Eat Or Avoid? Genetically Modified Crops

"Locally grown" and "organic" are food buzzwords that have helped encourage consumers to think about where their food comes from. They've also may become words to denote that the ingredients we're eating aren't the work of genetic scientists and corporate agriculture interests.

Author Jeffrey Smith, head of the Insitite for Responsible Technology and creator of an app that helps shoppers to avoid genetically modified foods, is an outspoken critic of GMs or GMOs (that last O is for organisms, kind of a creepy word when you're talking about food).

Should consumers be wary of GMOs?

I believe GMOs are a major contributor to rising problems in the U.S. like autism, irritable bowel syndrome and reproductive disorders, because we're seeing the same type of problems in animal studies on GMOs. One study on hamsters conducted for two years found that by the third generation, most lost the ability to have babies, and some had hair growing in their mouths. What is particularly disturbing is that the problems were not seen in the first generation, which suggests that we might be dealing what a time bomb in the food supply.

What foods are likely to be genetically modified?

There are eight GM food crops for humans: soy, corn, canola, cottonseed, sugar from sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, and zucchini and yellow crookneck squash. Additionally, milk from certain cows that are injected with genetically engineered bovine growth hormone is a major risk to humans; this increases the IGF1 in the milk — which is a hormone that is strongly linked to cancer, and this hormone is banned in most other countries because of health risks.

Why do food companies use genetic modification in the first place? Are there any benefits for the consumer?

There are no consumer benefits to any GMOs. The PR spin is that GMOs are "enabling us to feed the world." The biotech industry has tried to convey that GM foods are necessary to feed the fast growing population, but this is basically false advertising. The experts agree that GMOs have nothing to offer feeding a hungry world. The two main reasons why foods are genetically engineered are to be tolerant to herbicides or produce insecticides — they either drink poison or produce poison.

If there are so many potential health threats, why has the government been slow to step in and ban this type of tampering with our food?

The U.S. government has abdicated their responsibility to protect the public. The people who are in charge of policy are usually from the biotech industry themselves and they have eliminated effected oversight. The government — including the State Department — is trying to push GMOs on the rest of the world.

In the U.S., there are groups on the state, local and consumer levels that are trying to fight back against GMOs, and so far there have been a few successful lawsuits filed against the government.

How come there are fewer GMOs on the shelves of European supermarkets?

In Europe, the push against GMOs was not by government law but by commitments from the food companies. The consumers in Europe are a lot more educated about GMOs and their health risks. As a result, the food companies committed not to use GM ingredients. So the same companies — like Kraft and Hershey's and Nestle — that removed GM ingredients from their European products continue to sell GM ingredients to the unknowing American consumer.

We believe that even a small percentage of U.S. shoppers eliminating GM ingredients from their diet will create a tipping point, forcing GMOs off the market in the US. We at the Institute for Responsible Technology are targeting the most receptive demo groups in the US who actually are already uncomfortable with GMOs these include health conscious shoppers, parents of young children, doctors and patients, and certain religious groups.

How aware of GMOs are the American public? What can be done to increase the awareness?

When asked "Have you ever eaten a GMO in your life?" 60% of Americans surveyed said no; 15% say they don't know; and only 1 in 4 are aware that they have eaten GMOs. All the while, most people eat them every day. The American people have a dangerously low awareness of GMOs; however, that's changing. There has been a recent unprecedented upsurge of consumer awareness and concern, and I believe millions of people are seeking healthier non-GMO foods. As a result the "Non-GMO" label has become the third fastest growing health claim on food packaging.

Where do you stand on GMOs? State your position in the comments.