GMO debate continues in ever-changing world

Spinning tales about GMO food and whether food should be altered by humans? Some experts maintain that GMO (genetically modified organism) food will improve and increase nourishment for a growing global population.

Modified plants can occur by natural means. Gene transfers can possibly be mediated by parasites or pathogens. In addition, humans can modify plants through selective breeding.

For example, between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, native American farmers in what is now Mexico experimented with teosinte, a spindly, wild grass. Desirable characteristics were cultivated. A hard outer casing protected the seed kernels of teosinte. Eventually, breeders developed exposed kernels. Through the millennia, through trial and error and mutation, teosinte morphed into the hardy, nutritious, succulent corn we now savor.

The first commercial GMO crop was the Flavr Savr tomato in 1994. It was vine ripened and supposed to survive transit and retain firmness and flavor. It failed due to inexperience, high costs and a shelf-life not much improved. A promising modified tomato is the black (dark) tomato with high health benefits similar to dark fruit such as blueberries and blackberries.

Advocates declare that GMOs have remarkable features. They reduce pesticide applications since they are resistant to pests or contain toxins to kill pests. They are herbicide tolerant and are not affected when nearby weeds are sprayed. They survive drought conditions. They contain more vitamins and minerals. They have higher yields.

Several altered products have unique traits. Some varieties of apples resist browning after cutting. Cottonseed, used in animal feed and cooking oil, resists bollworms. Potatoes resist bruising. Moreover, golden rice provides beta carotene.

Critics argue that GMOs raise environmental issues. They might compete with natural species. They might blend with wild relatives and create herbicide-resistant weeds. They might harm beneficial insects as well as pests. They might release chemicals that contaminate nearby water sources.

Furthermore, they might release toxins, induce allergic reactions, and trigger antibiotic resistance, immunosuppression and cancer. There also is the likelihood of unknown risks.

Inadvertently, GMOs are consumed in our diets. For instance, they are incorporated in diverse food products such as cooked, canned and frozen processed foods through typical ingredients such as cornstarch, soy and sugar. They are in cereal, bread and snacks. Restaurant foods often are fried in modified oil.

Labeled conventional or organic items, such as produce, are at times misleading since GMOs already might have blended with them in the field. It should as well be noted that conventional food is not free of synthetic pesticides and that organic food might use natural pesticides.

Certainly, humans have been modifying food since ancient times. Experimentation continues in various areas, such as plant pathology, soil salinity and yields. Other promising research involves using consumable parts of modified plants such as fruits to create edible, painless vaccines to fight diseases.

Ostensibly, only with an awareness of the positive and negative features of GMO food can consumers attempt healthy choices.