In five years, the world population is set to top eight billion. The question of how to feed such a large number of people continually pops up. In answer to this question, some new buzzwords have been created: GMO (Genetically Modified Organism), non-GMO, bioengineered, and non-bioengineered.
By Lisa Nowatzki
A lack of understanding of genetic engineering (GE) and the processes, namely GE-regulation, have directly caused the loss of millions of lives, mostly women and children.
One example is golden rice, a genetically engineered variety of rice that was designed to contain extra vitamin A and was developed for vitamin A-deficient poor and malnourished populations in Africa, was delayed ten years to accommodate GE-regulations. As a result of the ten-year delay, millions of women and children died.
The term GMO or genetically modified organism is so popular that a quick Google search will yield 53 million hits in less than a second. Since Cavalier County’s population is made up of a high number of farmers and producers, most residents have more than a passing knowledge of GMO and bioengineered products. What about the rest of America? What do they think about bioengineered food?
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 40 percent of Americans believe GMOs are bad for their health although this assertion is not supported by scientific research. The data has overwhelmingly concluded that the genetically modified crops on the market are safe for consumption.
North Dakota farmers and producers have known for years that the bioengineered crops they grow and produce are more than safe. The crops they grow are safe, healthy, and nutritious.
Laura Rutherford, a Grafton farm wife who speaks on behalf of GMO sugar beets, said that the bottom line is American food — organic, conventional or GMO — is all safe, and Americans should have confidence in it.
She said that farmers don’t want the products they work so hard to produce to be unfairly vilified. She noted the GMO issue sometimes is used as a non-tariff trade barrier by the European Union, as it strives to keep its farmers competitive. It’s billed as a food safety issue.
“A lot of times, it’s a fight for market share and a marketing tactic,” she said.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, most consumers don’t know or realize that for decades they have been consuming foods that have been developed through bioengineering including crossbreeding, irradiating, and chemically inducing gene mutations to achieve desired characteristics.
According to the GMO answers website, to date, ten GMO crops are approved and commercially available in the United States. They are alfalfa, apples, canola, corn (field and sweet), cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash, and sugar beets.
In 1995, GMO summer squash, that was genetically altered to be disease resistant, came on the market. Also that same year, soybeans that had been genetically altered to be insect resistant and herbicide tolerant became commercially available. The GMO soybeans are used as livestock and poultry feed, as soybean oil, biodiesel fuel, pet food, adhesives, building materials and other uses.
In 1996, GMO cotton that was genetically altered to be insect resistant and herbicide tolerant became available to consumers. Cotton crops are used as fibers, animal feed, and cottonseed oil.
In 1996, GMO corn that was genetically altered to be insect resistance, herbicide tolerant and drought tolerant came on the market. The corn is used in ethanol and high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners. It is also used in corn oil, starch, cereal, and alcohol.
GMO papaya that was disease resistant went on the market in 1997, and in 1999 GMO canola that had been bred to be herbicide tolerant became commercially available.
In 2006, GMO sugar beets and alfalfa became commercially available. Sugar beets were enhanced to be herbicide tolerant and used in sugar and animal feed. Alfalfa had also been bred to be herbicide tolerant and used in animal feed.
In 2016, GMO potatoes and in 2017, GMO apples came on the market. Potatoes were bred to resist bruising and to be blight resistant. Apples that are non-browning are now commercially available. The website, GMOs in the Grocery Store, has more information.
Another growing and costly trend relating to GMO awareness are the new federal labeling laws that require foodstuff labels to list bioengineered ingredients. With many staples and commodity crops, like GMO sugars and flours, in more than 95 percent of foods produced, changing labels will be very expensive with most of the costs passed down to the consumer.
Detractors say that since the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that foods from genetically engineered crops are at least as safe as foods from non-GE crops, there appears to be little to no scientific need for the labeling requirements mandated by the new federal law. There are no tangible benefits derived from the anticipated increases in food prices.
Henry Miller of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California contends that the amount of oversight and regulatory scrutiny should be proportional to the risk imposed by bioengineered ingredients. Instead, he argued that the degree of oversight is actually inversely proportional to the risk imposed by GMO ingredients and foods.
Miller also argues that the method used to produce a genetically engineered organism is only important in understanding the characteristics of the product. However, the nature of the process is not a useful criterion for determining whether the product requires less or more oversight.