GMO Foods Continue to Disrupt Our Diet

Gary C. Bizzo  |

via Giphy

I’m a big fan of disruptive technologies. I’m very excited when I find enterprising entrepreneurs who have developed an innovative and better way of doing things.

To me, it seems logical to disrupt the freight industry, the auto industry (Tesla (TSLA)) and the entertainment industry (Netflix (NFLX)), but when it comes to biotechnology and the food I put on my family’s table, I draw (or try to draw) the line.

The Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) we are ‘compelled’ to eat and the debate whether it is wise to genetically change the food we eat has been going on for decades. You can find as many scientists for the practice as you can for those against changing the DNA of our foods.

Farmers have essentially done it for many thousands of years by inter-breeding different strains of apples to make them sweeter, or roses to make them resilient to the cold. In each case, the reason they did this was to take the traits of both, creating a synergy of the two combined.

I don’t want to discuss GMO animals like the glow in the dark pigs (seriously) with modified genes from a glowing jellyfish, but when you realize that at least 90% of the soy, cotton, canola, corn and sugar beets sold in the United States have been genetically engineered; it makes you wonder what’s going on. If you consider that corn is a major component in many food items like cereals, peanut butter, snack foods, soft drinks and even alcohol, you can see how vast the reach of GMO’s go. The adoption of herbicide-resistant corn, which had been slower in previous years, has accelerated, reaching 89% of US corn acreage in 2014 and in 2015, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Of course, there are reasons why you might feel compelled to modify the genetic makeup of food. Helping nature along by making plants stronger produces higher yields and gives them resilience to abiotic stresses on the plant. One of the biggest pros (as well as a con) is that DNA re-sequencing makes plants resistant to pests and diseases.

When you look at advanced breeding techniques, they fall into two categories. DNA sequencing allows for new genetic markers to screen large populations so you can ‘weed’ out the poorly performing or weak crops or plants. There are no regulations needed for this category, because you’re simply observing the plant for selective breeding with other plants, so there is no hazard.

While selective DNA breeding is innocuous, the disruptive technology of the second category, genome editing, is the opposite. Genome editing allows companies to change the makeup of our food by editing via insertion of new DNA, substitution or deletion of pre-determined sequences that compose the genome. That is messing with nature!

Cibus Global, a San Diego-based company that describes themselves as a precision gene-editing firm, developed the first commercial application of genome editing. Cibus launched its first commercial crop, SU Canola™, a canola tolerant to sulfonylurea herbicides in the United States, and has received regulatory approval from Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada in Canada, putting the trait on track to launch there in 2017.

If you are on the side of using GMO to enhance the food we eat, you are in good company. The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the US National Academy of Sciences among many organizations have said that after reading the research they feel there is absolutely no risk in eating GMO products. I do wonder if they buy organic in their supermarket though.

People on the anti-GMO side are a vocal group. The Center for Food Safety is vocal anti-GMO group that calls the genetic engineering of plants and animals potentially “one of the greatest and most intractable environmental challenges of the 21st century.”

Personally, I’m basically an anti-GMO guy, the latest news about the continuing saga of genetically modified (GMO) food research has me fearful. Apparently, if you take a shopping cart and fill it with produce from your local supermarket a vast majority of it is GMO, from tomatoes, corn, bananas and apples. A big announcement recently about GMO work in Prince Edward Island makes me wonder what Canada’s East Coast is doing to our food. Last year Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced new GMO apples that were altered so they would not turn brown when cut into pieces – Seriously?

The CFIA fast-tracked safety tests on eggs from genetically modified salmon in order to hit an export deadline last year, according to internal government documents.

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More than six hundred pages of emails show the discussions between the CFIA and AquaBounty, a Massachusetts-based company that is producing the world’s first genetically modified salmon for human consumption. “AquaBounty salmon are genetically altered to grow faster. They are sterile and grown in landlocked tanks in Prince Edward Island and Panama.” – @CBCNews.

AquaBounty has a funny way of dealing with detractors, they quote the FDA and CFIA approvals then personally attack people who show concern that anything that is modified might affect our bodies when it processes the food.

Now a part of me doesn’t mind orange peppers or yellow watermelons but I draw the line when chemical companies modify grain, etc. to kill pests on the plant. Does the carcinogenic Roundup end up in the food on our table?

For years Roundup’s manufacturer, Monsanto has modified our wheat so that bugs will not eat it. How do they do it – by engineered the Roundup herbicide into the genes of the foodstuff? Not only is it sickening to think people are manipulating our food but Monsanto aggressively attacks farmers whose farms are affected by seed blowing onto their farm by an act of nature. Besides, this global conglomerate requires that the farmer buy seed from them every year because they make the seed infertile.

After more than a decade of unsuccessful efforts to eradicate the genetically modified grass it created and allowed to escape, lawn and garden giant Scotts Miracle-Gro now wants to step back and shift the burden of fixing the problem to Oregonians.

The altered grass has taken root in Oregon, of all places, the self-professed grass seed capital of the world, with a billion-dollar-a-year industry at stake. The grass has proven hard to kill because it’s been modified to be resistant to Roundup.

General Mills’ (GIS) announcement that it will start labeling products that contain genetically modified ingredients to comply with a Vermont law shows food companies might be throwing in the towel, even as they hold out hope Congress will find a national solution. Vermont is the first state to require such labeling.

I am worried about the food I eat. My family has switched to organic foods and we are careful to not only check the contents of the food but we also shop the organic section of the produce department. Labeling will help us make clear decisions about what we consuming so we know what corporations actively use only GMO ingredients in their consumer products like General Mills. I’m going to avoid companies that use GMO as long as I can but it’s a dilemma trying to keep ahead of the trend.

Do you care or would you like a choice before some conglomerate messes with your food? The world needs better regulations in place to protect us. Check out nongmoproject.org (advocates) or a shopping guide if you want to become involved, better informed and live healthier.

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of equities.com. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to: http://www.equities.com/disclaimer.

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