Genetically Modified Organisms: An Honest Unveiling

studentvoices01By Railinn Martin
LCC-Wai’anae student
April 2013
Instructor Danny Wyatt
Leeward Community College-Wai’anae instructor – English 100

[Note from the instructor: “With GMOs in the news, and a big topic for Hawaii especially, I have my class writing a couple of essays and research papers on whether labeling GMO products should be required. The first essay is on ‘reasons for requiring labeling of foods with GMO ingredients.’ The final submissions are students’ research papers examining what research appears to show about GMOs and proposals for labeling foods with GMO ingredients.” -Danny Wyatt]

It’s on people’s plates every day; it’s genetically modified food. Unlike European consumers, American consumers are still fighting for the knowledge necessary to take care of their families. Genetically modified organisms, better known as GMOs, are currently a hot topic which is highly debated. This debate is divided into four arguments: health, freedom of choice, environmental consequences, and the effects on our economy. The argument which holds the largest controversy is the viable health risks associated with modifying foods.  Coming in a close second is the issue of American people being informed about what they are consuming so they can make an informed decision about their health and wellbeing. The lack of labels makes it extremely difficult to avoid a genetically modified product and therefore deprives the public from making their own choices. The public deserves to know what they are consuming so they can make independent and well-informed decisions. The only solution available is to label all products which contain GMOs.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a GMO is “a living organism that had been genetically modified by inserting a gene from an unrelated species”.  These types of species are generally called “transgenics” Transgenic technology is employed to improve crop resistance to pests, weather, and chemical pesticides or herbicides. In addition to crop resistance, it is also used in an attempt to increase specific vitamins or minerals in other plants.  A prime example of this is the golden rice created using an extract of daffodils and combining it with rice.  This is a perfect example of the need to inform consumers. They deserve the right to know they are cooking daffodils along with their rice. The Department of Agriculture also reports, “technology has been used in over 40 species of plants including corn, cotton, tomatoes, potatoes, soybeans, tobacco, rice, cranberries, papayas, raspberries, chrysanthemums, gladioli, petunias, poplars, spruce, and walnuts”. Monsanto is one of the most prominent companies using this biotechnology on crops. Soybeans are a common example of GMOs because they have been changed so that spraying Roundup doesn’t harm the soybeans. Corn has been engineered to produce an insecticide on its own (Turner 30). Hawaiian papayas are also among the list of genetically modified crops, but many consumers are blissfully unaware due to the lack of labels to identify these crops as product ingredients.

The FDA’s argument for not requiring labels on GMO food is that they are not much different than their traditional counter-parts. An argument over this definition occurred in regards to labeling milk as not being injected with Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH).  The FDA statement presented the idea of there being no significant differences between  milk with rBGH and  that not with this synthetic hormone. In fact milk from cows injected with the hormone has proven to be of lesser nutritional value and quality, with less protein and increased fat content, than milk from cows not injected with rBGH (Au 575).  Because there is a difference, labeling milk lacking the rBGH hormone or containing the hormone does not mislead consumers. Instead it allows consumers to make better educated choices about their health.

Some would argue that in one way or another all food has been genetically modified. The concern is not about modifications which occur naturally.  Instead, the concern is about specific modifications that would never have occurred naturally. Imagine an orchard that produces three different apples. The first apple is a sweet red apple coming from a tree producing similar red apples. The second apple is a sour green apple coming from a green apple producing tree. The third and final apple is sweet like the first apple and green like the second apple. It is possible by gradually cross-pollinating apple trees that this hybrid apple could be created; however, it is still genetically an apple. By trying a different process, a scientist could try crossing red apple genetic material with that of a lime in an attempt to get a sweet apple flavor with the green color. While the first few tries may produce a red lime or a lime flavored apple, eventually, the scientist will be able to create his desired hybrid. Nature can produce its own sweet green apple only if the right factors came into play. However, nature would not create the transgenic lime apple.

An idea closer to home illustrates this as well.  It is a commonly accepted belief that humans and chimpanzees have very similar DNA as a result of man evolving from chimpanzee to human.  Despite these similarities, there is no evidence showing that inserting monkey genes into a human embryo will create the missing link. The belief of changing the genetic sequence of an organism by injecting a different DNA sequence is acceptable and essentially the same as cross-pollinating is not only absurd but also dangerous. Messing with genetic sequences needs to be further studied before pushing foods upon an uninformed consumer without their knowledge and consent. It is a matter of public health. Yet, GMOs are already on the market and are not going anywhere. Since GMOs are already being produced and consumed, they need to be labeled.  Labels allow the public to be conscious of a product which requires further investigation before being deemed perfectly fine.

Hospital visits are terrifying and can be caused by what people eat. Choking is no longer the main risk when eating dinner. Due to alterations in crop genes, contamination between two species causes allergic reactions in people who previously had no issues with the same food (Turner 31-32).  Imagine the gold rice mentioned previously.  What if instead of daffodils, rice was genetically altered using peanut DNA?  Due to the large quantity of deadly peanut allergies in the United States not labeling such products could lead to the death of somebody at some point in time. Consumers who experience allergic reactions to modified products are unaware of the difference between what they used to eat and what they are now eating. When shopping for someone with allergies, product differences can easily be the deciding factor between life and death and mistakes will occur without specific labeling. People with peanut allergies are able to avoid peanuts, therefore avoiding a visit to the hospital or death, because foods containing peanuts are required to have a label. This is no longer the case when it comes to unlabeled GMOs.

In addition to allergic reactions, some genetically modified foods are tied to increased cancer risks. Dairy cows injected with the genetically modified hormone, Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rGBH), have higher numbers of insulin growth factor-1 which is closely tied to an increased risk of cancer (Au 574-575). Cancer often has no definite cure and treatment success varies with each person. By denying the American people something as simple as a label on a genetically modified product could cause thousands to die.

GMOs pose an environmental risk because some are resistant to herbicides.  Farmers have the ability to increase spraying of herbicides such as Roundup. According to Turner, this is an ability that is likely used too often  (Turner 32). With the increase in these sprayed applications, the weeds become resistant to them calling for more frequent and stronger herbicides to be applied. Not only do these herbicides leach into water supplies, poisoning those who consume the water, but it also creates a destructive cycle. More spraying gives weeds and pests more opportunities to become resistant to the chemicals which in turn call for even more spraying of even harsher chemicals. In addition, spraying herbicides exposes farmers to chemicals. The packaging of such chemicals specifically states exposure as being dangerous. These chemicals are do not stay strictly in the fields where they are sprayed; they stay on the crop, get processed into food products, get shipped to the stores and end up on the dinner table.

There are environmental and health risks which are as terrifying as they are dangerous. However, the freedom to choose is a very important factor which without a doubt applies to all in the United States.  A law restricting the size of sugary drinks available for purchase in New York City, NY was overturned because it violated freedom of choice by forcing consumers and businesses to buy smaller beverages. The law was overturned since it wasn’t evenly applied  (“Judge voids New York soda ban” 1). An example being that although the consumer could no longer purchase hundreds of soda calories from a restaurant, they could still buy the same amount of calories from a super market. So, just as consumers have the right to drink high sugar and high calorie beverages which lead to diabetes, they deserve the right to choose whether or not to eat GMO laden food. The easiest and most practical way to give consumers the choice is to require products containing GMOs to be labeled as such. Furthermore, the choice of eating non-GMOs is considerably healthier option than being allowed to gorge on unhealthy soda pops.

Another argument against labeling GMOs is that it misleads and frightens unknowing consumers to not purchase the product and those who actually care already know which products contain GMOs. The idea that if labeling something will cause people to not buy it is simply not true. For proof look at the amount of tobacco sales in any given year.  Cigarettes and other tobacco products are labeled and people still purchase them. It is possible sales may have declined but this is also proof that consumers want to know what they are ingesting so they can make more informed decisions. Another example is fruit juices claiming they contain only forty percent real juice or gummies stating they are fruit flavored. These are labeled with no promise of actual fruit inside and are still purchased. Depending on how the labels look, some may think it’s a great addition to their food.  Not everyone watches their calories or fat intake, but high calorie foods such as chips and soda pops are still bought even with their nutritional labels stating these unhealthy characteristics. Nutritional labels simply educate.  The label alone cannot and will not deter someone from enjoying a product they want to enjoy. However, labels do help to increase the consumers’ knowledge of what is being consumed. The knowledge that something is genetically modified should be easily available to consumers.

Some may feel that a labeling requirement would hit the economy hard, because adding labels to products costs the companies. If people aren’t willing to buy the products when they have labels then those companies go downhill and have layoffs and cannot invest in scientists to research genetic modification. To further this complication, it is believed the economy would suffer greatly from a sudden increase in unemployment and with less competition on grocery shelves then the companies left have free reign to increase food prices. If a lot of people stop buying GM  products, then an equal number of people would be purchasing organic products. For some companies, the simplest action is to alter the product to cater to those opposing the genetic modifications. The scientists who work on creating these GMOs could work on understanding genetic diseases for the possibility of a cure. In addition to organic farms needing more staff to provide for their higher demands, there would be positions open to protect the consumers need for knowing that those claiming GMOs actually are true. In a country where the economy is majority rules, if the majority wouldn’t purchase a product because of its content but is purchasing the product because they don’t know, then they have the right to be informed about that product.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods should be labeled to allow consumers to choose what they eat. Health and environmental concerns already deter some consumers from purchasing and consuming GMOs, and labeling just makes it easier for those consumers to avoid products they don’t want. New York trying to cure obesity by preventing drinking huge amounts of sugary drinks haven’t stopped people from purchasing those sodas because consumers will purchase what they want.  They just need to be aware of what they are purchasing as they no doubt are in New York where many have chosen not to drink sugary  sodas. This choice would not have happened if they were not educated on the product and given an option. Labeling products simply allows consumers the ability to make more informed decisions about what they purchase. Just like nutritional information on the package allows consumers to control what they consume, labeling of GMOs will do the exact same thing. The American people have a right to know what they are consuming and preventing this knowledge is wrong.

Genetically modified organisms have not been researched enough to know long-term consequences. Some argue that a label stating “contains GMOs” will mislead consumers. Yet, these GMOs are being sold as a totally normal product. The processes of genetically modified organisms are different than what occurs in nature; therefore, the product is different than what is created naturally. There is nothing “normal” or “natural” about the transgenic technology used in these products.    The lies or omission of information are what mislead consumers, not the other way around. Labeling should not be an option;  labeling should be mandatory.  The American people deserve to know what they are consuming. In the country of free enterprise, if one product label causes a huge economic decline where the money isn’t going into a different brand; the label isn’t at fault because the economy was already failing. In all actuality, the economy wouldn’t take a hit, just different companies would. Like a sign saying items may contain peanuts, it is for the good of all to have the knowledge available with certainty.

Works Cited

“ARS : What Are GMO’S?” ARS : What Are GMO’S? N.p., 23 Feb. 2005. Web. 02 May 2013

Au, Tony. “Got (Rbst-Free) Milk?’ The Sixth Circuit Overturns Ohio’s Milk Labeling Restrictions.” Ecology Law Quarterly 38.2 (2011): 571-578. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.

“Judge voids New York soda ban, calling it ‘arbitrary and capricious’.” Christian Science Monitor 11 Mar. 2013: N.PAG. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.

Turner, Lisa. “Playing With Our Food.” Better Nutrition 69.4 (2007): 30-33. Health Source – Consumer Edition. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.

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