Q. What is your experts’ take on genetically modified foods? Should I try to avoid them?


A. Timothy Griffin, PhD, an associate professor and director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, answers: “Genetic engineering (GE) is the process of modifying an organism’s genes to change a characteristic of that organism. The most common use of this process is to make crops insect resistant to cut down on the use of pesticides. Some people are concerned these modified products may be bad for human health, animals, or the environment.

“I learned a lot about this issue as part of an independent national committee that spent two years reviewing the evidence summarized in our 585-page report on genetically engineered crops. Today—about 20 years into the production of GE corn, soybean, and cotton crops—one of the biggest impacts we found on human health and the environment was positive: there has been a large reduction in the amount of highly toxic chemicals being used to control insects. In contrast to public perception, the committee found no unique health or environmental risks from GE crops. But we should continue to be vigilant with continued research.

“Some apples, corn, eggplant, papaya, pineapple, potatoes, and canola plants and sugar beets are genetically engineered. However, many other crops do not currently have genetically modified versions. Except for products where the first ingredient is meat, poultry, or eggs, the FDA now requires that genetically engineered ingredients be clearly labelled with a symbol that says ‘bioengineered.’ Oils and sugar made from GE crops do not need the label. This is because genes are blueprints for building proteins, and there are no GE proteins or genetic material in oils or sugars. For consumers who wish to avoid genetically engineered crops, it may help to know that crops certified as organic in the U.S. cannot use GE technology.”


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