By Maria Orellana
Genetically modified foods have been roiled in controversy recently over their safety, process, and distribution, not just in the U.S., but all over the world. But genetic modification is already safely applied in many of our food produce.
“Today, about two-thirds of United States processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients,” said Vaishali Dharmarha, a faculty research assistant in nutrition and food science at the University of Maryland.
Labeling all genetically modified foods might seem practical but it would only cause more controversy and concern for consumers who are not familiar with the definition or processes of gene modification. This will give a bad image to genetically modified foods when they are “a technology (that) will help farmers increase productivity, control costs, and improve quality, while protecting the environment and contributing to sustainable agriculture,” said Robert Fraley, president of Ceregen, a branch of the multinational agricultural bio-tech corporation Monsanto.
Genetic modification is a specific bio-technological process that adds, deletes or changes genetic traits, resulting in a new plant composition. Some of the purposes of genetically modifying in foods are to increase protein levels, shelf life, nutrient content and to protect against herbicides, insects, and viruses.
One product of genetic modification is the Flavr Savr tomato. Usually tomatoes get softer as they ripen due to a natural protein which breaks down the cell walls. This makes it difficult to transport a quality ripe tomato across the country. The Flavr Savr Tomato has a gene spliced into its DNA to prevent the breakdown of the cell walls, providing a firm, ripe tomato for consumers once the fruit reaches the market.
Many consumers claim that genetically modified foods might be unsafe and they should know what effects may arise when consuming any food. But labeling policies from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration already exist. In 2001, the FDA established the “Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties” policy to classify and label specific foods based on their production.
To label a food, it must fall under the policy which states “if a bioengineered food is significantly different from its traditional counterpart such that the common or usual name no longer adequately describes the new food, the name must be changed to describe the difference.”
The FDA did not assign these foods special labeling requirements because they do not differ in any unusual or consequential way and do not present more of a safety issue than other foods. If consumers see a “genetically modified” label, it may unfairly generate beliefs that these foods have harmful ingredients.
***Maria Orellana wrote this article as part of a debate for Comm 225.