Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Genetically-Engineered Foods: What Are You Really Eating?

According to the USDA, "U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) crops widely since their introduction in 1996, notwithstanding uncertainty about consumer acceptance and economic and environmental impacts." The top three GE crops produced in the U.S. are corn, cotton, and soybeans. Proponents argue that to protect the food supply and ensure that it keeps pace with population growth, genetically-engineered foods are necessary.( )

But, why is it necessary to alter a plant species? Two reasons are offered: to protect crops from herbicides and to protect crops from insects.

"Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, developed to survive application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for effective weed control. Based on USDA survey data, HT soybeans went from 17 percent of U.S. soybean acreage in 1997 to 68 percent in 2001 and 92 percent in 2008. Plantings of HT cotton expanded from about 10 percent of U.S. acreage in 1997 to 56 percent in 2001 and 68 percent in 2008. The adoption of HT corn, which had been slower in previous years, has accelerated, reaching 63 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 2008."

"Insect-resistant crops containing the gene from the soil bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) have been available for corn and cotton since 1996. These bacteria produce a protein that is toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. Plantings of Bt corn grew from about 8 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 1997 to 26 percent in 1999, then fell to 19 percent in 2000 and 2001, before climbing to 29 percent in 2003 and 57 percent in 2008. The recent increases in acreage share may be largely due to the commercial introduction in 2003/04 of a new Bt corn variety that is resistant to the corn rootworm, a pest that may be more destructive to corn yield than the European corn borer, which was previously the only pest targeted by Bt corn. Plantings of Bt cotton expanded more rapidly, from 15 percent of U.S. cotton acreage in 1997 to 37 percent in 2001 and 63 percent in 2008." ( )

Opponents say that although genetic engineering all but guarantees high crop yield, the long-term effects of ingesting these foods has not been tested. Many argue that the abundance of these crops, corn and soybeans in particular, better serve food manufacturers' profits rather than improve the nation's ability to feed the masses. Turn your attention to a bottle of salad dressing or a box of cereal. Read the ingredients. Do you see soybean oil or high fructose corn syrup (a highly refined sweetener derived from corn) as one of the top three ingredients? Take a look at a loaf of bread or a bottle of juice. What do you find? Few packaged goods lack one or both of these ingredients. It is no coincidence that obesity rates have skyrocketed. Obesity has been linked to a shift in the American diet from home-grown and cooked foods to fast foods and packaged foods. The scales continue to tip.

For some statistics on obesity, take a look at a very telling power point presentation entitled "National Epidemic of Overweight and Obesity" created on February 16, 2005 by George A. Mensah, M.D. Acting Director, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pay attention to the increasing trend of obesity in the U.S. since the late 1990's:

By the way, this technology is expensive, so big corporations have a huge advantage over the small farmer. They can produce more "food" and offer it to food manufacturers at a lower price while earning a huge profit. Therefore, unless you are purchasing certified organic foods, it is more likely that what you are eating is something genetically-engineered--including fresh fruits and vegetables.

So, what are you really eating when you partake of genetically-engineered foods? No one really knows. But, you can be sure that this fruit fell a little bit farther from the tree!

More next time...

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