Would you eat “frankenfish”? The scoop on genetically modified foods!

Have you stopped to take a minute to think about where the food you eat really comes from? If you get most of your food through a drive-thru window or unwrap it from a package, chances are you are consuming more substances that are unnecessary or even harmful to your body rather than the nutrients needed to maintain good health. But what if you eat a lot of plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, and fish? Are you still eating “healthy?”

One topic of recent debate in health and nutrition centers on genetically modified foods. Genetic modification or genetic engineering refers to technologies that alter the genetic makeup of animals, plants or bacteria, typically by adding genes (DNA) from another species. Reported benefits include higher yield, drought tolerance, reduced pesticide use and more efficient use of fertilizers. Some of the most common foods that we consume today that are genetically modified include sugar (from sugar beets), soybeans, and corn.

So what’s the big deal? There are currently no long-term human studies on the health effects of genetically modified foods, but there is much speculation on how this change in agriculture will affect not only our health, but the health of our planet and our food supply. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), there is the potential of introducing new toxins or allergens into foods that were previously seen as safe, increasing toxins to dangerous levels in foods that typically produce harmless amounts, or diminishing a food’s nutritional value. http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/environmental-effects-of.html#HUMAN_HEALTH_ISSUES

A report by UCS expert Dough Gurian-Sherman titled Failure to Yield states that “despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase US crop yields.”

In addition to the UCS, we highly recommend The Environmental Working Group (EWG) as another credible resource for information on food and the environment. A recent report from the EWG claims that Americans are eating their weight and more in genetically engineered food every year. http://www.ewg.org/agmag/2012/10/americans-eat-their-weight-in-genetically-engineered-food/

One company from Canada has been creating a new breed of salmon by altering the DNA of existing salmon. Watch this short video clip for more on this “fishy” topic! http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/environmental-effects-of.html#HUMAN_HEALTH_ISSUES

Genetically modified foods do not undergo strict testing for safety; and under current FDA and USDA regulations, are not required to be labeled. Many researchers, politicians and activists are campaigning that, at the very least, these foods be labeled so that consumers are aware what they are consuming. Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to food and health. The choice (hopefully) is yours.

Tara Smith, MS, RD, LDN
Clinical Nutritionist
ECU Student Health Service

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