Many scientists are concerned about the possible risks that genetically modified foods pose to people's health. But with GMO's so prevalent, it's nearly impossible to prepare a meal without them. Should we be worried?
"A genetically modified food is a food whose genomes, its chromosomes, have been altered so that it can grow in a special way," says Dr. Cara Natterson.
Genetically modified foods, or GMOs, first came into the U.S. Market in 1996. They were introduced to improve crop bounties and nutritional values, as well as for their ability to resist drought and cold.
The problem has come in when genetic modifiers have been used for less positive reasons, like engineering crops that can withstand higher doses of pesticides.
"There's a huge amount of research that looks at what pesticides do to our bodies," says Natterson. "As you can imagine, the effect of a pesticide inside your body is not great. Beyond the pesticides, some scientists worry that the GMO's themselves may be responsible for the rise in diabetes, obesity and food allergies."
She also says that scientists are not exactly sure yet what the implications are for genetic modifiers inside the body.
"There are scientists that believe that GMO's may be related to a variety of different illnesses. But I think the jury is still out in terms of whether that really happens or not. The best example that I've come across is the relationship between GMO's and food allergies. And what I've noticed in my reading is that the more GMO's children eat, the more reports of food allergies that we're seeing in the literature," explains Dr. Natterson.
But still, is extremely difficult to avoid GMO's.
"I think people have no sense of how much genetically modified material they're consuming on a day to day basis," says Natterson. "The problem is that genetic modification is not on the label. You don't see a bag of carrots that says, 'These are genetically modified carrots.' What you see is 'organic' or conventional. And, by definition, organic means not grown by genetically modified seeds."
For example, 85 percent of corn and 92 percent of U.S. soy crops are genetically modified.
"When you think about that number, you can't just think about your produce aisle, because soy and corn are in so many of the foods we eat. They are in the breads and corn paste and tortillas and frozen foods. These are products that form staple ingredients in so many of the foods that are in our grocery stores," says Natterson.
While she keeps an eye on new GMO research, she does not feel it's time to panic.
"With my own children, I don't lose sleep over the issue of genetically modified foods. We do our very best to buy organic, but I don't go crazy with it," she adds.
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