Genetically engineered (GE) foods have been heralded as the solution to food shortages in the future, as biotech companies modify the DNA of crops in an effort to make them more robust. Certain GE crops can now withstand freezing temperatures or are resilient to heavy applications of pesticides and herbicides.
GE crops are widespread in the United States. Nationwide, 93 percent of the soybean crop is genetically modified to resist the large volumes of herbicides used to combat weeds that compete with the soybeans. Although these DNA modifications aim to improve a crop’s vitality on one hand, genetic engineering also can have many unintended consequences for both the environment and human health.
A former employee of Monsanto, which is a leading producer of both herbicides and biotech seeds, stated that genetically engineering crops and foods changes the DNA of the plant or organism, but alters the cell “in such a way that it’s unknown what the effects are going to be” in the long and short term.
With such uncertainty, and the prevalence of GE crops, it is critical that the full effects of genetically engineered foods be investigated. Studies have found that mice that were fed GE corn showed an increase in their overall body weight of more than 3.7 percent, and an increase in their liver size of up to 11 percent. In addition to triggering weight gain and metabolic consequences, GE crops have been shown to affect the organ function of test subjects, causing liver and kidney disruption. Although studies like these are pulling back the veil on GE crops, further testing is needed to understand the broader consequences of genetic engineering on our food, bodies, and environment.
Yet the U.S. government appears to be moving in the opposite direction, reducing transparency and accountability by adopting new laws that heavily favor the biotech industry. On July 12, the House of Representatives’ agriculture committee passed its own version of the proposed Farm Bill, rolling back the Senate’s more progressive proposal, which would have defended sustainable agriculture and emboldened the “Know your Farmer, Know your Food” initiative promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under President Obama.
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