Volume 2 Issue 4

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Abby's Magazine - July / August 2014 | Page 11 Foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are everywhere, and they've likely been a part of your diet for almost 20 years. The process of introducing a gene from one organism into an unrelated organism has made its way onto our grocery store shelves via items as diverse as milk, cheese, veggie burgers, cereal and cookies. Most of the corn, cotton and soybeans grown in the United States come from genetically modified (GM) plants, and almost all processed and packaged foods contain corn or soybeans in one form or another. Controversy surrounds these crops. While they have undoubtedly benefited humans in some ways—worldwide life spans have lengthened during the era of GMOs, partially due to improved nutrition made possible through GMO technology—the profitability of the GMO industry has led large-scale agriculture companies to rush products to market without the level of testing many would consider adequate to ensure human and environmental safety. Despite this, GM ingredients are ubiquitous. The Environmental Working Group conservatively estimates that each American consumes about 190 pounds of GM foods every year. Unless your diet has been composed almost entirely of organically grown, unprocessed ingredients for many years, you have been a participant in a scientific experiment of grand scale. The foods that contain GMOs are known by many names: genetically modified; genetically engineered (GE); transgenic; recombinant; gene-altered; biotech; and even "Frankenfoods." Why should you care whether you are eating these so- called Frankenfoods? The many reasons include concerns over environmental stewardship, international relations and trade, biodiversity, chemical-based versus sustainable agriculture, the patenting and ownership of life forms, and a number of personal health maladies. Here we will concern ourselves mainly with the potential threats to our collective health and the issues surrounding consumer choice. GMOs: The Basics What is genetic modification? Organic regulations define the process as "a variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes." In essence, genes for desirable traits are extracted from a plant, animal, fungus, bacterium or virus and inserted into a life form that would typically not be able to assimilate that gene into its DNA. Some examples include engineering corn with the pesticide Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) to kill the corn borers that might attack the plant; inserting a gene that produces growth hormones into hogs to make them grow faster or into cows to make them produce more milk; or transferring a trait for herbicide resistance into plants so that they may then be sprayed with that herbicide without dying. According to organic regulations, genetic modification does not include the use of traditional breeding, conjugation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization or tissue culture. How does it work? Scientists rely on a few methods to transfer genes into the DNA of plants, and even after many years in development, all are surprisingly imprecise. They also carry potential risks. Methods of gene transfer include physically shooting DNA into a host organism, or using bacteria or viruses to transfer genes. In many cases, genes are inserted with specific "on/off" switches to regulate their expression. Antibiotics are regularly employed to help scientists figure out which hosts have effectively incorporated the DNA. Scientists are not able to precisely control where the genetic material lands, how its landing affects the surrounding DNA or whether other genes are turned on or off by the viral gene promoters. According to genetic engineering The Truth About GMOs By: Tabitha Alterman

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