February 24, 2013

Genetically Modified (GM) foods and regulation

So I have relatively recently decided to pursue my PhD studies in Nutritional Science.  It is off the beaten path for most MD/PhD’s, and even more so at this school where I’ll be the first to go through with it (more on that later perhaps), but because of it, I am taking some Nutri-sci classes while finishing up my 2nd semester of my last pre-clinical years (aka 2nd year of med school).

2 weeks ago, our topic was Integrative medicine – a topic near and dear to my heart since I started the Integrative and Alternative Medicine Interest Group at my school this year (again, more of that in another post perhaps).

Last week (and my current homework assignment) is on genetically modified foods, aka GM foods or GMO’s (genetically modified organisms).  Since we have to do some write-ups about it, and I thought there were interesting discussions about them in these links, I thought I’d share them here in case anyone is interested.  It seems to be a pretty controversial and polarizing topic, although it also seems most people in the US wouldn’t mind them as much as long as the foods were labeled and people could have a choice in the matter.  Other countries abroad seem to be much more concerned about it however, going so far as to ban goods from the US that contain it.

Here’s the NOVA/Frontline video of it on youtube that gives a background of the issue.  Here’s also a supplemental interactive PBS website where you choose whether you agree or disagree with GM crops based on what you know and they’ll present the opposite argument.  You do that 6 times, and then you can look at all the arguments and see what you think after. Here’s also a WebMD article about GM foods and the issues associated with it.

If you’re a glutton for punishment, or just really like reading Bills, here is the official Bill for Initiative 522 on genetically engineered foods (from the Washington State Legislature website).  Otherwise, here’s the more people-friendly version.  They had the hearing for the Bill on Feb 14 this year (Happy Valentine’s Day hah), so I guess we’ll see what happens with that.

I personally am more on the fence for this issue I suppose.  As I am someone who is more for natural products, I tend to stay on the side of preferring non-GMO foods for myself.  However, in countries that are ravaged by a blight on their most important crops, or who are having trouble feeding all their people, such as the case of the Hawaiian papaya or the African sweet potato shown in the video, I think it’s fine to use GMO’s against that specific disease or problem to help feed people, as long as it is safe and is the best alternative.   I do, however, think it is a good idea to label GMO foods, because I support the idea of the right of people to know what they are consuming and to make the decision for themselves.  Not because I necessarily think GMO’s are unsafe, but because we ought to allow people to make informed choices for themselves.  After all, isn’t that what nutritional labeling is all about in the first place?

Other factors to consider that the links bring up include things like the potential introduction of toxins and allergens people, or antibiotic resistance (which are used as markers for genetic recombination) developing in natural gut bacteria or in the environment.  On the other side, they say that the foods have all been tested for safety and “substantial equivalence” in what their products contain compared to the original, and they have been approved by the USDA (which regulates what you can grow), FDA (which regulates if things are safe to eat) and the EPA (which regulates whether things are ok for the environment).  It can also be said that GMO’s are better for the environment than the current widespread use of pesticides, which target a much larger variety of animal/plant life in neighboring areas.

So, yay or nay on GMO foods?  Just some food for thought for ya ;P


Edit:  Hey look at that!  Whole foods recently announced that it would require all GMO-containing foods to be labeled in all stores in Canada and the US by 2018!  It’s apparently the first national store to set a deadline for labeling of GMO foods.  Pretty neat 🙂

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