Health Source January 2014 : Page 24

what’s on our plate? •••• By Jon Vredenburg, MBA, RD, CSSD, LD/N T he term genetically modified organism is a mouthful in more ways than one. GMOs, as they are commonly referenced, are widely abundant in the food supply. Almost 70 percent of the processed foods in the grocery store contain at least one type of GMO. By definition, a GMO is an organism whose genetic material has been scientifically altered to make it more resistant to pests, diseases or weather. These types of modifications allow for greater crop yields and lower prices at the grocery store. Consumer backlash has been spreading against GMOs as some preliminary research has raised concerns about their safety. The National Academy of Science and the World Health Organization dispute those safety concerns. They state that the current data shows no adverse health effects in humans. “I’ve seen claims that they are completely safe and claims that they are not safe. It is no wonder that people are confused about GMO foods,” states Alexia Lewis, a Registered Dietitian with the University of North Florida. Genetic engineering of plants has been going on for over twenty years. Herbicide resistant soybeans were among the first to have widespread use in our food supply. Shortly before that, a biotechnology research firm introduced the Flavr Savr tomato. This tomato was engineered to stay firm for a longer period of time. The Flavr Savr tomato was the first genetically-altered food to gain approval for commercial production by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, its high production costs and questionable flavor only kept it on the market for three years, when the company decided to cease production. If you wander the aisles of your supermarket you will have plenty of unknowing encounters with foods that contain GMOs. Cereals, carbonated soft drinks and vegetable oils are among the most common of these foods. Corn and soy are also heavily modified. Numerous states, including Florida, have introduced legislation to require labeling of GMOs in foods, but none have been passed into legislation. This has helped fuel growing consumer speculation towards the food industries that have lobbied against these proposals. “I think the first reason is there is a level of distrust for the food industry and the government agencies that oversee food agencies because GMOs have quietly been added to many of our foods,” states Lewis. As it stands now, the scientific consensus is that genetically modified (GM) foods do not pose a risk to our health that is any different from the risks presented by non-genetically modified foods. While there have been isolated animal studies linking GMO foods to disruptions in reproductive function and immunity, these results have not been duplicated elsewhere. “I’m hopeful that there continues to be more independently-funded research into the safety of GMO foods. We get no answers when studies draw vastly different conclusions,” states Lewis. 24— H e a l t H S o u r c e January 2014

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