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By Sarah Parfait

Demand for GMOs has spiked in recent years, and so has the number of protests about them. However, how harmful are they really?

Bandwagons and trends come and go. Some we wish could stay, like velvet dresses and chic French country styles. Others we wish would leave for good, like the 90’s bowl cut and parachute pants. However, a new trend has begun popping up in the advertising industry. It’s a subtle label, but it certainly captures consumer’s attention.

If you look at a bag of dog food or pita chips, it might have on it a list of labels that read, “Non-GMO, non-artificial coloring or ingredients, and non-preservative.” We, the consumers, have gone many years without these labels, so why the sudden outcry for them? To understand why these labels have infiltrated the market, we need to learn precisely what they mean.

What exactly are GMOs, and when did they come about?

GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.” These are specific organisms made with engineered material with the intent to improve the original organism.

Ninety percent of corn seeds, soybean seeds, and cotton seeds are genetically modified. GMOs have been around for 35 years, and the first patent was created in 1980. GMOs were first used in insulin production with genetically engineered E. coli bacteria. By 1996, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved the first GMO, the Flavr Savr tomato.

Pros and Cons of GMOs

GMOs may seem harmless, especially due to their widespread use in the food industry. They are great for science and the agricultural business, but what are the costs of using GMOs in the long run? On the plus side, genetically modified (GM) crops have a stronger immune system, reducing the amount of pesticide farmers use. However, this resistance can lead to superbugs or superweeds that evolve their immunity in conjunction with GM crops.

However, GM foods can be made healthier by adding more vitamins and nutrients to them. Cross-pollinating GM crops, non-GM crops and organic crops results in contamination. Genetically modified crops produce a higher yield and better quality produce. What’s the downside to that? Well, GM is not secure to produce. Plus, GMOs have benefited larger food markets at the expense of small-scale farms.

What are preservatives made of and how are they useful?

These days, the word preservative has a bad reputation, mostly because of the marketing strategies to “educate” consumers on what they’re eating. However, these companies leave out the names of these new non-preservatives by discarding their use of chemically based preservatives. The idea of our fruits soaking in a preservative syrup is a big turn-off, but not all preservatives are in a liquid form.

GMOs aren’t just used for crops; they are also used in our favorite gummy snacks and chips. Look on the back of your chip bag and find the chemical names BHT, BHA, and TBHQ. These are shortened to acronyms for a good reason. Can you pronounce butylated hydroxytoluen or tert-butylhydroquinone? I certainly can’t. However, studies show that these chemicals can be harmful to rodents.

Potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate are generally viewed as safer preservatives that fight off mold and other microoganisms. Now, these chemicals can be replaced with an even safer preservative found in rosemary. Makeup products also use rosemary extract to preserve its contents.

Instead of disapproving of the use of any preservative, we need to substitute it with natural preservatives like thyme, clove, cinnamon, tea tree, and others.

Are we hypocrites to oppose additives, yet we don’t grow and make our own food?

Additive is yet another word with a bad reputation. Additives, like most processed food, have their pros and cons. In this on-the-go lifestyle, consumers don’t have time to grow and harvest their own crops, make meals from scratch, cook and can for hours, or accept the risk of food spoilage. We’ve grown comfortable with our ready-made and just-add-water meals. Yet, we oppose the additives that make our instant meals a reality.

So, what exactly do additives do? They stop product spoilage caused by mold, air, bacteria, fungi, and yeast. They add more vitamins and minerals to foods as well as flavor, texture and appearance. What is the downside? Too many additives can cause health deficiencies, especially laboratory-produced additives. However, don’t stress out over this. The FDA has a strict regulations on how many additives must be used and what they must be mixed with.

This is when we need to sit back and think about what it is we’re really asking for when we disapprove of artificial flavors, sweeteners, and ingredients. It could be time to get those rusty tools from the shed and start a garden of our own.

Is the anti-GMO movement just a marketing strategy?

If we, the consumers, have been consuming GM food for so long, why are we striking out against it now? Is it because our country is in a state to protest anything that has to do with major corporations? Are we just jumping on another bandwagon to look like we care about it for the time being? These are the questions that boggle me.

It could be possible that this is just a marketing strategy to assure consumers that their products are better than their competitors. However, with such a high number of GMOs on the market, it will be a long process to completely eliminate them from our farms and groceries. This is what consumers need to know about the foods they’re consuming before pulling out their torches and pitchforks.

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