Though Athens offers an abundance of all-natural, locally grown food options, it is hard to avoid consuming potentially dangerous genetically modified organisms, also known as GMOs.
There is a national debate surrounding the labeling of foods that contain GMOs, and as an agricultural state, Ohio would be greatly affected by genetic engineering legislation.
Some of the dangers of genetically engineered foods include seed and crop contamination, the risk of contaminating organic farms, reduced consumer choice, the rise of “super weeds,” and negative health effects on humans, said MacKenzie Bailey, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, in an email.
Though the industry claims genetic engineering is harmless, Jeffrey Smith, spokesperson for the Institute for Responsible Technology, a non-profit based out of Iowa that works to educate policy makers and the public about genetically modified foods and crops, said the toxins that genetically modified crops acquire have been found to damage human cells.
Genetic engineering was first used in 1996 when Monsanto engineered plants to be resistant to their weed killer Roundup, Bailey said in an email. This allowed farmers to spray Roundup on their fields during the growing season without harming the crop.
“Today, more than 80 percent of the soybeans, corn, cotton, sugar beets and canola grown in the U.S. contain Monsanto’s patented genes,” she added.
Although most genetically engineered crops, like corn and soy, are used for feed for livestock, some food that humans consume still contain GMOs, said Smith.
Bailey said genetically engineered ingredients are commonly found in substitute meat and dairy products, frozen meals, canned foods, baking products, soft drinks, infant formulas and baby foods.
“At least 35 countries have laws in place that impose labeling or import restrictions on (genetically engineered) food, including the European Union, China, Australia, Russia and Japan, which receives 20 percent of U.S. food exports,” Bailey said.
She added that within the first few years genetically modified crops were introduced, almost the entire $300 million in annual U.S. corn exports to the European Union disappeared and the U.S. share of the world soy market decreased.
David Rosenthal, assistant professor in the department of environmental and plant biology, said that though he has not conducted research on GMOs’ effect on people, he has not read any studies that indicate GMOs are dangerous for humans to consume.
Smith said Roundup itself is known to be linked to cancer, Parkinson’s disease, tumors, organ damage and reproductive disorders. He added that pregnant women, young children and sick individuals are more at risk of effects from consuming GMOs.
Though Smith said the Institute for Responsible Technology would support legislation requiring GMO labeling, the organization would like to see a complete removal of all GMO foods until the research and studies have been done to prove they are safe.
After studies came out in 2009 that revealed the potential dangers of consuming GMOs, researchers urged doctors to prescribe patients with reproductive issues or immunity problems with non-GMO diets, Smith said. He added that thousands of doctors said that patients prescribed non-GMO diets have a “dramatic and quick recovery.”
Both Smith and Bailey said that the best way to avoid eating genetically modified foods is to buy certified organic products.