April 2014 Issue

The GMO Conundrum
By Judith Riddle
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 16 No. 4 P. 4

The issues surrounding genetically modified (GM) crops and foods containing GMOs are complex and continue to be a hotbed for conversation among food industry experts. There are advantages and disadvantages to producing GM foods, and many unknowns remain.

GM foods contain altered DNA from plant, bacterial, or animal sources that make crops insect resistant, drought tolerant, and nutrient dense, which can lead to more sustainable agricultural practices that enable farmers to produce greater yields to feed a food-insecure world. Genetically engineering crops isn’t new, as all domesticated crops have been genetically altered for decades through breeding practices and are far from their natural state, according to Jocelyn Malamy, PhD, who gave a presentation on GM plants at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Houston last year.

There are two types of GM plants in widespread cultivation: Bt and Ht crops. Bt crops (eg, corn, cotton, soybeans) contain the CryA gene from the soil-dwelling bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces crystal proteins highly toxic to specific insects. Ht crops (eg, alfalfa, canola, cotton, flax, rice, soybeans, sugar beets), or herbicide-tolerant crops resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, allow farmers to apply high doses of weed-killing herbicides across agricultural fields.

Opponents say GM foods are hazardous to the environment and human health because of the pesticides and herbicides involved in producing them. However, proponents argue that research to date and the FDA deem them safe. But that doesn’t necessarily mean new research won’t counter current findings. After all, the FDA declared trans fat safe for human consumption for decades until recently.

So the unanswered question is whether these practices are putting people at risk of disease due to the ingestion of these pesticides and herbicides. To learn more about this topic, read the article “Genetically Modified Foods,” an in-depth roundtable discussion among dietetics and food industry experts.

And be sure to read the other features in this issue that focus on family weight-loss strategies, virtual nutrition counseling, omega fats, and vegetarian diets for older women.

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