GMOs: Great modern opportunities (commentary)

The obsession with knowing how our food is raised, manufactured and processed likely dates back to 1906.

The obsession with knowing how our food is raised, manufactured and processed  dates back to 1906 when Upton Sinclair penned The Jungle, a look at the dark side of the meat industry and caused the Pure Food &  Drug Act to be passed.

I don’t think the majority of consumers actually read the labels at the supermarkets as they make their choices based on taste, cost, quality, appearance and maybe what is on sale that day.

Certainly I did not know that almost all milk containers had the little disclaimer on the bottom of the front label saying their cows were not injected with any artificial hormones until I did some work with Elanco on the product, a product which, by the way, is a Genetically Modified (GM) product and IS used extensively in the cheese and yogurt making process.

But many advocacy groups and most consumers, it seems, are asking for all products containing GM food or GMOs, genetically modified organisms, be labeled as such.

The great state of Vermont, home of Ben and Jerry’s no rBST used in our cows Ice Cream, and the only state without a McDonald’s in its state capital, passed a law requiring the GMO labeling a couple years back.

Others have tried and failed, including my adopted state of Colorado, a state that next week is asking voters to decide on physician assisted suicide and a 10% tax hike for universal health care.

I think we leave too much up to Joe Six Pack to decide, and that is scary.

Jason Lusk, ag economist at Oklahoma State University, does a lot of polling of consumers. A while back he asked them if they would support “mandatory labels on foods containing GMOs.” Eighty two percent said, yes.

He then asked if they would support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA.” Eighty percent said, yes. 

Very scary.

I think the readers of Feedstuffs know that a GMO is a genetically engineered product created by mutation, insertion or deletion of genes contained in a living organism’s DNA.

I think the selective breeding of animals raised for food was a precursor of GMOs where the genetics of a top-producing animal were introduced into another animal to produce a larger, stronger, healthier off spring. The animal ag folks were manipulating genetics, they just weren’t splicing and dicing genes.

The first true GM organism was a mouse in 1973.

The first GM plant was tobacco in 1983, modified to resist a certain bacteria. Of course the English had no problems with smoking our GMOs since they can’t raise tobacco on the island.

Genetically engineered insulin, called Humulin, was FDA approved in 1982. Prior to then diabetics had to inject themselves with Porcine Insulin, which was the closest insulin in structure to human insulin but often caused allergic reactions.

When we genetically engineer insulin, we call it recombinant insulin.

Maybe we should call products in the field recombinant beans, cotton and corn. Doesn’t sound as scary as genetically modified, does it?

In 1987 a genetically engineered medical product called Tissue Plasminogen Activase was FDA approved to dissolve the clots causing heart attacks and strokes. That recombinant-TPA made my life as a small town country Doc a whole lot easier.

An experimental genetically engineered vaccine was used in the fight against the Ebola Virus, and cows in China are producing milk that very closely mimics human mothers’ milk, which is great for the babies whose Moms’ can’t nurse.

My point in writing this from a medical view point is that if doctors and patients are injecting or infusing these GM products into their bodies daily, should we really be stressing over GM foods that get broken down by the digestive process before they ever enter our blood streams?

But back to GM foods for a minute or two.

From 1996 to 2013, the amount of land being used to raise GM products increased 100 fold, growing from 4 million acres to 432 acres.

In 2010, 10% of crop land in the U.S. was planted with GM crops.

In the U.S. in 2014, 94% of soy beans were GMOs, 96% of cotton and 93% of corn.

These products, and the animals that consume them, have never, ever been shown to cause even one human side effect or health issue. The leading scientists around the world have echoed that statement time and time again, and that includes the UN’s World Health Organization.

These products that resist drought, have increased nutrient value, have increased resistance to pests like bacteria, herbicides and viruses and also reduce shelf spoilage are helping to feed a very hungry world and using less land than would otherwise be necessary.

There are potential risks, such as introducing a peanut gene into a food that could cause anaphylaxis, but that is the FDA’s job to be certain that does not happen. And so far they have done their job very well.

One last word on the labeling issue and its questionable value and I am out of here.

I just pulled down a can of Bush’s Chili Beans and read the label.

Of course it contains beans, but it also has less than 2% of salt, corn starch, tomato paste, spices, corn oil, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder and extract of paprika.

Wow, so much I did not know and still find useless. I just wanted to know that it contained beans I can use for dinner tonight.

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