But what exactly are genetically modified foods and why are they so controversial? Genetically engineered crops are plants that have had their DNA altered with genes from other organisms to make them more pest-resistant or change some of their characteristics. The vast majority of soy, corn, cotton, sugar beets and canola seed grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered.
Proponents of GE foods say they are the only way to keep up with the demands of a fast growing human population. Yet France, Italy, Japan and several other countries have banned them because of health concerns and worries that GE crops may spread their engineered traits to other plants.
Since they were only introduced in 1992, the long term health effects of GE foods have not been studied. Some research suggests that GE crops and the pesticide used on them has led to the development of “super weeds” resistant to that pesticide. In a lab animal study, genetically modified soy was shown to cause serious health problems in third-generation hamsters. They included infertility, low birth weights when they did reproduce, an increased infant mortality rate, and hair growth in the mouth. And a Russian study demonstrated that the genetic engineering process itself can cause changes that scientists cannot foresee.
So, what's a consumer to do? For help making informed decisions about your food, check out the Non-GMO Project, “a non-profit organization created by leaders representing all sectors of the organic and natural products industry in the U.S. and Canada, to offer consumers a consistent non-GMO choice for organic and natural products that are produced without genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technologies.” Using their site, you can find products certified to contain no genetically modified material through the Non-GMO Project's 3rd party verification program, petition your favorite food makers to get certified, and sign the Non-GMO Project's Consumer Pledge to demonstrate your support. It also helps to buy organic whenever possible, especially the most common GE crops (soy, cotton, canola and corn) and avoid processed, packaged foods since most of them rely heavily on GE corn.
Remember: The way you spend your grocery money sends a message to food retailers and processors. Show them you are not willing to be anyone's science experiment.