The GMO debate

80% of supermarket foods contain genetically modified organisms

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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Thousands of foods, in fact 80 percent of all foods at your local grocery store contain genetically modified organisms, according to Scientific American. Your cereal, your snack food, your soda, all have GMOs.  That scares Tara Cook-Littman. She works hard to keep her three kids away from GMOs.

"I don't want my children to be guinea pigs," she said.

Genetically modified means that the DNA of a crop has been scientifically altered to make it more resistant to insects, weather, and disease—those are huge advantages that allow higher yields and lower prices at the store.

The Food and Drug Administration says they're safe, but Environmental Researcher Jesse Ausubel thinks there needs to be more studies done to determine long term effects.

Reports show that GMOs could alter the immune system, cause cancer, make people resistant to antibiotics, and contribute to obesity. The latest GMO wheat has a new protein that stimulates appetites so we consume 440 more calories a day!

"There's enough evidence to be concerned and to monitor carefully. I don't think there's enough evidence that people need to panic," said Ausubel, who is the Director and Senior Research Associate for the Program for the Human Environment, The Rockefeller University.

"I buy these things for my family. I have full faith and trust in the process," said Nadine Pazder, Registered Dietician at Morton Plant Hospital.

Pazder believes our food choices would be limited without them.

"What that allows us to do is to get different variations in fruits, like pink grapefruit instead of a white grapefruit," Pazder said.

However, Holistic Practioner Dolores Conte has seen first-hand what happens when people eliminate GMOs from their diet.

"People don't realize that because the watermelon looks good, the tomato is beautiful and red, what it does in your body. That's what you have to worry about," said Conte.

"It may really be that one has to wait thirty or forty years to know whether there are consequences," Ausubel said.

The GMO debate has clearly divided experts and led to confusion for consumers.

"GMOs are toxic. GMOs cause chronic illness," Conte said.

"I don't think we need to be afraid of G.E. foods," Pazder explained.

The U.S. government, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the British Royal Society all stress that GMO based crops pose no greater risk than naturally grown crops.

But at the end of the day, it may be the mothers of the world who determine the answer for all of us.

"I think everyone should be able to know what's in their food," Cook-Littman  said.

It's a lot of food for thought before your next trip to the grocery store.

Since the mid '90s several countries in the European Union have required all foods containing GMOs to be clearly labeled.

In the U.S., 30 states are considering labeling laws. Connecticut is the first one to pass legislation requiring special labels for genetically modified food. 

Additional Information:

GMOs are animals or plants that have been genetically modified with DNA from viruses, bacteria, or other animals and plants. This combination of genes cannot occur during traditional crossbreeding. GMOs have a divided audience; some people do not view them as a threat, while others believe them to be extremely harmful. GMOs are approved in the U.S., but some Americans choose to buy foods that do not contain these organisms. The U.S. government does not have to enforce label laws for GMO products either. Even though Americans have announced that they would like food with GMOs to be labeled, the biotech lobby has been successful in keeping this information from the public. With about 80 percent of our food containing GMOs, the American public should have the right to know what is in the food they buy. (Source:

GLIADIN: A new protein has been found in GMO wheat that causes people to consume hundreds more calories a day. This protein found in wheat increases appetites, which can lead to obesity. Often mistaken as gluten, the gliadin protein affects all people, not just those who are sensitive to gluten. One way to be sure that you do not consume gliadin is to stay away from wheat products.  (Source:

IRRATIONAL FEAR?:  The GMO debate has many different sides.  Dr. Marc Van Montagu, founder and chairman of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach at Ghent University in Belgium, thinks that GM foods could help end world hunger.  Genetically modified crops are now planted on nearly a quarter of the world's farm land by some 17.3 million farmers.  More than 90 percent of those farmers are stallholders who harvest a few acres in developing countries. He thinks society, the economy, and the environment have benefitted from GM crops.  India has flipped from cotton importer to exporter because of insect resistant cotton.  Insect resistant GM crops have cut insecticide spraying by more than 25 percent and as much as seven-fold in some parts of India.  In developing countries, GM crops have helped ensure food security.  He says between now and 2050, global population will rise by about one-third, to 9.6 billion from 7.2 billion, reducing arable land per capita.  He says the question of how to nourish two billion more people in a changing climate will prove one of the greatest challenges in human history. (Source: Dr. Marc Van Montagu)

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