If you were to write a movie about evil scientists plotting to insert secret ingredients into the food supply in order to make humans sick, you’d have a hard time coming up with something more inventive and potentially more dangerous than genetically modified (GMO) food.
Even though GMO ingredients are not listed on food labels, they have already infiltrated our dinner plates. And this technological change to our food has the potential for sabotaging the world’s food supply. Sadly, most Americans don’t even realize they eat GMO food at just about every meal. In particular, the soy and corn ingredients of our favorite dishes almost always contain GMO ingredients.
U.S. farmers and farmers around the world plant vast amounts of these laboratory-created crops. In particular, soy, corn and cotton (processed food frequently has cottonseed oil added to it) have been genetically engineered to contain toxic pesticides and to withstand massive amounts of herbicides that are applied to farm fields. This allows GMO crops to survive and be harvested while weeds in the fields are supposed to wither and die.
Of course, other beneficial living things like honeybees, other pollinators and a wide collection of wildlife also perish from massive pesticide exposure. And the pesticides often persist long enough to poison our water and air.
According to estimates by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, since GMO crops were introduced in the 1990s, 1 billion acres worldwide have been planted with these plants. That’s an area larger than the continental United States.
GMO proponents argue that the technology is safe, but recent discoveries about what happens in the genetic material of altered organisms are not reassuring. Understand that we are not talking about hybridization, which is the process of cross breeding similar plants in order to create a superior variety or achieve a specific characteristic. Creating GMO plants is much different and can involve replacing, swapping or splicing genes or inserting viruses into the genes themselves in order to alter their very nature.
In theory, altering an organism’s genetic material seems simple and precise. The process is supposed to consist of extracting a desirable gene from one plant or animal and inserting it into another.
Suppose, for example, one wants to create tomatoes that can withstand cold weather. In theory, genes that allow a frost-resistant plant to survive freezing temperatures are extracted and put it into the tomato plant. When seeds of the new tomato plant grow, the presence of this genetic material stimulates activity in the new plants that keep them alive as the temperature drops.
In practice, however, this leads to unforeseen consequences. Only recently have scientists discovered that the genes scientists insert into plants are often contaminated with unintended material, including viruses.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has discovered that when lab scientists altered genes in GMO food, they were also feeding in parts of a virus gene. No one had ever noticed that before.
This virus gene, however, is now in the food we eat. Is it safe? Will it lead to some type of new illness among the millions of people who consume it? Experts can’t say.