Cells, the basic building blocks of nature, contain chromosomes of DNA molecules in their nucleus, which contain the biological instructions that make each species unique. This is why dogs have puppies instead of birds, humans have human babies instead of puppies, and tomatoes produce tomatoes instead of goldfish. In nature, these species would never cross.
Each DNA sequence that contains instructions is known as a gene. Since the 1980s, scientists have been able to alter the genetics of plants and animals by adding or subtracting genes from their DNA. Through genetic manipulation, organisms take on characteristics of other species. These organisms are able to tolerate weather extremes, resist pests, produce in non-native environments, and other advantages for the agricultural industry. For instance, a fish gene may be inserted into the DNA of a tomato to increase its tolerance of cold temperatures, or a bacterial gene may be introduced into a corn plant to make it more tolerant of increased herbicide use, or a gene may be deleted from corn plants that is essential for energy production in corn rootworms causing them to die after ingestion, or a gene may be deleted from cotton plants to cause bollworms to die by taking away their ability to process a toxin produced by the cotton.
Should these genetically modified foods and products be labeled? That is the growing controversy. After learning the effects on crop pests, many consumers are concerned about the possible effects on humans, especially children, and food animals that consume GMO foods. Dr. Oz, the famed television doctor, said a survey revealed that 80% of people would not, knowingly, choose genetically modified foods, yet they have been making their way to our tables for almost 20 years. But, in some parts of the world, the opposition to GMO products is so strong that six European countries have banned them.
So why are these products not labeled? The FDA requires labeling of food products containing ingredients from genetically modified seed if there is, what it considers, a meaningful difference between that food and its conventional counterpart. The American Medical Association supports this approach as well.
Some argue that labeling could somehow cause the foods to appear inferior. Cameron English, a science writer for policymic.com argues, in his article, GMO Foods: Why We Shouldn’t Label (Or Worry About) Genetically Modified Products that “there is no reason to label these generally harmless foods and doing so could create unnecessary concern among the public.”
Unnecessary concern? The National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health says the “results of most studies with GMO foods indicate that they may cause some common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive effects and may alter the hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters.” It goes on to claim that many years of research with animals and clinical trials are required for this assessment. Thus far, the effects of consuming GMO foods is largely unexplored. Many people agree that we should, at least, know what we are eating and feeding our kids, and that the reasons to label outweigh the reasons not to label.
However, labeling may not be the only concern here. In nature, plants distribute their pollen over great distances, which spreads their genes to other plants. Now, organic farmers worry about GMO plant pollen, unbeknownst to them, contaminating their organic plants. If this happens, labeling won’t even matter.
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