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Food study finds GMO foods as safe as conventional choices

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Sometimes it seems that the only way to describe the great divide between those who support or oppose genetically modified foodstuffs is through a cartoon.

Sometimes it seems that middle ground is hard to find and the only way to describe the great divide between those who support or oppose genetically modified foodstuffs is through a cartoon.

An extensive two-year review of genetically modified foods found no apparent health risk or environmental impact of growing and consuming genetically modified crops. Most Americans are familiar with the term genetically modified organisms, or GMO’s. Hoping to avoid the ongoing debate, many producers now market their products with a “GMO-free” label. Conversely, non-GMO foods are no healthier and may even be less so.

Genetic modification assists food growers and manufacturers in many ways by improving crop yields, reducing insecticide use, or increasing the nutritional value of foods. But genetically modified foods should be considered “as safe as conventional choices,” writes Dr. Timothy Griffin, associate professor at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and director of the Agriculture, Food, and Environment program.

Griffin and 20 other scientists reviewed 900 research publications and concluded in their 398-page report that “genetically engineered crops are as safe as conventionally grown crops.”

“Claiming that a food is made without GMO’s doesn’t mean that particular food is healthy, and I think that’s where some consumers get hung up,” explains Lindsey Stevenson, nutrition and health education specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

A genetically modified crop has been altered so it will express a desirable trait. This can be accomplished by moving genes from one organism to another or by changing genes in an organism that are already present.

Historically, genetic manipulation of food began with the domestication of plants and animals at about 10,500 to 10,100 BC. By selectively breeding for desired traits – or to eliminate others– in each generation of plants – and animals – were bred for desirable traits. Those lacking the desired result were not used. The practice has continued non-stop ever since.

With the discovery of DNA in the early 1900s and various advancements in genetic,  it is now possible to directly alter the DNA and genes within food. The top GMO crops produced in American include corn, soybean, wheat, potato, tomato, alfalfa, rapeseed, and rice.

About 90 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. was genetically modified in 2010. In 2015, 81 percent of corn acreage contained the Bt trait and 89 percent of corn acreage contained the glyphosate-tolerant trait.

“I like to compare genetic modification of crops to vaccines for humans,” says Jill Scheidt, agronomy specialist with University of Missouri Extension. In many cases, altering the genes helps the crops fight off certain diseases and pests. Without GMO’s, we wouldn’t be able to produce this volume of food that feeds the world,”

The research team that compiled this recent report also looked at the incidence of many chronic conditions that GMO’s are often blamed for contributing to like cancer, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, autism, food allergies, and celiac disease in North America.

Then they took that data and compared it to that in Western Europe where the use of genetically modified organisms is restricted. In contrast, GMO’s have been part of the American diet since 1996.

The comparison found no significant difference in the prevalence of these chronic conditions between North American and Western Europe.

“Consumers often see and even specifically look for products with a ‘GMO-free’ label. I’m glad these scientists have done this review,” adds Stevenson. “It’s a controversial issue that I think Americans deserve reliable information on.”

For more information on nutrition contact any of these nutrition specialists in southwest Missouri: Dr. Pam Duitsman in Greene County at (417) 881-8909; Lindsey Stevenson in Barton County at (417) 682-3579; or Stephanie Johnson in Howell County at (417) 256-2391. The regional office of the Family Nutrition Education Program is located in Springfield and can be reached at (417) 886-2059. Nutrition information is also available online http://extension.missouri.edu.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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