart disease.” (healthline.com/nutrition/7-health-benefits-dark-chocolate)

So, back to GMOs. Safe or not? I’m still dubious about accepting them as safe and beneficial to the planet, mainly because of the pesticide and herbicide issue, but I’m not a fanatic. If I’m in a restaurant or a dinner guest in someone’s home, I don’t ask if the food is all GMO-free. At home, I use mostly organic ingredients and fresh foods—often from my own garden. When I shop, I tend to go for Non-GMO, organic products, but if organic is four times as expensive or simply not available, I’ll buy those non-organic oranges—food cannot be labelled organic if it contains GMO ingredients, is a GMO fruit or vegetable, and organic meat, poultry, fish, and dairy cannot be labelled organic if the animals have been fed GMO feed.

We all must decide for ourselves what our boundaries are concerning food, but I believe that good research is the best way to make informed decisions. Much of the hype over food is just that—hype, broadcast for sensationalism and repeated as rumors posted on the web, Facebook and the like.

Your best tool for getting to the truth is to read sources and know where the information comes from. For an in-depth web article that talks about the truth and myths surrounding GMOs, go to popsci.com/article/science/core-truths-10-common-gmo-claims-debunked. It doesn’t answer all the questions but presents an (as much as possible) unbiased look into the fears myths surrounding GMO.

“3) Claim: Farmers can’t replant genetically modified seeds.

So-called terminator genes, which can make seeds sterile, never made it out of the patent office in the 1990s. Seed companies do require farmers to sign agreements that prohibit replanting in order to ensure annual sales, but Kent Bradford, a plant scientist at the University of California, Davis, says large-scale commercial growers typically don’t save seeds anyway. Corn is a hybrid of two lines from the same species, so its seeds won’t pass on the right traits to the next generation. Cotton and soy seeds could be saved, but most farmers don’t bother. “The quality deteriorates—they get weeds and so on—and it’s not a profitable practice….”

Maybe my concerns over farmers being manipulated by GMO pushers is unfounded after all.

Okay, I’ll step off my soapbox now and spend some time alphabetizing my confirmation-bias files.

 

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