GMo’ or GM less?

Grocery shopping when you’re hungry is dangerous. You grab your cart and wheel down the aisles, grabbing anything that looks like something you could want or crave later. You get home and the best feeling, a full fridge with options, yes options for dinner. After eating a dinner full of fresh produce, abundant cheese and seconds (maybe thirds) the rest of the week you might get lazy with meals and make what’s easy.

A week or so later you notice that the produce you got on your shopping spree doesn’t look as fresh as before and might even have gone bad. Without wanting to risk the health of you or your family you toss it. Whether you feel guilty about tossing food, it’s a crime that most of us commit. In fact, according to a new study more than 30% to 50% of food is tossed and wasted. This is part of the food shortage problem.

There are 7.2 BILLION people that we share the world with. That’s a lot of people to send through the buffet that is the world food production line. Shockingly enough, in a short 35 years we’re going to need twice as much food to feed our growing population. What can we do you ask? I am so glad you did. One solution is to rely on GMOs.

GMOs, genetically modified organisms, are organisms that have been genetically altered to be more resistant to things such as diseases, undesirable growing conditions and spoiling. This sounds like “Franken-food” and it has been called that but the reality is that more than 80% of the foods you bought on your hungry shopping trip are genetically modified. Increasing the amount of foods that are genetically modified could increase the amount of food produced by as much as 20%.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke in a video featured on his YouTube channel explaining how surprised he is that the public is having such a hard time embracing GMOs. He explains that people modifying food for the benefit of their consumption is not a new concept and most of us probably take for granted our favorite foods when they are in fact, genetically modified. For instance he reminds us that there are no wild seedless watermelon growing in a patch anywhere, those were genetically modified because we don’t like to deal with seeds. He says that we shouldn’t reject this technology because we are unsure of the consequences because it is solving some of the world’s biggest problems, like mal-nutrient and starvation.

Tyson is right, when we find foods that we enjoy eating we’ve used something called “selective agriculture” to make them more to our liking. One big pro for GMOs is that it makes food tastier and can be said to improve the quality of food. Along with adjusting the taste, GMOs can also be adjusted for nutritional value. Adding vitamins and minerals to make the food more nutritionally beneficial. This is a huge plus for people in developing countries.

All right so what’s the problem, this sounds great! Genetically modified food definitely has its benefits as a short term solution to global problems like how to feed the rising population and bring better nutrition to developing countries, but what about the next few generations?

Ecosystems and populations work better with diversity. With more options, societies are more stable and are more likely survive. As more foods are created in a lab and not grown in the ground, the fewer natural plants will be there to support civilization. I know what you’re thinking; we can just create those plants in a lab. The problem with this is that people are not the only ones who need the plant diversity. Wild animals, insects and even other plants need the wide variety of biodiversity that exist now but is rapidly dwindling. In some cases we don’t even know what we’d need to create because we don’t know what we’re taking away.

Not only do we suffer from less biodiversity, but also raising modified plants and animals could have a negative effect on the environment. For instance, wanting bigger and juicier meat requires more feed and more space to raise the animals. Now we’re back to the original problem of growing more food without using more land. Genetically modified plants also cause damage to the environment. When they’re developed to be resistant to drought or weeds, this causes them to require more herbicides and more genetic modification. Chemicals such as fertilizers and herbicides used to deal with GMOs that didn’t respond as predicted have consequences for soil composition and ground water quality.

The other problem with GMOs is that their solution is to be an efficient way to improve the quality of food, but at what cost. Several food associations and scientists estimate that it costs millions of dollars to develop new varieties of GMOs and more millions of dollars to maintain production. What’s the point? We’re spending billions of dollars to develop food that we already know how to grow and produce in the open air instead of a lab.

For those that have food allergies, read the labels carefully. The United States and Canada are two of the only developed countries that do not require a food label for genetically modified foods. When the foods are modified, they often take components from other foods to enhance them. For instance, if you want to improve the quality of beef, they might add soy. If you have a soy allergy, there is no label regulation for this ingredient.

This is a big part of the debate about GMOs, should genetically modified foods and organisms be labeled? Should people know exactly what they’re buying or is it understood at this point since genetically modified components are all over our stores? There are organizations and groups that have chosen to label their foods as not genetically modified and that they are dedicated to “honest food”. Of course not all “honest food” is labeled as such.

Just one of many anti-GMO organizations working for the benefit of the consumer. 

As you can see this debate is sticky and both sides have viable arguments. I am of the opinion that creating modified foods in a lab is not the solution. Mentioned earlier, as much as 50% of the food we purchase is thrown in the trash and not consumed. What if that food wasn’t purchased in the first place? What if the amount of food the average family bought and consumed decreased? Americans, as a group, consume 815 billion calories each day- 200 billion more than we need. If these calories were redistributed to developing countries or just not consumed by us at all, that would be enough to feed 80 million people.

We know this. We eat a lot! And we pay for it every time we go to the doctors and hear about diabetes and risk for heart conditions. If we eat less and healthier not only will our waistlines get smaller, but the amount of our unnecessary waste will reduce as well. We have enough food to feed everyone in the world; it’s just all either being used for second and third helpings or its being thrown out.

This is definitely a longer-term solution, but that’s one step in this system of problems. Another powerful step would be to globally reduce the amount of red meat that we consume. To beef up, if you will, the cattle that we love to dig into, we unnaturally feed them corn and other grains that could be put towards feeding us. The less meat we eat, the more grain there is for people all over the world to eat and overall the healthier we will become.

Let’s recap. We throw out a lot of food. GMOs dominate our grocery stores and can help to feed the growing population and people in developing countries. We don’t know the consequences of GMOs including environmental damages and less transparent options for consumers. There is enough food being produced now to feed the world population if we eat a little less and throw out way less.

It’s not the opinion you have; it’s just that you have an opinion. Our decisions matter and what we eat doesn’t just impact our energy level or weight but it has a global impact. So now I have to ask, what’s going to be on your next grocery list?