thoughts on gmos

I was recently interviewed about GMO foods. I wanted to share my full response here.

*What exactly are GMO foods/what are examples of them?

When the DNA of a plant or animal is altered to introduce or modify genetic traits, you have a Genetically Modified (GM) food, also known as Genetically Engineered (GE) food. 

The most common GE food crops in the U.S. include soybeans and corn. This is NOT because America has an insatiable appetite for tofu and polenta. The vast majority of these GE soy and corn crops are grown to eventually become either livestock feed for CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), biofuel for automobiles, or highly processed food additives (e.g., high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, etc.).  

*If you think people should NOT eat GMO foods, please explain why in a few sentences.

Consider this: What do you think the majority of GE food crops in the U.S. are being engineered to do? You might suspect that they are being engineered to taste better, to be more nutritious, or to withstand drought. But this isn't the case. The vast majority are being engineered to withstand direct pesticide application (meaning that they can be directly sprayed with pesticides, killing pests, but not harming the crop itself). This can help farmers save time and money in the short term, but in the long term, liberal use of pesticides may lead to various ecological problems, including pest (both insect and weed) adaptation, dependency on chemical inputs, harm to pollinators/wildlife, and harm to microorganisms in the soil.  

The application of certain pesticides has risen exponentially since GE crops were introduced in the 1990s. United Nations Humans Rights experts (Ms. Hilal Elver and Mr. Baskut Tuncak) have concluded the following: “Excessive use of pesticides are very dangerous to human health, to the environment and it is misleading to claim they are vital to ensuring food security.”  

*Is there a certain "threshold" of GMO foods you'd need to eat in order to see negative side effects, etc.?

Widespread adoption of GE crops are recent phenomenon, so it's hard to say. Many countries are taking a cautious approach by declining the import of GE crops and/or banning the growth of GE crops domestically. The U.S. hasn't taken this cautious approach so far.   

Also, there is a concern with food allergies. If genes from an allergenic plant are introduced into another plant, it might provoke an allergic response in someone with an existing allergy. Further, new allergens might be created from new gene combinations.   

*What would your advice be to people when it comes to GMO foods in their diets? Please explain.

To be clear, I'm not against GMO foods, I'm against how most of them are being used today.

Remember, the reason we're growing so many GE crops in the U.S. is because of our collective demand for animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) from CAFOs, fuel for automobiles, and highly processed foods. If we can minimize those, we can minimize how many GE crops are being produced. This might in turn allow for a more sustainable and healthy agricultural system to take hold. 

With that said, I would also encourage anyone who is strongly opposed to GE to be open to learning more about advancements in the future, as GE might offer some real benefits to sustainable food production.